Even August - Melissa Highton


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Melissa Highton, University of Oxford
'Even august institutions such as the University of Oxford now produce podcasts' ... As library and information professionals, we are continually being asked to support ‘mobile learning’. But what exactly does that mean? Who are these mobile learners? What do they do? What do they need us to do?

Mobile Learning: what exactly is it?
CILIP MmIT (Multimedia Information & Technology) Group conference
Monday 21st September 2009

Published in: Education
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  • As library and information professionals, we are continually being asked to support ‘mobile learning’. But what exactly does that mean? Who are these mobile learners? What do they do? What do they need us to do?
  • The title of this presentation is Even August. This is taken from a line in the Edgeless University report.
  • ‘ Even’ Oxford…? Why the surprise? Is it that it seems so unlikely that Oxford academics would grasp new technology? Is that that podcasting is ‘populist’ and Oxford can’t holdout against popular pressure? Is it that opening up and publishing content seems out of character for Oxford? Leo asked for our particular slant on what mobile learning is so I’m going to tell you a bit about what mobile learning means to Oxford, let you know about some of our projects and I hope that you will find that interesting enough to want to find out more, or perhaps work with us in the future.
  • In preparation for today I was looking at John Traxler’s book- ‘ Mobile learning a handbook for educators and trainers.’ As a senior manager, obviously looking at the chapter on ‘ institutional issues’. In that section John suggests that a commitment to mobile learning might lead an institution to ‘reassess the nature and extent of its physical estate’. He suggests we should ask ‘What is The nature of our core business, what is our role in the campus and community? And, In a time where learning is available anytime, any where, what is the role of academic buildings, libraries, lectures and face to face teaching? These are philosophical questions. Time and space….Good questions, worth having a good think about, particularly when your estate is so very integral to the essence of your university.
  • At a conference about mobile learning I want to talk about place. The University of Oxford is defined by a very strong sense of place. How do we know this? We know this because people keep writing books and poems about it. The physical environment, the buildings, the quads, the river… And it does shape the nature of the core business, the learning… WB Yeats said : ‘I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera.’ Living and working in a film set, makes you think a lot about the built environment. There is a sense of place, everywhere and nowhere, In Oxford if you ask ‘ where is the university ’ you will find no front gate, no central reception. But you will find clear patterns in the architecture: 4 sided shapes, quads, staircases and studies, an architectural learner management system. Never mind your VLE, this is a physical environment designed to facilitate and manage learning. Keeping students and tutors together in one place, to study , in private and in groups, with complex access permissions and tracking tools…. For those of you aware of recent court battles in learning technology world , I’ d suggest that this might be an example of the prior art?... When we talk about student expectations… our students expect the environment to be like this. Student expect that their studies take place within this environment. They don’t want us to mess with that.
  • What is the nature of core business, role in the campus and community? There are over 20,000 students at Oxford, including 12,000 undergraduates and 8,000 postgraduates. 8,000 staff 30% are fulltime researchers. Every year 15,000 people take part in courses offered by the Department for Continuing Education, making Oxford University one of the largest providers of continuing education in the UK. Oxford has the largest university library system in the UK, with over one hundred libraries, Oxford University Library Services, holds over 11 million printed items, and vast quantities of materials in many other formats. The Bodleian has 120 miles of occupied shelving, 29 reading rooms and 2,500 places for readers . As a receiving library Its collections grow by three miles of shelving a year. University Museum of Natural History, the Pitt Rivers and the botanic gardens are all open to the public, mostly for free, 20 per cent of users of the Bodleian Library are people from outside the University. Over 1.1 million people visit the University’s six museums and collections every year, including over 78,000 children on school visits. On average, Oxford holds at least one access activity every working day of the year, including summer schools, school visits, student shadowing schemes, e-mentoring, aspiration days and events for teachers. Oxford University Press, publisher of the famous dictionaries and a department of the University, is the largest university press in the world, with publishing operations in 16 countries, sales offices in 90 countries, and almost 5,000 employees worldwide. You will also have learned from the Edgeless Universities report that Oxford ‘loses’ £8,000 per student. I prefer to say ‘invests’ £8,000 because that is what it costs to give them the kind of education we offer. Small group, tiny group, often one to one teaching. The tutorial is at the core of undergraduate teaching and learning at Oxford. It offers students a unique learning experience in which they meet regularly with their tutor, either on a one-to-one basis or with one or two other students. Undergraduates attend, on average, one hour-long tutorial every week and undertake a considerable number of hours’ preparatory work for each tutorial, including background reading, essay-writing and problem-solving. Oxford has one of the lowest drop-out rates in the UK: latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that only 1.1 per cent of students discontinued their course, compared with the national rate of 7.1 per cent.
