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Social media toolkit workshop: Milton Keynes

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Tuesday, 8 Apr 2014, 15:55

26 March was another busy day.  In the morning I had managed to get myself onto something called a ‘social media toolkit workshop’.  In the afternoon, I had to go to a M364 Interaction Design (Open University) module team meeting.  This is a quick summary (taken from my paper-based analogue notes) of the workshop.  I should mention that I had to bale out of it early due to the other meeting commitment, so I wasn’t able to benefit from some of the closing discussions.  Nevertheless, I hope what is here might be of use to someone (!)

Objective

The university has created something called a social media toolkit which could be used by any academic (or any other group within the university) who might have an interest in using social media to share stories about projects or outcomes from research.  It is designed to be useful for those who are new to social media, as well as those who have a bit more experience. 

If you’re reading this from internally within the university, you might be able to access an early version of the toolkit (OU Social Media Toolkit).  In essence, the toolkit contains resources about how to capture and use different types of digital media, such as audio recordings, geo locations (or geodata), photos, text or video. The kit also aims to (as far as I understand) to offer examples of how these different types of media could be used within an academic context.

The objective of the day was to introduce the toolkit to a group of interested participants to gather up some views about how it might be potentially enhanced, developed or improved.  Since I could only stick around for a part of the day, I was only able to attend the first part of the day, which comprised of a forceful and evangelical presentation by Christian Payne, who runs a website (or social media hub) called Documentally.

The following sections have been edited together from the notes that I made on the day.

Social media and stories

Our presenter was very good at sharing pithy phrases.  One of the first that I’ve noted down is the phrase: ‘your story is your strategy about what you want to share’.  In retrospect, this phrase is a tricky to unpack, but your strategy might well be connected to the tools that you use, and the tools might well connect to the types of media that you are able (or willing) to produce.

During the first session we were told about different tools.  Some tools were immediately familiar, such as Twitter and YouTube, but there were others that were more niche and less familiar, such as Flickr, FourSquare, Audioboo and Bamboozer.  (A point was made that that YouTube can now be considered to be the webs second biggest search engine).  Another interesting point (or strategy, or technique) was that all tools should be focused towards a hub, perhaps a website (or a blog).  This isn't a new idea: this blog connects up to my OU website, which also had a feed of recent publications.

Here are some more phrases I've noted.  It’s important to get stories seen, heard and interacted with, and ‘a social network is the interaction between a group of people who share a common interest’. 

A really interesting phrase is ‘engineering serendipity’; ‘serendipity lives in the possibility of others discovering your materials’.  The point is that it’s all about networks, and I can clearly sense that it takes time and effort to create and nurture those networks.

The power of audio

An area that was loosely emphasised was audio recordings.  Audio, it is stated, connects with the ‘theatre of the mind’ (which reminded me of a quote or a saying that goes, ‘radio has much better pictures than television’).  Audio also has a number of other advantages: it is intimate, and you can be getting along with other things at the same time on your device whilst you listen to an audio stream.  Christian held the view that ‘photoslide sharing can create better engagement than videos’.

There was a short section of the morning about interview techniques: start easy and then probe deeply, be interested, take time to create rapport and take the listener on a journey.  Editing tools such as GarageBand and Audacity were touched upon, and a number of apps were mentioned, such as Hokusai and SoundCloud (that allows you to top and tail a recording).

Audio recordings can be rough and ready (providing that you do them reasonably well).  Another point was: ‘give me wobbly video, or professional video, but nothing in between’.  I made a note that perhaps there is something authentic about the analogue world being especially compelling (and real) if it is presented in a digital way.  In a similar vein, I’ve also noted (in my analogue notebook) ‘if you throw out a sketch, people are drawn to it’ (and I immediately start thinking about a TEDTalk that I once saw that comprised of just talking and sketching – but I can’t seem to find it again!)

Here are two other phrases: ‘good content always finds an audience, but without context it’s just more noise’, and, ‘you can control your content, but not how people react to it’.  Whilst this second quote is certainly true, this connects to an important connected point about using the technology carefully and responsibly.

A diversion into technology

During the middle of the presentation part of the workshop, we were taken on a number of diversions into technology.  We were told about battery backups, solar powered mobile chargers and the importance of having set of sim cards (if you’re going to be travelling in different countries).  Your choice of devices (to capture and manipulate your media) is important.  Whilst you can do most things on a mobile phone, a laptop gives you that little bit more power and flexibility to collate and edit content.

We were also told about networking tools, such as PirateBox, which is a bit like a self-contained public WiFi internet in a box, which can allow other people (and devices) to connect to one another and share files without having to rely on other communications networks.

