Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Outreach activities - Student Information Points

In addition to the Student Information Points desks at the main library, at KB library and at KB JCMB, we are undertaking outreach activities. Basically this involves setting up and operating mobile and flexible SIPs at other locations around the University. The University covers a wide area and diverse collection of buildings around the city.
We, the SIP team, have liaised with every service and School (academic dept) across the University and identified locations where it would be useful to have a presence for a day. The locations we are trying first are Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) (at three different buildings), the School of Education at Moray House, the Veterinary School at Easter Bush and also Pollock Halls which are the student halls of residence.
Today was our first outreach at ECA and it was very successful. The SIP assistant who has been liaising with ECA went there for the day and was joined by Student Support Officers from the school. One of the SIP supervisors went along for part of the day too.
The set up is easy - a table and chairs. But we have a large banner, posters and leaflets too plus a laptop. Also the business cards to advertise the text service have just been printed so there were lots of those to give out which are a convenient size. Most importantly sweets - lots of sweets to hand out to students with stickers attached giving details of the SIP.
Another initiative we have at the moment is a design competition (more details to follow) so posters about that were distributed.
The day was very successful and was a great way to raise awareness of what the Student Information Points can do to help and where to find information.
This evening two members of the team were going to Pollock Halls to do the same thing and this has gone very well too. All the supplies of posters, cards and sweets have been been given out and readily accepted.
One of the reasons that the outreach activity is successful is that it is proactive and the SIP supervisors and assistants are very personable with great customer service skills. They strike a very good balance in their approach with friendliness, knowledge and professionalism.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Text enquiry service for Student Information Points

Text enquiry service for Student Information Points

In addition to the face to face enquiry service that we offer at the Student Information Points we are developing a number of other channels of communication and delivery. We don't offer a telephone service at present but we do offer an email service. Students can email infopoint@ed.ac.uk with enquiries about anything and we will email them back as soon as possible which is usually within an hour.
Also we have now developed and launched a text service. This means that students can text their enquiry to a number and they will receive a reply asap - we will aim for an immediate response between 9.00 - 5.00 Mon - Fri. To send an enquiry, text SIP then a space then the enquiry to 07950081379

Basically the text service uses txttools which is now Blackboard ConnectTxt. I've used it before in my previous job and most of the system was already set up at the University of Edinburgh and it just required a few additions to make it 'two way'. It is most commonly used to text out - to send students messages about their course, assignment dates, cancelled lectures, upcoming events etc. But it can be set up and used for incoming text messages which is how we are using it for the Student Information Points.
The texts can be sent and received through the web interface which is simple and straightforward to use. (It is possible to use the text through a Blackboard building block although this used to be a little slow but may have improved now). We have had the system set up so that the texts come into the Outlook email inbox and are replied to as an email which then appears as a text to the enquirers phone. It's a fairly simple system that works well. The advantage of the texts coming to the Outlook email are that they can be processed by the same person and in the same way as any email enquiries. Also you don't have to be logged into the ConnectTxt web site as the text will just appear in your inbox. This also provides a way of tracking any text replies so that they can be retrieved and followed up at a later if necessary.

So the text service is live and it will be interesting to see how it is used.  Text messaging is to some extent an old technology as it has been in common usage for at least 10 years but I think it is one of the best forms of communication technology that there is or ever will be.  It is simple, effective and used by almost everyone.  I don't think it's use as part of the enquiry service will have a mass take up but I think there will be some use and also it is important to provide choice and convenience.  If you have a question then the quickest and simplest way to get an answer is to text particularly if you are on the move.

The use of text as an incoming service also addresses another important issue which is the overwhelming amount of information that is 'pushed' at students.  Day be day the amount of communication is increased and we are at the tipping stage of information overload.  This is being recognised by institutions and universities and communications policies and practices are high up on the agenda for review.  But by providing a service that students can easily access but 'pull' when required has a certain appeal.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Meetings and meeting people