  • It’s a challenging place to make arguments for funding for investment in technology when you are up against the Bodleian and the Ashmolean. In OUCS we are marginally less famous. I have 30 staff in the learning technologies group, another 90 in OUCS and there are a couple hundred more working in IT support in the colleges and departments. I’m sure all departments and faculties in universities like to see them selves as autonomous, but that‘s nothing until you have tried to untangle the complex resource allocation models needed to support services in an organisation with 4 divisions, 65 schools and departments and 38 colleges functioning as independent businesses and teaching providers. But we provide IT services to each of the colleges, look after 26 miles of network cabling and have nearly 50 buildings in our wireless network and we have many, many more to go. Our IT and information literacy training team provide teaching for not only undergraduates, postgraduates, staff, academics and researchers but also any retired members of staff who still live in the area- this really is cradle to grave provision!, And of course there are some wonderful examples…. Many of you may know of senior colleagues who do not use their email, but I bet Oxford is the only place where they have staff who print out those emails and leave them neatly stacked on their breakfast tray.
  • That is not to say they are all technologically backward. Not at all. With academics doing worldclass research and teaching it would seem odd for them not to be doing world class use of technology too. To be fair to them, you wouldn’t expect to see populated module areas in a VLE when there is no such thing as a module, and there’s not a lot of use for an online discussion room when you see your students one to one for an hour each week. Instead, they make use of online research environments and bring their students into those, they co-author papers in repositories and work with student groups on datasets on the internet compiled from all over the world. Knowledge creation activities. Several times I have been in conversation with academics whose books are part of the core curriculum for their subject and they will say things like ‘ you know, I wrote that book six months ago and I now realise that whole sections of it are wrong, I’ve discovered something quite different now. My opinion has changed and it’s published now but I wish I could change one whole chapter’. One of the other features of a research led environment is that in some courses, some schools, particularly in the sciences, as many as half of students may be publishing in peer reviewed journals by their final undergraduate year, some as first or second named author. It’s made me rethink my attitude to Authority, Currency, Content and modes of publishing… as content creators it make a lot of sense for us to be using the most up to date technologies to get the knowledge out there into the public domain.
  • So, What does mobile learning mean at Oxford where so many things are set in stone? I’ve worked at a number of different universities and to me, the challenge, and success in using technology for learning and teaching comes in matching, finding the right technology for the right activity, or for the right university. What is The nature of core business, what is our role in the campus and community? We do research and we are interested in making knowledge available on a global scale. We want to attract and include the best students and staff in our organisation. We want to ensure that we meet our student expectations We want our students to be free-range to study not in battery computer labs, to find their own paths through the the buildings and gardens of our immersive learning environment. Commitment to mobile learning supports us in those aims.
  • So, let me tell you what we have been doing, In central computing services, and in learning technologies group We have a number of technology projects which make use of technologies of podcasting, geo-location and mobile phones. And these projects reflect the nature of the university, its structure and distinctiveness, its openness and the people who make it what it is. I’m going to talk about four specific projects: Oxford in ItunesU, http://itunes.ox.ac.uk/ Erewhon, http://erewhon.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ Steeple http://steeple.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ and Openspires. http://openspires.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ All of which are open to you, we share all our outputs and publish all of our technology as open source.
  • The recent success of podcasting at Oxford, I think shows how a technology, an ideology and a group of people can all work together at just the right time. You may remember, we launched this in early September last year and there was quite a bit of media coverage about it, you know you’ve made it when you appear in BBC Ceefax. We are going for impact and outreach. Currently the University has more than 500 free audio and video talks and lectures from across all disciplines , Including Bodcasts from the Bodleian, hosted in Oxford iTunes U and an identical web portal. Each asset is free to download and has the written release permission by the speaker. Many objects are of global interest. We hit our one million downloads after 44 weeks.
