Category Archives: Technology

Emerging formats – interactive commentary on documents

Yes, the blog has been quiet lately – not because there’s been nothing to discuss, but more because there’s been too much – so many ideas, thoughts, happenings and interesting things I’ve come across that I haven’t had time to focus on one or two enough to make a coherent blog post!

I love the blog, if:book from the Institute for the Future of the Book. There are always fascinating and challenging projects and ideas being posted and discussed, pushing the boundaries – or sometimes operating right outside them.

One of their recent projects is particularly interesting:

Last month we published an online edition of the Iraq Study Group Report in a new format we’re developing (in-house name is “Comment Press”) that allows readers to enter into conversation with a text and with one another. This was a first step in a creative partnership with Lewis Lapham and Lapham’s Quarterly, a new journal that will look at contemporary issues through the lens of history. Launching only a few days before Christmas, the timing was certainly against us. Only a handful of commenters showed up in those first few days, slowing down almost to a halt as the holiday hibernation period set in. Since New Year’s, however, the site has been picking up momentum and has now amassed a sizable batch of commentary on the Report from a diverse group of respondents including Howard Zinn, Frances FitzGerald and Gary Hart.

While that discussion continues to develop in the Report’s margins, we are following it up with a companion text: the transcript and video of President Bush’s address to the nation last night where he outlined his new strategy for Iraq, presented in a similarly Talmudic fashion with commentary accreting around the central text. To these two documents invited readers and other interested members of the public can continue to append their comments, criticisms and clarifications, “at liberty to find,” in Lapham’s words, “‘the way forward’ in or out of Iraq, back to the future or across the Potomac and into the trees.”

It’s worth a look at the site, not just for interesting commentary on a significant current issues, but the format may well be a useful one in an educational context. I can see a lot of applications for this sort of interactive structure in our teaching programs, particularly in terms of policy or text analysis.


Online learning blog links

I had the pleasure last week of working for a day and a half with a group of staff from one of our academic departments, planning a significant project that will see two full programs redeveloped for online teaching over the next two years. The energy, enthusiasm, and openness to ideas of the group was inspiring, and a delight to be involved with.

I promised that I’d put a few links here for them of interesting blogs to do with teaching and learning online:

Wiki of academic blogs

bgblogging – Barbara Ganley uses blogs extensively in her teaching, and reflects in that in this blog.

2 cents Worth – David Warlick’s ‘Occasional thoughts about education teaching, learning & the 21st century’

blog of proximal development – Konrad Glogowski’s blo on ‘teaching.blogging.learning’

EdWired – a weblog devoted to the teaching nad learning of history online

Blogging Pedagogy – ‘a blog about pedagogy and English studies’ from the University of TexasETC @ BMC – Education and Technology at Bryn Mawr College

Christopher D Sessums :: Blog -Teaching, learning, and computing
While Christopher works in the schools sector, his thoughtful and reflective posts are often relevant to all levels of learning.

Tama’s eLearning Blog – ‘an eLearning blog with podcasting & blogospheric inclinations’
Tama Leavy is a lecturer in Higher Education in the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at the University of Western Australia.

academhack – TechTools for Academics

OpenLearn – the way of the future?

The Open University in the UK has recently launched its OpenLearn website, which makes ‘educational resources freely available on the internet, with state of the art learning support and collaboration tools to connect learners and educators.’

They already have quite a range of modules available across a range of discipline areas, using Moodle as their LMS.

What may also be of interest to some is the associated LabSpace site, established to share and reuse educational resources. All the content from OpenLearn can be downloaded, adapted, and used and adapted versions uploaded to the site.

Both sites are worth a look. I’ve been experimenting with Moodle a little lately, and it’s interesting to see it in action in a major site. It’s also interesting to have a look at the approach they’ve taken to the learning design in the various modules – the ones I’ve glanced at are more structured and step-by-step than we normally do here, but that’s probably appropriate for the open access nature of the project.