One of the exciting aspects of starting a new job is meeting new people. Over the last month I have met lots of new people and been to lots of meetings.  As far as meeting new people in a work environment is concerned it can be overwhelming and I think you have to take on board the fact that you are not going to remember everyone and will have to follow it up later.  One way that I have tried to do this is by making a quick note of people's names and then looking them up later. Or asking them if it would be alright to drop them an email in the following few days.  Email makes it so much easier to follow people up as you can usually find them in the institutions global email address book even if you were not quite sure of their name.  It also helps that it will have their department so for instance if you meet someone who you know is from Registry or Chemistry but didn't quite catch their name you can go and look up their department and job title and track them down. You have to be pro active to some extent and make the most of the fact that you are new and can ask people if they want to meet for a coffee/ chat/ update because you're interested in what they do or would appreciate their advice etc. I'm getting better at this than I would have been in the past although I've only realised this  on reflection as I've done it without thinking. You have to be careful not to put your foot in it and work out whether someone is going to be happy to talk to you or going to be too busy or important but with a bit of care, it works.  At least if you are new and make a faux pas you've got a good excuse being new. I have been very fortunate in that everyone at University of Edinburgh has been very kind, helpful and friendly. I have also met some very interesting people who are efficient and clever which appeals greatly.
I've been to quite a few formal and informal meetings. At the start I was invited to meetings in order to talk about our part of the overall project. The Student Information Points are a small part of the Enhancing Student Support project. At first I talked in general terms about what we were hoping to do and how we envisaged it would work. As time has gone on it has been possible to start feeding back on our progress and give information of the current situation and further developments.  The more practice you get with meetings the better and I have become more experienced especially over the last 5 years. Every institution, organisation, committee, group does it slightly differently. Sometimes it is very formal and people speak through the chair, sometimes it is a free for all. You have to work out who are the most important people either by rank or by stake in the project or group. Sometimes there are minutes, sometimes notes and sometimes it s up to you to take your own. The more experience you have then the easier it is to work out the system and pattern that is being used. I tend to prepare a set of notes in advance of what I could say if asked or if I have already been asked to contribute, I'll take a summary sheet with me. You don't necessarily have to use them but its good to have. It gives some structure and generally makes a better impression.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Collecting enquiry data from Student Information Points

We are now at the end of our fourth week and so far so good.  The Student Information Points have been operational at the three sites every day and we have dealt with hundreds of enquiries.
One of the most important aspects of the enquiry service for me from the beginning was that we needed to record the enquiries in some sort of way.  I wanted to ensure that we collected the data in one form or another from the start.  The two main reasons for this were that I wanted a record right from the start which would show what we were doing i.e. the activity of the service in so much as it could be measured.  Secondly because I suspected that this was something that wasn't necessarily being recorded in other areas and would be of interest further down the line.
Collecting and presenting data can easily become an enormous task, never ending in fact and this was something to consider.  What I wanted was a quick and easy way with the basic requirements that it took less than 20 seconds to record an enquiry (preferably less than 10) and that it could be used by more than one person simultaneously.  An additional requirement was that, if possible, it would be saved automatically.
Therefore we decided to use a Google form.  In the past I've used them for the 'user' to fill in but for the Student Information Points we are using them for the team on the desks to fill in to record an enquiry that they have been asked. To start with I created a form based on the ideas from the team.  Our SIP service was due to start in Freshers Week, and it did, but because it is a new service we didn't know what questions were going to be asked.  So we guessed and it turned out that we were quite close to what we needed.  We used version 1 of the form for Week 0 (Fresher's week) and Week 1 and then updated the form to reflect the questions that had been asked.  So we now have data from two lots of two weeks - there are not many changes between version 1 and version 2 of the form so much of it can be compared across the 4 weeks.
It has been surprisingly trouble free.  All the team have been able to access it and use it from the 3 different physical sites on a variety of computers and laptops every day.  It has proven to be quick enough to fill in even for the simplest enquiries such as directions.  Ok, it's not sophisticated but we don't need it to be. The fact that it saves automatically into the spreadsheet has been useful and then we can export the results and collate and analyse them.  The rest of the SIP team have been brilliant at doing this and producing graphs and  reports - much quicker and more efficient than me :)
In the future we will review and develop the way we collect the data from the enquiries.  We need to consider how we need to protect the data if we start having enquiries that contain details about individual students rather than general enquiries.  We need to look at how we use the University systems and how we integrate the data that we collect with other systems.  I expect that we will  also need to review our data collection methods when we receive feedback from presenting our information to the interested parties.
But for now, it works.

Friday, 21 September 2012

End of second week

The Student Information Points have been operational for two weeks now - Freshers Week (Week 0) and Week 1. So far everything is working ok and fairly smoothly. During both weeks we have been busier at the beginning of the week with a bit of a lull on Wed and Thurs then picking up again Friday.
Most of the enquiries have been directional i.e. to a building, part of building or service, or regarding matriculation or ID cards. Some have been covering a number of areas from students wanting to know whether they have done everything they need to do. Surprisingly, I think, we have had some students who really don't know what to do or where to go - some turn up from other parts of the UK or from overseas with no confirmation of their course and no accommodation - luckily they are few and far between.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, 14 September 2012

Student Information Points - pictures

Student Information Point in the Main Library

Student Information Point at JCMB Kings Buildings (Science and Engineering)

Monday, 10 September 2012

Student Information Points - up and running

Today our new Student Information Points (SIPs) 'went live' and went very well too.
First an update from last week - the SIP in the main library entrance was finished off with the new parts added to the front and side of the counter, the computers for staff and for students installed and the printer and the banners, posters, leaflets etc. all in place. The only thing we didn't have were seats which are still on order so we borrowed some from the library. (pictures to follow)

The other SIPs at Kings Buildings (Science and Engineering) were also finished off. I'm really pleased with the one at JCMB as it was put together very quickly. We are using laptops to start with and the wifi coverage is good.

