MELSIG – Social Media for Learning #1 at Liverpool John Moores University 3rd June 2014

I took a day trip to Liverpool for an event from the Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group (MELSIG) called ‘Social Media for Learning #1: promoting participation and engagement with social and digital media in higher education’. ‘That’s a long way in a day’ my colleague said, but how could I miss the opportunity of an event so relevant to the Social and Cloud Based Learning and Teaching Service that I support?

Photograph of a seagull looking inquisitively into a windowng inquisitvly to a window
I photographed this seagull who was very interested in joining the session on Pinterest, no doubt already an expert tweeter.

The full programme offered multiple streams of presentations and in this post I’m sharing brief notes of my highlights of the day.

I arrived part way through the key note from Sue Beckingham (from Sheffield Hallam University) but did manage to catch some useful links giving advice for students :

The Sheffield Hallam Social Media Guidance Leaflets

Professional online presences for Students, Podcasts

Also a useful resource for staff, from Professor Andy Miah (University of the West of Scotland) The A to Z of Social Media for Academia, which lists platforms used by acedemics in their professional lives (you can contribute to this by email or follow the hash tag #socialmediaHE)

Professor Miah also contributed a very watchable YouTube video on Social Media in Teaching and Learning

Twitter in Journalism

Steve Harrison (@newsnumeracy) from Liverpool Hallam University gave an interesting presentation about Twitter as a tool for teaching and learning in the context of an undergraduate Journalism course. He explained that in Journalism Twitter is part of the professional repertoire. When I questioned this later he explained that using Twitter cannot be optional for Journalism students as they would not be able to get a job without being able to use it. So expertise with Twitter is threaded through the three years of the course in increased levels of complexity. In first year students learn to write news tweets in 140 characters, in the second year students use protected Twitter accounts as part of an assessed piece of work and in the third year the students use public Twitter as a source which they use to research and distribute live news stories.

Facebook Groups

Several speakers were talking about the use of Facebook. Mark Feltham (@MarkFeltham666) from Liverpool John Moores University shared his approaches to teaching 1st year students a core module in fundamentals of science, which offered several challenges including large amounts of statistics and a Monday 9am teaching slot. His approach included an innovative mix of: flexible pedagogies; student choice; and the ‘maker ethos’; and utilised Facebook groups. Marks presentation offered 10 reasons why you should use Social media in your teaching including several which focus on Facebook as a familiar place for students (he found 99% of students are already on it) which is quick and easy to use. He also found it easy and more creative to set work in Facebook, for example posting videos or using tools like Bitstrips. It was found to be a great way to manage group work because it gave evidence of contribution and he could ‘scrape posts’ to document this.

Anne Nortcliffe from Sheffield Hallam University also spoke about using Facebook to manage a computing course on which she taught. The students volunteered to set up and manage the closed group and also came with Anne to MELSIG to talk about their experiences. It was interesting to hear from the students directly and they spoke enthusiastically about this approach. They liked being able to see who had seen what was posted and that you could ‘tag’ people to draw their attention to things , features they don’t have in their VLE. They liked it because no one got left out of events if they were organised in Facebook. They also found it the easiest way to contact someone and worked out that tagging their tutor Anne was the best way to get her to contribute to a discussion. They described Facebook as ‘second nature for students’.

LinkedIn advice for Students

Charlotte Cork,  World of Work Team manager, Liverpool John Moores University offered advice on LinkedIn from the context of advising students, but much of which is applicable also to staff profiles. For example I now know that I can change my ‘professional headline’ rather than leaving it at its default setting of my current job title. She suggests that part of the value of LinkedIn for students is the insights that can be gained from looking at the profiles of people working in your field, their skills and career paths.

LinkedIn Advice for Students in Higher Education

Using Pinterest to bridge theoretical gaps

Oli Young of Sheffield Hallam University, described his use of Pinterest as a tool to bridge theoretical gaps. He is teaching subjects such as Business Management, Hospitality, Finance and Legislation to students at level 4, 5 & 6 with little work experience. The students have a task to plan an international conference, and use Pinterest as a board to collect resources, such as venues and destinations. This means that when students move on to further aspects of the process they already have developed a context for the project and so it is more meaningful and less abstract.