Developments like this and MIT’s OpenCourseWare , plus other projects such as Google Scholar and the trends to make academic journals freely accessible, do challenge us to consider what the future of higher education is – if the learning content is freely available, why should students enrol in our institutions, for an expensive three-year or more degree? What is it that we will be giving them? If we’re going to be about more than just assessment and awarding formal qualifications, how do we make the learning process more engaging and rewarding for our students?
What are the implications for our future?

Should All Learning Professionals Be Blogging?

Over at the Learning Circuits Blog their ‘Big Question’ for the month is ‘Should all learning professionals be blogging?’ The question has generated a range of varied responses from educators – the post has links to them.

I came across the question yesterday at Jim Belshaw’s blog, and posted a spur of the moment response:

…perhaps the question isn’t so much ‘should all learning professionals be blogging’ but rather ‘should all learning professionals be actively engaging with the current developments in their discipline?’ To which, in my mind, the answer is Yes.

The ‘How?’ question then leads naturally to blogging or similar activities – because the exciting, new and innovative developments in pretty much all a university’s discipline areas are being discussed, reported, analysed and further developed on the web, through online journals, news, blogs, wikis and so on. The web is the home to the current knowledge and ideas, and is much more up-to-date than most traditional print-based academic journals, where the time-frame from research to publication can be years.

Participating in those online communities is a true scholarly activity – contributing to the ‘unending conversation’ in our discipline areas, debating ideas, furthering knowledge and understanding, and sharing that with the wider community.

Yes, it’s a time commitment, but it’s part of our pursuit of knowledge in our respective discipline areas – and it’s also a timesaver in some ways, with easy access to the leading thinkers and resources, the opportunity to share and seek feedback on ideas and drafts of papers, and so on.

On reflection, I haven’t changed my view much. I don’t necessarily think that all learning professionals/academics should be actively blogging – blogging is not for everyone, and it takes a while to develop one’s blogging ‘voice’ – but, as expressed in my previous post, I do think that we need to be very aware of, and participating in, the current developments in our respective fields. And, while I’m ready to be corrected, I can’t really think of any discipline where what is happening on the web is irrelevant.

Blogging is one way – and can be an excellent way – of actively participating in one’s discipline, and contributing to the application of ideas and knowledge in the wider community. Blogging goes further than traditional email discussion lists, conferences, academic papers, and other standard academic means of communication. So, yes, I think academics should be aware of what blogging is, reading the relevant thinkers in their fields, and at least actively considering whether blogging is an appropriate form of participation for them.

However, for those who are less confident navigating their way around the web, sometimes finding relevant blog communities can be a bit of a challenge. To assist the academic staff I work with, I’m working on putting together a wiki resource with links to blogs across a range of discipline areas. Although if anyone knows of a similar resource already existing, please let me know!

Forthcoming workshops

Next week, I’ll be offering several times a 2-hour workshop on ‘Tools for Online Teaching’ for colleagues at UNE.

Since the recent changes to the ‘une-official’ email list, it’s a little hard to get the word out about workshops and other news, hence posting some information here for the benefit of any UNE staff who drop by!

The details of the sessions are as follows:

Tools for online learning

This ‘hands-on’ session will explore some of the new tools and social software that can be used to support and enhance student collaboration, engagement and learning. Tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, audio and video files, animations and student presentations will be explored and examples discussed of how these can be used effectively in University education.

It is highly recommended for ALL staff engaged in, or considering, online teaching.

The session will be offered four times next week:
Monday 11th September – 11am to 1pm (booked out!)
Tuesday 12th September – 2pm to 4pm
Wednesday 13th September – 11am to 1pm
Thursday 14th September – 2pm to 4pm

Please note that due to a limitation on places in the computer lab, bookings are required. These can be made online at or by phoning Kerryn Reeves.

Teaching and other Carnivals

Sorry for the absence of posts lately – I’ve been away on leave, enjoying a couple of weeks in the outback.