The 'mobile flexible' site on the ground floor of the new library is great and will give us a presence in the new building and also let us pilot a roadshow type service.

The SIPs team have been brilliant - they are enthusiastic and helpful. They are all efficient and clever and nice - what more could you ask for? It's early days yet, we have existed as a team for less than a month and it is a different sort of challenge managing a new team and new service.

So today, we opened and at 9.00am almost immediately we have students coming to ask questions. It is the first day of Freshers week so lots of students have just arrived and are keen to get started finding their way around. We anticipate that we will have lots of enquiries at the beginning regarding finding places, services and departments. Also issues like matriculation, ID cards and accessing computers.
I haven't checked exactly how many enquiries we had today and we are still working on how we are going to log or record them but it was approximately 300 which is a great start.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Moving on - new job and new blog title

Since my last post on this blog a lot has happened - too much to even begin to blog about so instead I'll start with the new. I have a new job at the University of Edinburgh. The role is Student Information Points Manager and it involves setting up and managing accessible information points for students to access at various places. To start with they will be situated at the main library in George Square and at the Kings Buildings in JCMB and in the Library.
So I've changed the name of this blog to Managing Student Information Points. I wasnt sure whether to start a completely new blog or carry on but I decided that I wanted to keep the old stuff and I have enough different blogs going on anyhow so a reduction rather than an increase would be best.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Our busy LRC

Our Learning Resources Centre is busy - busy in a summer term way rather than an autumn term way. 
We are always busy but our 'footfall' has gradually increased throughout the year and we now average over 1250 accesses a day.  Tuesday is our most exciting day of the week as we have over 1500 entries (last Tuesday 1543) - that is a lot of students.  These are not all unique users but the majority of them are and few are just passing through. By 9.30 this morning we had had 274 students accessing the space and 137 of our computers were in use. 
The brilliant thing is that it is not chaotic.  The autumn term can be chaotic especially when we we are doing induction sessions and there are lots of new students.  This is where the management of the learning environment and the expertise of the staff is essential.  Basically if you have a library or LRC which is just a space with books, computers, tables and chairs in it it will not be effective. 
I'm not talking about rules here - I'm not a believer in the 'library rules' syndrome where lots of 'Dos and Do Nots' are displayed and followed to the letter and heaven forbid anyone who breaks a rule even if it is not working.  But you do need a framework, a framework which you can flex and bend in order to provide the best service for students and staff.  The difficult bit is finding a balance and being prepared to let it change and evolve.  Students change throughout the year, they work differently - by the summer term they are more purposeful, they have assignments to complete and they know where and when they want to work.  In the Autumn they need more guidance to find what they want and need.
Learning Resources Centres and Libraries take on the character and personalities of the students and staff that use them and the staff that manage and work in them and that is where we have a responsibility to ensure that it works.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Online collaborative environment - a definition?

We are continuing to use our online collaborative environment web conferencing platform for staff training and training staff to use it.  One thing that we've not yet managed to do is define it.  We are using an Adobe Connect customised solution called Mizaru - sometimes we refer to it by name i.e. Mizaru or Adobe Connect, sometimes we call it web conferencing, sometimes an online collaborative tool or platform or environment, sometimes a virtual classroom but we haven't settled on a definitive term.  I don't know whether there is one? I tend to call it different things depending on the audience and depending how much experience they have of working or teaching or facilitating online.  Ideally I would like to call it a 'real time online facilitated sharing collaborative learning environment' but that may be a little long winded......