As you might anticipate there was a lot of Twitter activity for this event which you can see ‘storified’ here:

The focus of the day was on use of social media tools but I was interested to note that most speakers also talked about using the institutional VLE alongside these for other aspects on the course such as core content or assignment drop boxes. It interests me to see how the pieces such as core supported systems, external tools and service integrations  fit together in different institutions.


The presentations from this event can be found here.

MELSIG has a forthcoming event BYOD4L Bring Your Own Devices for Learning an open (registration free) learning event for students & teachers (facilitated, stand-alone, for other groups/courses) running online 14th – 18th July 2014.

Reflections from the Ninth International Conference on Networked Learning 2014 7th, 8th and 9th April 2014

Earlier this week I was able to attend the International Conference on Networked Learning when it was held in my home city of Edinburgh. I’ve not been to any of the previous conferences and was pleased to find this to be a very friendly and welcoming conference attended by an interesting group of delegates. It was also a very well organised event (and I’m not just saying this as much of this was so ably arranged by colleagues at the University of Edinburgh).


The conference hashtag was #nlc2014 and there was lots of twitter activity. I’m not yet experienced enough at multitasking to contribute to twitter during the sessions, but I could see that plenty of people around me where doing so. Interesting slides where photographed and on the twitter stream before I’d thought to take a photo. It also allowed me to get an idea of the sessions I’d not been able to attend. Tweets and retweets were coming from people not attending and it was clear that people were following the conference from elsewhere which really added to the buzz of the event and feeling of connecting to a wider community. I’m now following many people from this event which should give my Twitter account a new lease of life!

During the three day event I attended two key notes, two symposia and 17 full papers presentations/pecha kucha presentations and it appears (now that I am back in the office) that I wrote 18 pages of notes. Leaving me with the dilemma of how to distil this experience into a coherent blog post! I’m also aware that this is a very active group so much of the conference has already been blogged and tweeted (I’ve added some links at the end of the post).

For this post I’ll briefly talk about the two plenary speeches which were definite highlights for me. I think these have been recorded so should be available for others to enjoy, I’ll add the links when they are available.

Neil Selwyn: Why it is crucial to be critical

The first was from Neil Selwyn, Professor from Faculty of Education, Monash University in Australia. He gave a thought provoking opening plenary on ‘Why it is crucial to be critical’ in which he suggested that ‘Being critical is not in the ed-tech DNA’. He encouraged us (as educational technologists) to ask awkward questions:

Ask awkward questions – Selwyn

Q. what underlying values/agendas are implicit?

Q. in whose interests does this work? Who benefits?

Q. what is new here?

Q what are the un-intended consequences…what are the second-order effects?

Q. what are the potential gains…what are the potential losses?

Q. what are the social problems being addressed?


He also suggested 5 things for educational technologists to do:

  1. Need to de-personalise how we perceive ed-tech
  2. Need to be nasty (but after some debate downgraded this to snarky)
  3. Need to do this with humour and good grace
  4. Need to be contrary, contradictory, uncertain
  5. Need to be persistent and prominent

Followed by the call to: write often, publish often and publish widely.

I’m greatly looking forward to reading his book Distrusting Educational technology.

Steve Fuller: The lecture 2.0 or why the future of the University depends on brand

The second plenary speaker on the second day was Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology University of Warwick who gave a talk ‘The lecture 2.0 or why the future of the University depends on brand.‘

He started by asking: What difference do Universities make? Are they past their sell by date? Going against the current trends he states that lectures are very important. What is valuable about the lecture is not that it provides reliable transmission of information. Lecturers should exemplify ‘daring to know’, not be someone who can be reduced to their PowerPoint.

He made the case that since the Enlightenment the value of a University education was to teach individuals to learn for themselves and to make judgements for themselves. The right for free expression came along with this. Academic freedom was a guild right, because they had developed the skills to make judgements.

He proposed Lecturing as an art form of the University. Other providers can produce materials to transmit information and there are other accreditation bodies. Writing was made to come alive in the lecture. It is/was a branding medium, great Universities had the great lectures. They understood the difference between speaking and writing as mediums. The importance of improvisation, saying much more than is in the notes. For Steve Fuller being a good performer is important for an academic.

This was a great conference and I’m aware this post doesn’t really do justice to the breadth of the work presented. I’ve been privileged to meet fascinating people undertaking interesting work and I’m going to think further about how this impacts on my job, particularly around the development of the Social and Cloud based learning and teaching consultancy service which I am currently supporting and developing.