The 11th Teaching Carnival is now up at WorkBook . What’s a Carnival, you might ask? In the blog sense, a Carnival is a collection of links to interesting recent posts in the particular field or discipline. The Teaching Carnival is published every two weeks or so, an relates to blog entries about teaching in Higher Education. It’s a great way to get an overview about what university teachers are blogging about in relation to their teaching.

As an example, here’s the Teaching and Technology section of the 11th Teaching Carnival:

Carrie Shanafelt is trying out a Wiki for her British Literature class to facilitate the sharing of student work. She hopes that “[t]he creation of a wiki…would render these [assigned historical context] memos in an attractive, interconnected, easily browsable format that would ensure that they don’t get lost or forgotten in the bottoms of bookbags”.

Originally posted on the Humanist listserv, Alan Liu’s proposed policy for appropriate student use of Wikipedia generated significant online buzz, both on that listserv (1, 2, 3) and at Kairosnews, one of Jonathan Goodwin’s class blogs,, and the CHE‘s Wired Campus Blog.

Metaspencer explains the answer to “Why course websites?

At Academic Commons, Susan Sipple discusses Digitized Audio Commentary in First Year Writing Classes, and Derek Mueller has tried commenting with audio in some online courses. At the Rhetorical Situation, Oxymoron finds online students more willing to engage in discussion than in-class students usually are.

While I have a set of regular blogs that I subscribe to via RSS*, Carnivals provide an additional, easy way of seeing what’s current in the blogosphere of disciplines I’m interested in.

Other Carnivals I’ve come across include:

There’s also a list of Carnivals over at Blog Carnival – but many of these are not academic in nature. I’d love to hear about other Carnivals that are relevant to academic work.
*Links from the Teaching Carnival led me to a good explanation of RSS over at academHack.

New directions for academic publishing?

When I was a child, in the late 1960s, early 1970s, my father worked at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. My first engagement with the world of academic publishing and scholarship was the piles of printed cards my father would bring home – requests for copies of articles, sent from around the world, to the researchers at JCSMR (this being in the days before photocopiers, when authors received a certain number of printed copies of their article for distribution). As my sisters and I carefully cut around and soaked off the stamps for our stamp collections, the avid reader that I was read most of the cards, trying to decipher the handwritten names, addresses, article titles, journal names, and marvelling at the connections that paper made between professors and doctors in such far away places as Canada, Poland, and India.
Many things have changed since then, and as I sit in my office now, I have access within seconds to millions of journal articles. In fact, just yesterday I experienced a sense of frustration that a particular article I want is not available online, and I shall actually have to walk the 60 meters or so across to the library building, find the hard-copy journal, and photocopy it myself. (Yes, aren’t we spoilt these days!)

But apart from the relative ease of access to published material, has academic publishing really fundamentally changed in the last 3 or 4 decades? Is our model of scholarly dissemination still relevant to the 21st century?

Over at if:book, the blog of The Institute for the Future of the Book, they’re exploring this very issue, and developing an alternative approach. A recent article introduces the MediaCommons project-in-progress:

Our shift from thinking about an “electronic press” to thinking about a “scholarly network” came about gradually; the more we thought about the purposes behind electronic scholarly publishing, the more we became focused on the need not simply to provide better access to discrete scholarly texts but rather to reinvigorate intellectual discourse, and thus connections, amongst peers (and, not incidentally, discourse between the academy and the wider intellectual public). This need has grown for any number of systemic reasons, including the substantive and often debilitating time-lags between the completion of a piece of scholarly writing and its publication, as well as the subsequent delays between publication of the primary text and publication of any reviews or responses to that text. These time-lags have been worsened by the increasing economic difficulties threatening many university presses and libraries, which each year face new administrative and financial obstacles to producing, distributing, and making available the full range of publishable texts and ideas in development in any given field. The combination of such structural problems in academic publishing has resulted in an increasing disconnection among scholars, whose work requires a give-and-take with peers, and yet is produced in greater and greater isolation.

The whole post is worth a read, and has generated some interesting coments and views, some of which are outlined in yesterday’s follow-up post at if:book: initial responses to MediaCommons