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

LRC Text Enquiry Service

We've introduced our text enquiry service this week in the LRC.  We have been using text messaging for a few years now across the College managed from our eLearning dept both through the VLE and through a web based interface.  Tutors and lecturers use it with students on their courses and in the last year or so it has been used by the admin staff in teaching departments to contact students and also by our marketing department.  We decided to introduce it as an additional and easy way for students to ask Learning Resources staff any questions or enquiries.  It doesn't cost the student to text.  The incoming texts are directed to our LRC Info email account and then processed from there.  We have a rota so that staff each man the service for a couple of hours at a time.
It is working ok so far and we have had quite a few texts - most sensible, a few silly.  The technical part has proved simple - it is ideal that it goes to the email account and then we reply as a text from there.  i don't think it would work if the texts were being received and sent from a mobile phone - and we want to keep a record of the communication. 
The part that we need to decide on is the protocol for different responses especially in the case of silly enquiries (we haven't had any 'bad' ones yet).  We are formulating some standard responses. 
I think it is a brilliant service - it's great to be able to offer a rapid response to student enquiries with a solution or with suggestions of how we can offer help and support in more detail.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Last Day of Term

I'm glad we've reached the end of term - it feels like an achievement. Today I tried to get all outstanding tasks done or at least sorted for two weeks as I don't intend to check my emails while I'm off.
We started the day with our department meeting. It's good to have an update and to let everyone know some of the new developments that are going to be introduced after Easter. These include changes to floor 2 including walk up bookings for computers and more roving and also a staff upskilling programme.
Then I went to a strategic issues briefing for managers by the principal and senior managers. This is quite a good idea and useful for updates on funding and financial information.
Other tasks were sorting out our web conferencing project, checking up on the situation regarding the transfer of data from Blackboard to SharePoint, chasing up outstanding technology equipment and lots of other bits and pieces.
I had a meeting with my line manager to let him know what's happening and what we've got planned. It's good to catch up.
Hopefully I've sent all the emails I need to and not left anything urgent outstanding.
I picked up some books ...... back in 2weeks :)

Monday, 26 March 2012

and on a more cheery note...things to look forward to

1. Kindles - although we've had them for a few months now we have been loaning them to staff and students within the LRC just to see what they think.  Although there has been some interest we have decided that we need to have a 'proper' pilot and promote their usage across the curriculum.  We are starting from today and have four lecturers / tutors who are interested in using them with their students.
2. Electronic Course File to SharePoint - we are moving our electronic course file from the content collection on our VLE to our Intranet on SharePoint.  Hopefully this will make it a bit easier to access for staff.
3. Online collaboration / virtual classroom - we are continuing to use Mizaru which is an Adobe Connect customised solution to train staff and a lot of this is part of our LSIS Leadership in Technology project.  The next session is on Wednesday and it will include some more interactivity on the part of participants with them becoming presenters and hosts and running some of the session (hopefully)
4. Inductions - it's that time of year when we have to plan what we are going to do for inductions in September.  Last year we had the 3D Induction experience plus interactive feedback - this year we are going to try and combine the successes of last year into an online experience.  It's still at the early planning stages so will be interesting to see what we can and can't do.  I also want to try and do something using Augmented Reality - a self directed familiarisation tour - don't know how yet but I'm sure it's a possibility.
5. Journals - it has been the dreaded J word for much of this year - some of our journals don't get used much but I'm not sure why, whether it's lack of demand or lack of awareness.  We are going to promote them both the paperbased and the electronic formats.
6. Mobile App - our mobile app that we launched in January has been successful.  The next phase with more fuctionality including a library app is planned for release in August.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Murky windows and misty hills

It's not been a great week - in fact it's been one of those weeks which, while not being a disaster, has been disappointing. I wish it could be re-run but more positively with maybe a bit of luck.
I was off work at the beginning of the week with cold/flu/virus. I don't like missing work and especially this week. There was lots happening and we hosted a Blackboard FE Day on Wed which went really well but I missed it. Yesterday was the JISC RSC Northern E-learning awards at Durham Castle. It was a great evening although we didn't win anything which was slightly disappointing. I would have liked the team / dept to win because we do great stuff and need a bit of a lift at the moment. It was great that we were nominated though so I shouldn't grumble :)
Today has been a catch up. Sorting out the online web conferencing sessions for next week. Checking on how some alterations at Easter elsewhere in the College will affect us. Organizing our Kindle pilot project which is something exciting to look forward to.
At the moment I'm checking out one of the T and L PCs on the 3rd floor of the LRC - it won't log on....
It's home time but I'm gazing out of the window - the windows are a bit murky on the outside and the Cleveland hills are misty, I can't make out Roseberry Topping. This is how it feels as far as work /education /learning resources / technology etc. is at the moment - the near future is slightly unclear although everything is carrying on, just more difficult. The long term future, like those hills, is shrouded in mist - can't make it out at all - it's there somewhere though - hopefully.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

QR Codes with Foundation Learners

I spent yesterday afternoon with two groups of Pre Entry to Entry 1 learners who are completing an ICT unit.  They are foundation level learners with various different abilities and capabilities (including one learner in a wheelchair and one learner who is visually impaired)