The first Networked Learning Conference was held in 1998, and has been held every two years since. The 10th conference will be in 2016, with the venue to be decided. Even if I can’t be there in person I’ll be following it on twitter.



The Networked Learning Conference Website:

Nicola Osbourne’s Live blog from Networked Learning 2014 gives lots more details of the sessions she was able to attend:

Peter J Evans blog post about Steve Fuller Keynote:


Setting out on an Agile project journey: Part 1, User Stories and Poker Chips

Last March I was given an interesting new project to work on:

  • The aim of the project is to deliver an interactive educational resource discovery tool that enables staff or students to answer a pedagogic or learning question they are trying to satisfy.
  • The tool will act as a bridge between the technology enhanced learning (TEL) services and the people who want to use them.

The seed of this project had sprung up from several colleagues working in learning technology support, it was inspired by the Service Options Graphic which was created to give an overview of the services offered in the Learning Services Team.

Grid showing the Learning Services
Learning Services Grid Graphic

The graphic proved very useful as tool both for promotion and supporting staff but quickly people started to say ‘if only we could have an interactive version of this….’

Initially it was hard for me to see how to translate this excellent if vague idea into an online tool. Fortunately Steph Hay joined both Information Services and this project in September 2013. With our small team complete and a tight deadline we decided to use an Agile Project methodology. Learning from the expertise of others in Information Services who have already used this approach: (Page behind EASE).

Agile projects are iterative and deliver more frequent releases of software. There is an emphasis on interaction and customer collaboration. They should be simple and reflective and take working software as the primary measure of success.  [ (Page behind Ease)].

Steph was then lucky enough to see a presentation given by colleagues in Applications Development ‘Darwin, Finches, and Poker Chips: An Agile Journey’ which they would later present at the Educause 2013 Conference.

She came back enthused and said our first steps were clear, we needed to find out what users want and the tools for doing this were ‘user stories’ – and poker chips.

Gathering User Requirements

At the end of last year we started by running several requirements gathering workshops using the ‘User Stories’ technique. This allowed us to capture user requirements in everyday language without thinking about technology. User Stories are written in the form:

As a/an……

I want to…..

So that…….

The short workshops took 1 hour and started with a brief introduction to the project and the technique. We then moved on to the main activity of discussing the project and getting the participants to complete the User Story Cards. Evaluation of these events was positive and included some nice comments: “interesting, fun, worthwhile!”

We also undertook a survey of teaching staff which received 148 responses and from this were able to add some additional User Stories and to see that a number of the user stories gathered from the workshops had broader support.

After reviewing the User Stories we had a group of 41 requirements. We then gave each a weighting which reflected the amount of effort we estimated would be required to implement this. These were numbered in the Fibonacci number series: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 (this was as high was we needed). This sequence was used as the sharp rise in the numbers reflects the uncertainty that is introduced to any estimation as you become less certain of how to implement a requirement. It also allows an easier way to agree on the estimation of effort as the difference between effort 8 and 10 is difficult to quantify while a difference in effort between 8 and 13 is easier. Each requirement and its weighting was then printed out onto A4 card for the prioritisation events.

In January, to prioritise the requirements we ran ‘poker chip prioritisation workshops with users’. I had optimistically advertised the events as ‘both informative and fun’. (I may have even mentioned Vegas at one point, but was sensible enough not to put this in writing!). After a brief introduction we gave each participant 20 poker chips and asked them to read the requirements (laid out across several tables) and to play the correct number of chips (either individually or in together) to vote for an item. This led to some interesting discussion as proposals were made and deals where cut. Steph and I where both impressed that this technique fulfilled our original expectations: it meant we engaged fully with the requirements and had them reviewed by several groups of users.

Photo of user story cards and poker chips.
User stories and poker chips from one of the prioritisation events


Where next?

So now; we have a set of working requirements and will shortly start the first iteration of the build phase. The vague initial idea is starting to move towards something more tangible and as we are using an agile process there should be working software to test soon.

Also, we are currently surveying staff across the university to decide on a name for this tool, and so hope to have something far more meaningful to call it by the time we write the next blog post on the subject.


Further details of this project are on the Projects Website.