  • The things which strikes me, at Oxford is that podcasting I would describe this as a tipping point moment. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the phrase ‘tipping point’ it is from The Malcolm Gladwell book and it describes the magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviours cross a threshold, tip and spread like wildfire. Before I went to work at Oxford, a few people suggested to me it might be challenging to get them involved in using technology. Basically I have been astonished and excited by the number of academics at Oxford who have been willing and enthusiastic about podcasting, it seems to fit well with them, they get it, we have about 200 academic podcasters and a growing community around this activity. In identifying podcasting as a way or publishing and communicating their information, the technology is actually quite incidental… the academics are media literate enough to know that as world class researchers this is this an the appropriate medium for disseminating their work. Even though podcasting is mobile learning there is an element to this which is still all about place. Our podcasts reflect the academic activity of the place. The site contains public lectures, interviews with leading academics and important visitors, and advice on how to apply to the University. We have not gone for ‘recording lectures’ we have tried to capture the nature of the place. To give you an idea of scale.. We currently deliver the equivalent of 50 hours of educational content into the public domain each month. Obviously, there is one story about how we got academics involved, and about how this fits with a devolved model of activity in a huge institutions .The art to this is in allowing a do-it yourself feeling to the activity, devolved across the University, as complex as I previously described, giving responsibility to individual lecturers and depts to a make the content and assure the quality, while still maintaining and adding value at the centre. Metadata, technical standards, legal sign off, and robust workflows. The content though, is key Most of it is caputured at lectures and seminars taking place on campus. Every evening across oxford there will be a dozen research seminars going on in colleges and departments which researchers talking about their latest work we record those and put them up. We also understand that what makes coming to Oxford distinctive is the opportunity to study and work with researchers at the top of their field, so we have a series of ‘interviews with Oxonians’ highlighting who is here and how that fits, more often than not ,as they talk , they make reference to how other people also writing and researching at Oxford shape their thinking.
  • Isn’t it exciting to see competition among leading institutions in providing free access to educational resources as a way to attract new students? In order to participate in the emerging open education movement we need to support staff and students in learning how to search for, find use open materials, understand the licence under which it has been made available, and since they are also content creators, how they can best make their own materials available, decide which licence to use and address their concerns about authority, attribution and origination. Open content literacy could be defined as: Open content literacy is knowing when and why open content is needed, where to find and share it, and how to create, evaluate, and use it in an ethical manner. Open content literate staff are able to make informed choices about the appropriate licensing and copyright permission levels to choose when they publish learning materials as open. They are able to identify the appropriate platform for their materials; maximise the usefulness of their materials for other users; and understand the restrictions on materials they find and hope to adapt for their own teaching. The success of open content relies on getting the right open content to the right people at the right time. Universities employ staff in libraries, repository projects, virtual learning environment developers and learning technologists with expertise to publish, locate, retrieve and exploit open content in order to: Enable easy access to open content resources in all formats while taking responsibility for its currency and relevance. Organise those materials in an easily accessible manner Train staff to access and exploit relevant open content in the most effective way. Take a lead in raising levels of open content literacy within the organisation. Open content literacy skills allow content creators and users to create, develop and manage collections of resources which meet specific needs. I think these will become important skills and it seems to me like an area that information literacy professionals should be leading in , if you are not already. Issues of academics and students as content creators, universities as publishers, this core business. And under open licences content can be mobile, it can go on to new uses, a new life it never dreamed of.
  • As information professionals, what exactly does that mean to support mobile learning? Philip Larkin puts it in his 'Poem about Oxford', ' The old place still holds us .' At Oxford it is about linking it to our core business. Understanding the nature of our organisation, understanding our teachers and learners. After 900 years, Oxford University’s not going anywhere, but our content and our students do.
  • Even August - Melissa Highton

    1. 1. Melissa Highton Learning Technologies Group University of Oxford Photos: copyright K.Lindsay, OUCS
    2. 2. <ul><li>Even august </li></ul>
    3. 3. <ul><li>Even august institutions such as the University of Oxford now produce podcasts. </li></ul><ul><li>(Edgeless University report, DEMOS) </li></ul>
    4. 11. podcasting
    5. 12. What do you know
    6. 13. open