Their lecturer had asked if they could come to the LRC to try out the QR code tour with the iPod Touchs.  http://bit.ly/xZl23t
They really enjoyed it and found it very interesting.  They enjoyed using the technology and were quite adept at scanning the codes once they had tried a couple of times.  The codes are all placed in locations that are accessible.
The iPod Touchs worked really well – the touch screens and the amount of ‘touch’ needed to use the QR code reader app was good.  Again I’m glad that we used text as the result of the scan rather than a URL as no matter the level of the learner, they want instant results.  A short informative message is ideal that can be read from the screen by the learner or by the tutor or facilitator.

(I'm now wondering whether it would be possible to have the text automatically read aloud when the code is scanned?? - I'll have to investigate).

Monday, 27 February 2012

Advantages and disadvantages of using online collaborative platforms for meetings, events, training and lessons.

This is an update from the post I did last year about using online facilities for meetings and conferences.  The obvious advantages remain the same e.g. saving travel costs, saving travel time, saving venue costs, saving space within organisations.  The technology provides a range of features including video and audio and feedback options such as voting.  The quality of the platforms is improving and the quality of the equipment that is available for presenters and participants is also improving.

Yet some of the issues still remain and haven’t changed much over the last year.  Some presenters continue to use it as a way of broadcasting their views to a captive audience without considering how it is being received.  Some of these issues are based on the technology – it is essential that the sound and vision quality are very good.  This applies whether it is a meeting, an event, a training session or a lesson.  It is uninspiring and disappointing to be participating in a session where, especially the audio is of poor quality.  It is difficult to concentrate on the content as you get distracted by the technology. 

The other issues are based around the type of session that is being delivered.  This is the crucial factor – delivering an event which is mainly the broadcast of information is very different to a meeting or to a training session.  Such events rely on the information being interesting and engaging and the recipient not getting bored or disengaged by the poor technology.  Personally I would prefer the presenter to be in a more formal environment than their sitting room but as long as there are no distractions then it works.
Meetings online are easy – all you have to do is check that the audio works, that the video works and that you know how to use the screen sharing facility.  Then you use the same skills as a real meeting – having an agenda and other papers and making sure everyone can participate in whichever way you choose.  Raising hands is a useful facility for this as are ‘smiley face icons’ and the chat facility if need be. 
Training sessions and lessons are a different matter.  We have been trying out different methods of delivering training and information sessions using online web conferencing / collaboration.  The important factor to decide is how much interaction with the audience is needed and the type of interaction.  It is not strictly true that the more interaction the better but if the session is split into smaller parts with some information displayed and then some interaction e.g. chat, poll etc. then the audience remains engaged.  The displaying of information and screen sharing is the factor that has in fact been the most difficult – not because displaying a PowerPoint or document is difficult but that it takes practice to do it seamlessly and move between the different options.  Any slight mistakes are amplified – the presenter needs to swap between desktop sharing, application sharing and presentation sharing without hunting desperately for the right option.  When it works, it works well but takes practice, a lot of practice.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Student feedback - short and snappy?

Is collecting feedback from students becoming increasingly difficult when, in theory, you would expect it to be getting easier?  Due to the wide variety of online facilities that are available, it should be easier to reach students and gain their views.  You would think that with the technology available you would be able to use email, texting, QR codes, voting response systems to collect data from a large number of respondents quickly and easily. 
To a large extent this is true i.e. it is much easier to create surveys and questionnaires and distribute them through a variety of electronic channels to a large audience of potential participants.  It is very simple to collect the data / feedback / views and collate it and produce a report with colourful graphs - this takes one click!
But the problem is that surveys and questionnaires are so numerous and widespread that they are either ignored or filled in in a cursory fashion.  This is true in many areas, it is not just a student issue - everyday there are requests by email or via social media to complete a questionnaire.  These questionnaires are mostly valid and genuine requests as there is great pressure on organisations and institutions to collect feedback to inform changes and developments.  The customer voice or student voice is very important.
Therefore the dilemma is that there is increasing importance attached to the creation of questionnaires and the collection of the results but decreasing importance on the filling in and responding.
In our Learning Resources Department we have tried to use a variety of methods of collecting data through questionnaires and surveys. We have an annual questionnaire which covers library and e-learning issues and we disseminate it online through a link on Blackboard and have paper copies too if required.  We get a good response but it takes encouragement and persuasion.  Incentives and prizes don't make a lot of difference unless you offer something really expensive and also ethically I don't agree with giving prizes for such activities.
One of the most effective ways of collecting student views we have found is by either asking students one question and noting down the answer or by using cards - a bit like comment cards.  The important part is the face to face interaction - most of our students are very helpful and happy to respond.  The advantage is that if it is just one question then they don't feel like you are imposing on them or taking up their time. (In reality, once you've asked one question they are happy to discuss more).
Last year we used question cards to find out about Mobile Apps - 'What features should a College App Include?'
At the beginning of this month we used cards to ask students for their views about the Learning Resources Centre as a learning space.  This was prompted by the fact that there are going to be changes which will affect the Learning Resources space and we wanted to find out what students felt was important.  There were two separate cards and rather than tick boxes we left space for a comment. The questions were quite general but do match up with some of our targets and performance criteria.