You can subscribe to the project mailing list to be kept informed of project activity and to receive invitations to participate.

“Bring Me That Horizon” Jisc RSC Scotland Conference & iTech Awards 7 June 2013

A photograph of coffee, chocolate and wine
Images used under a creative commons licence with thanks to Rob & Dani on Flickr

How can you fault an event that starts with hot bacon rolls and ends with wine and chocolate? As ever the JISC Regional Support Centre Scotland know how to create an interesting, enjoyable and engaging event. Learning Services were well represented as David Findlay, Wilma Alexander and I all took the chance to attend this event which was particularly conveniently situated for us in Pollock halls in Edinburgh. In this blog post Wilma and I will share our highlights from the day (aside from the bacon and chocolate!).


I particularly enjoyed the Key Note from Professor Susannah Quinsee (City University London) who offered some helpful observations on Managing Change. She gave a very interactive presentation (unusually for a key note), including discussions post-it notes and an online poll and was remarkably upbeat when participants were reluctant to put post-it notes on the wall! She offered some thought provoking scenarios for ‘Universities of the Future’ and left us with the Challenge to Dream about possible futures.


1)    Derek Law (Chair of the JISC Advance Board) set a useful tone for the day: “Change isn’t optional” but suggesting that those who support innovation in learning will continue to be relevant providing that we match what the sector wants and needs. I’m always happy to hear more arguments for putting users at the centre of things and making sure we have quality information about them before we make decisions on their services. It was clear from this, and from lots of networking throughout the day, that HE and FE have more in common than differences, and have a lot to learn from sharing experiences.

2)    One of the parallel sessions I attended was led by Jason Miles-Campbell from JISCLegal. He discussed the growth of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and some of the joys and pitfalls of using sensitive data on phones, tablets and laptops in the educational context. These included BYOVRD (Bring your own virus-ridden device) and LYOD (Lose your own device) and left us all properly scared of our ignorance and carelessness. But it wasn’t a counsel of despair – more about helping individuals and organisations to recognise and manage the risks appropriately.  And of course JISC Legal  is on hand to provide neatly summarised information and appropriate advice as required.



JISC BYOD Toolkit:

An afternoon of Social Media: Tweets Posts and Analytics – 15 May 2013

I’m currently working on plans for a new service within Learning Services which will offer Advice on Social Media use in Learning and Teaching. Because of this I jumped at the chance to attend an event hosted by the Edinburgh Entrepreneurship Club which offered a whole afternoon of presentations about Social Media in a broad business context.

Wooden figures are set out in two intersecting social circles
Image used with thanks to jairoagua under a creative commons licence

The first presenter Louise Connelly (Social Media Officer at the Institute for Academic Development ) shared insights into how she manages her own ‘Social Media Brand’ or digital presence across various platforms (including Twitter, WordPress, LinkedIn, and in different roles: personal; research; professional; collaborative projects.

In response to a question about how to target particular demographic groups, she recommended the Pew Research Center as a source of up to date information about who is using which Social Media Service and I’m grateful  to her for recommending this fascinating resource.

Dug Campbell (Digital Director at MBM Commercial) explored the legal side of Social Media, and emphasised the importance of every company having a social media policy. His talk contained the following food for thought ‘Every tweet is an act of publication – including a retweet’.

I was introduced to the concept of ‘Niche Networks’ which are focused around specific interests in the presentation about  KILTR a social media platform designed to connect Scottish interests globally

Alex Robertson & Jennie Stamp from YardDigital and Joe Halliwell from Sodash opened my eyes to the possibilities offered by Social Media Analytics for companies.  These presenters showed tools (ranging from inbuilt options, to specialist options) that could make sense of this data from social media sites and also help manage multiple presences across social media sites.  Joe Halliwell also explained how some analytic data is missing (e.g. location data), or needs to be paid for (e.g. historical data), but personally was happy with a payment model, he closed with this thought ‘Everyone needs a business model, if you aren’t paying, the service is you’.

This was an excellent event and I’ll be keeping a close eye in the EClub for future inspiring events.

Further Links:

Storify has been used to bring together tweets about this event

Presentations from the event are online

The University of Edinburgh Social Media Guidelines


Digital Scholarship: Day of Ideas 2, 2nd May 2013

In May I had the pleasure of attending this excellent event with two of my colleagues from Learning Services , Fiona Littleton and Stuart Nicol.  Here I am sharing my highlights from a thought provoking day.