We handed the cards out to students from the LRC counters and enquiry desks and encouraged students to fill them out there and then.  Over the period of two and a half days 311 cards were completed. The responses were excellent and very insightful.  Students were very co-operative and volunteered to fill in the cards and also to talk about why the LRC space was important to them.  They also mentioned that it was good to be able to write general comments rather than answering specific points.
I filtered out some common themes and how often they were mentioned:
Quiet space / no distractions 85Space / seats 32
Work independently / catch up with work 57
Books 62
Computers 79
Resources (general) 45
Research 26
Assignments 56
Access Internet 19
Only space / can't do at home 26

These themes were identified very quickly and we will do some more analysis of the results and pick out some examples of useful comments.  The encouraging thing is that students appreciate the learning space, that they want somewhere quiet (although their definition of quiet is somewhere not silent but with low level noise) and that they want computers and books and resources.
I appreciate that this is not necessarily a robust method for gathering data - it relies on face to face contact and our sample were users of the LRC but it is valuable and it is the 'student voice'.  The important point now is that we do analyse the responses, that we do consider them and that we do try to incorporate them into future developments.  This is where it becomes less easy - we now have to manually sift through the responses, we have to read them and collate results and type up the data and make a report etc.  The collection has become easier, the collation has become harder. 
A short and snappy survey has worked for us in this instance and has been really interesting - we will use it again but will also continue to use online questionnaires through our VLE and through student response systems.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Run of the mill, nitty gritty..

Today, the Monday after a half term was a normal, busy, nitty gritty day - lots to do but mainly admin and managerial tasks. No meetings or events just non stop organisational operational tasks. Monday is quite a good day for this as it's sometimes preferable to concentrate on getting things sorted at the beginning of the week to enable a trouble free time.
Today we had quite a few LRC staff off sick so I covered counter duties for a break and an hour or so this afternoon.
The rest of the day was spent on the following:
Authorising holidays, external events, training sessions, sickness etc.
Confirming room bookings and checking spreadsheet for the training room.
Liaising with the ICT staff trainer re training sessions and skills updating. Arranging updates and training.
Reviewed information cards for the 3D Wayfinder.
Arranged hospitality for events and visitors.
Emailed update to line manager regarding recent events and issues.
Worked on documentation and plans regarding possible changes to the LRC space. Emailed update to stakeholders and arranged update meetings. Produced draft report.
Updated information and documentation regarding our LSIS Leadership in Technology project which is based on using online collaboration environments. Uploaded updates to the project Blackboard course and to the blog.
Reviewed JISC call information and emailed various interested parties to keep them up to date.
Summarised the results of the comments cards that we used to collect data and feedback from students regarding the LRC space and their views on its usage.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Why should Learning Technologists care about libraries?