Big Data – In her Keynote presentation Tara McPherson spoke about how Big Data sets could be harnessed for research in humanities but emphasized that Humanities scholars should engage with the creation of tools that suit their needs.  She shared the example of Mukurtu which is a platform for cultural heritage that is controlled by the people who own the information.

Tara also introduced the Vectors Journal which she edits and which offers some very different options for academic outputs than a standard text journal article:

From a social media perspective I enjoyed the presentation of Professor James Loxley and Dr Anna Groundwater from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology talking about Ben Jonson’s Walk (, on foot from London to Edinburgh, and which was chronicled by an anonymous companion in a recently discovered manuscript.  I like the idea that as they have not been able to physically make the journey they will reenact it virtually on Twitter this July.

Aristotle latin manuscript
Aristotle latin manuscript. Image used with thanks under a creative commons licence from From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Dr Eyal Poleg made some interesting observations in his talk ‘Old Light on New Media: Medieval Practices in the digital age’ where he showed that medieval texts had more in common with digital texts than you might imagine.  I particularly appreciated his observation that as a WIKI is designed for co-creation, a medieval book was also a communal object belonging to a group or family. Annotations were encouraged by wide margins and spaces between the lines. Additional annotations were seen to add value to the text.  This is very different from the attitude to books I was raised with where books were not to be drawn in or marked!  It seems that the belief that a book is in itself the repository of truth and therefore not to be amended, is a more modern phenomenon.

A link to the videos of the two keynote speeches at this year’s Day of Ideas:

Digital Scholarship website:


ELearning@Ed Conference – 12 April 2013 – Just how flexible is flexible?

I and several colleagues from the Learning Services team, attended the annual eLearning@Ed conference.  This years theme was: “Just how flexible is flexible?”, which attracted a diverse and packed programme with Ray Land invited as a key note speaker and many excellent speakers from across the University. It was well attended and offered a great chance to catch up with colleagues.

A photograph of two leather bound books, their spines bent round into curves so the pages touch
This image is by J.Mark Bertrand is reused with thanks under a Creative Commons licence

My own small contribution to the conference was to put together posters about new features coming up in LEARN (our central VLE) when it is upgraded in the summer:

But enough about me, after a weekend to recover and reflect, these are the edited  highlights from the Learning Services Team:

Professor Ray Land of the University of Durham gave a thought provoking talk about the implications, meanings and risks of speed, including an entertaining video of Father Guido Sarducci proposing the Five Minute University to lead into his discussion question:  If universities are not about content then what then? This led later to a fascinating quote from Cable Green about the limited percentage of the population who could currently access Higher Education and the possibility of open education to ‘afford the opportunity to satisfy everyone’s right to get as much education as they desire’.

Ray introduced some interesting ideas such as MOOD (Massive Open Online Databases) and the importance of Learner Analytics and data democratisation. Analytics appeared to be a hot topic coming up in a later talk by Assistant Principle Ian Pirie and again in the final panel discussion. Ray also referred to the predicted post-humanist era and the notion of ‘conscious machines’, but commented on the very human characteristic of contemplation and reflection.

Dr Jo-Anne Murray spoke about the recent very successful experience of running a MOOC in Equine Nutrition. They hoped to use this to raise the international profile of the online distance Masters programme in Equine Science as Jo-Anne said they hoped ‘Like One Direction to break America’, applications are just starting to come in for the next intake of the Masters but Jo-Anne was confident that the MOOC had successfully raised both her professional  and the Masters programme profile.

Dr Sue Rigby (Vice Principal Learning and Teaching) and EUSA Hazel Marzetti both spoke very positively about the benefits of mainstreaming accessibility exceptions, such as allowing all students to audio record any lecture, or requiring all staff to supply content/reading lists in advance of lectures as this allowed students the flexibility to study in ways that best suited them.

Prof. Jamie Davies gave some interesting reflections on the flipped classroom from a low tech perspective, highlighting the importance of working with students as equals in a trusting, enquiring and exploratory environment.

I hope you enjoy our highlights, but of course this brief post can’t really do justice to the full conference experience, we are already looking forward to next year’s event.  Please feel free to add any comments you have about this post or share your own higlights from the conference.