As a learning technologist it is a reasonable question to ask - why should I support or even care about libraries?  What have they got that I want or need?  If I need any information or want to find out about something I can just use the Internet on my computer, or even more easily, on my tablet or smart phone. If I want to read a book I can use my eBook reader or my phone or download a podcast.  As a learning technologist my purpose is to use technology to help people learn and teach and enable them to use electronic methods of communication.  One of the main advantages of using technology is that it means that learning can happen 'anytime, anyplace, anywhere' - so why do I need the library?
The simple answer is that learning technologists need libraries in the same way as most other educationalists and people involved in education do, as a place that can be used to access information.  No matter how useful and interesting a resource is, there has to be a place and a device or machine to access it from.  It may be the case that many people including students have their own device to access the resource but not all and in some situations not many.  There has to be an open access learning space that provides computers and internet access for users and a place for people to use their own devices and connect to WiFi.  This learning space needs to be somewhere that is suitable for independent learning so not a classroom or teaching room.
More importantly to learning technologists there needs to be some support and expertise in case of difficulty in accessing the resource - if a student can't access the VLE then the brilliant resource that sits there will not be of use.  If you can't access the system then the online help is not accessible either.
So there needs to be some face to face support in an accessible learning space and this face to face support needs to include expertise.  Expertise to access learning resources but also expertise to support access to information and knowledge.  An important aspect of using learning technologies is information literacy and digital literacies which are vital - there is too much information available out there to access it randomly.  It is impossible to use information without there being an awareness of how to use it and how to judge relevance and appropriateness.  These are all skills that are ideally provided by libraries - they provide a place where information can be accessed with the help of expertise to search for it and evaluate it.
The information needs to suit the user and there are still many instances where the information that is most suitable is not in electronic format.  Books are still essential although gradually they will become less in number in a paper based format and there will be more diversity of format and more open access publishing.  There is no point at this stage saying that books should be dispensed with as ebooks are available - it's not true, yet.  Libraries know they have to change and are changing - lots of librarians are learning technologists and vice versa (although neither side is likely to admit it).  Technology is used to good effect in libraries and is the way forward - as long as people know how to use it.
So stepping out of an educational environment into everyday life, how do people access information and knowledge - how do they find out about something? There has to be a place where people can access resources.  It's easy to forget as a learning technologist or as someone who works in an educational environment that not everyone has access to a computer or even knows how to use the internet or can afford to do so.  There needs to be places that are free and accessible and provide expertise and support in order to enable everyone to find the information and knowledge that they want and need.  Libraries do this.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

ebooks - ebrary - mobile access - success

I've made some progress as far as accessing and reading ebrary ebooks on mobile devices. The ebrary mobile app works with the iPhone (thanks to a few tips from people including @jamesclay).
Once you know how to do it and have the various components it's quite easy.
1. Go to ebrary as usual
2. Log in - we log in through Athens
3. Go to settings and link your account to your Facebook account.
4. Download the ebrary app to your iPhone / iPad

5. Log in with your Facebook username and password

6. Enter your Adobe ID and password

7. Search for books. Read books.

Monday, 23 January 2012

eBooks continued

Tried the downloading process at home......
Opened ebrary, selected book, downloaded to adobe digital editions, downloaded BlueFire Reader App to iPhone, opened iTunes, selected BlueFireReader App in iTunes, add new, find eBook in Digital Editions folder on computer, add - opened BlueFireReader App on iPhone, opened........eBook is there but won't open
(It's under the error message)
Don't know why it won't open unless it is because we get our ebrary books through Athens rather than direct.
I can get this screen below but don't have any details to submit to it.  Tried selecting Read but still get error.  It does say though that the Last read date is 01/01/1970 - why would it say that.

I also discovered today that there is an ebrary app - it's only just come out last week I think.  But when I sign in with my Athens account which I presumed was the same as the ebrary account I get an error - unable to find user name.  There is an option to sign in with Facebook - not sure how this would work as there is no connection between my Facebook details and ebrary / athens details.  Students would not have the same email address either. Unsurprisingly it didn't work.  The challenge continues.....

Friday, 20 January 2012

eBooks and downloading to mobile devices

Today I was full of enthusiasm for eBooks and using them on mobile devices. This was partly due to the Apple announcement yesterday about iBooks and partly because it has been on my 'to do' list for our developments. As a College we use eBooks a great deal - at LRC/e-learning/IT student inductions we show all students how to access eBooks through our VLE and their Athens account. We have two main platforms - Dawsonera where we buy individual books which are on reading lists or requested by curriculum staff and ebrary. Ebrary is the FE JISC collection and has proved very popular - our efforts at promoting the books and helping students to access them have paid off as we are consistently in the top 20 nationally of FE Colleges and often in the top 5. We have also recently acquired some Kindles and are promoting them with staff and learners - at the moment we have only uploaded fiction and other free books to them but are looking for suggestions of texts and PDFs of course materials.

So todays task was to work out how to download ebrary books onto my iPad which is possible so they say. Simple you may think but no, not really. I had already had Adobe Digital Editions installed on my work computer. I'd downloaded the BlueFire Reader App onto my iPad as I'd read that that was needed too. So firstly I accessed ebrary via Athens, chose a book and clicked on download. There is an option to download a certain number of pages as a PDF or to download the whole book for 14 days using adobe digital editions format so I chose the latter.

The download consisted of a small file which I then dragged into Adobe Digital Editions which then opened up the eBook. So far so good. I then found that I needed iTunes in order to open the file in conjunction with the BlueFireReader. First problem as we're 'not allowed' to have iTunes installed on our computers at work - this is to do with people having music libraries on the network I think.

So I went to our Information Services dept and asked if I could use the Mac that they have there. We do have some Macs in College in the VPA dept but in general they are not encouraged. So using the Mac I downloaded Adobe Digital Editions - it didn't show the ebrary eBook that I'd previously downloaded, not sure why but anyhow downloaded another and dragged the file in. I had to try it a few times as at first it didn't work. Then I opened iTunes and connected my iPad. I stopped it from syncing my iPad with the computer and then went to Apps and add new. It showed the BlueFireReader on the left handside. When I clicked add new I then searched in downloads for the file from ebrary/adobe digital editions and it appeared in the new box. Then on my iPad in BlueFireReader it showed the book. But when I tried opening it it just showed the cover of the book i.e. 1 page. So back to the documents file on the Mac and downloaded the file of the book too. It still didn't work. It seemed to be downloading it to the Mac but not releasing it into iTunes for the iPad. I tried it a few more times and managed again to download the cover page and finally the book or at least a file that was the right size for the book but it wouldn't open. The error was that the loan of the book wasn't valid.

It had taken me hours and hadn't worked - it must be easier than this.
This must work, it does work according to lots of websites and info so I'll try again at home and then at work.

Friday, 6 January 2012

LRC 3D Wayfinder

Our 3D project involved two parts - the 3D Induction experience / walkthrough and the Wayfinder. We used the 3D LRC Induction last term successfully and have now got the at seat Wayfinder.  It uses the same 3D model of the LRC space, contents and resources but is used by individuals at their computers.

To use it you start by selecting where you are i.e. which computer area are you working at? 

Then you select the book subject area or other resource area you would like to find.

Then you are 'walked through' to your destination.

You can choose to walk faster or slower (potential here for whizzing round the LRC at top speed especially up the stairs) 

The other areas that you can select are printers, enquiry desks and lifts and you will be directed to the nearest one to your current location.  You can select rooms with specialist resources or facilities such as the Multimedia room and the Quiet room.

We are trialling it on a small number of computers so far.  We will then install it on all the computers in the LRC.  We are also going to have a standalone kiosk style computer so that users can walk up to it and find resources without having to log on to a computer first - they will then be able to search for available computers.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Learning and Technology Strategy Group

Yesterday was our first meeting of the term for the Learning and Technology Strategy Group.  We meet once or twice a term and the purpose of the group is to drive the strategic development of learning technologies across the College.  Such strategies are difficult not least because they are called different things in different educational establishments and change so rapidly.  Four years ago we had an ILT strategy, then it became a e-Learning strategy then an e-Learning & ICT strategy and we have recently changed it to the Learning & Technology strategy.  The strategy has a strategic group which endeavours to carry out, develop and take forward the aims and objectives.
The latest update to the strategic document have made it much more relevant and manageable - we have got rid of some of the details which were essentially a position statement of where we were as a College as far as learning technologies were concerned and also IT in general. This was a reflection of the time i.e. moving from 4 different campuses to one new 21st century technology enabled building with new resources.  It is much more focussed now on what we want to achieve as far as teaching and learning are concerned by using technology and resources.
It will change and develop over the next two years, it has to due to technological changes.  It will have no choice but to change in the face of the changes in teaching and learning that will happen in the FE sector but it provides a strong basis for us to move forward.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Spring term - Day 1

First day back after Christmas - it is wild, wet and windy outside including a blizzard mid afternoon which would have blown anyone off their feet.  However in the LRC it has been bright and warm and a relatively calm but busy day.  This might be due to it being Tuesday not Monday, Monday being our usual day for challenges.  Lots of students are back and seem to have got down to work quite quickly - it is a very different feel to the start of the year than in September with a much more organised and focused environment.
I have spent today catching up with tasks that I had quickly finished off in December and following them up more efficiently.  The email situation has not been to bad, not many outstanding which is very different to the situation at Easter or summer.
We are starting an e-learning project which we have some LSIS funding for based on online collaboration for teaching and mentoring.  It will be using Mizaru which is a web conferencing / virtual classroom environment based on Adobe Connect.  We have 30+ members of teaching staff who are interested in participating so we have designed the questionnaire which will be distributed to them tomorrow as a base line.  I'm hoping that it will go well and develop over the next few months.
This afternoon I spent doing finance and budget related tasks - something I put off given the chance especially at the end of term when I have no brain power nor inclination left. 
Tomorrow is our Learning & Technology Strategy Group meeting - we have changed the time from Monday afternoon to Wednesday morning to make it more convenient for more people to attend.  I've set the netbooks up with the papers for the meeting to encourage attendees to be paperless.  During the meeting we display the papers on the whiteboard too.