The structure of stories

Putting the fascinating technology aside, we return to the objective of creating stories through social media.  So, what are stories?  Stories, it is argued, have a reveal; they grab your attention.  It’s also useful to say something about the background, to contextualise a setting.  A story is something that we can relate to.  It can be a tale that inspires or makes us feel emotional.

We were told that a story, in its simplest form, is an anecdote, or it’s a journey.  An important element is about the asking of questions (who, what, when, when, how), followed by a pay-off or resolution.  But when we are using many different tools to create different types of media, how do we make sense of it all?  We’re again back to the idea of a hub website.  A blog can operate as a curation tool.  It can become an on-line repository for useful links, notes and resources.

Reflections

The workshop turned out to be pretty interesting, and our facilitator was clearly a very enthusiastic about sharing a huge amount of his life online.  There, I feel, lies an issue that needs to be explored further: the distinction between using these tools to share stories about your research (or projects), and how much of yourself you feel comfortable sharing.  I feel that, in some occasions, two can become intertwined (since I personally identify myself with the research that I do).

On one hand, I clearly can see the purpose and the benefits of both producing and consuming social media.  On the other hand, I continue to hold a number of reservations. During the presentation, I raised some questions about security, particularly regarding geo-location data.  (I have generally tried to avoid explicitly releasing my GPS co-ordinates to all and sundry, but I’m painfully aware that my phone might well be automatically doing this for me).  An interesting comment from our facilitator was, ‘I didn’t realise that there would be so much interest in security’.  This, to me, was surprising, since it was one of the concerns that I had in forefront my mind.

Although I did mention that I left the workshop early, I did feel that there was still perhaps more of an opportunity to talk about instance of good practice, i.e. examples of projects that made good use of social media to get their message out.  Our presenter gave many personal examples about reporting from war-torn countries and how he interviewed famous people, but I felt that these anecdotes were rather removed from the challenge of communicating about academic projects.

I can see there is clear value in knowing how to use different social media tools: they can be very useful way to get your message across, and when your main job is about education and generating new knowledge, there’s almost an institutional responsibility to share.  Doing so, it is argued, has the potential to allow others to discover your work (in the different forms it might take), and to ‘engineer serendipity’.

I came away with a couple of thoughts.  Firstly: would I be brave enough to ever create my own wobbly video or short audio podcasts about my research interests?  This would, in some way, mean exposing myself in a rough and ready and unedited way.  I’m comfortable within the world of text and blogs (since I can pretty much edit what I say), but I feel I need a new dimension of confidence to embrace a new dimension of multimedia. 

Two fundamental challenges to overcome include: getting used to seeing myself on video and getting used to my own voice on audio recordings.  I can figure out how to use technology without too many problems (I have no problems with using any type of gadget; after all, I can just do some searches on YouTube).  The bigger challenge is addressing the dimension of performance and delivery.  I’m also remember the phrase, ‘just because everyone can [make videos or audio recordings], doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should’.

I’m also painfully aware that research stories need to be interesting and engaging if they are to have impact.  I’m assuming that because I’m thinking of this from the outset, this is a good thing, right?

I’ll certainly be looking at the toolkit again, but in the meantime, I’ll continue to think about (and play with) some of the tools I’ve been introduced (and reintroduced) to.  Much food for thought.

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Teaching and learning programming for mobile and tablet devices

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 3 Mar 2014, 18:45

I attended a HEA workshop about the teaching and learning of programming for mobile and tablet devices at London Metropolitan University on 15 June 2012.  This is a quick summary of my own take on what happened on the day, combined with a set of personal reflections, some of which I've added in the body of this summary.  I'm writing this with the hope that this summary might be useful for some of the attendees, and for others who were unable to attend.

In some ways, this was a second of a 'mini series' of two workshops about mobile technologies, the first being held in the University of Buckingham back in May 2012.  A quick write up of this earlier workshop, which has more of a focus on employability skills can be viewed by visiting an earlier blog post.

The day began with an introduction by Dominic Palmer-Brown who clearly emphasised the importance of mobile technologies.  Dominic commented that the subject is particularly important 'to ourselves and our students', going on to emphasise that skills working with and developing mobile technologies are in demand by industry.  A number of presentations appeared to confirm that this was the case, particularly the final presentation.

The potential of social media and mobile devices in informal, professional and work-based learning

Professor John Cook, from London Metropolitan University gave an opening keynote about how mobile devices could be used to help facilitate teaching and learning.  John introduced us to a number of different ideas and projects, enabling us to appreciate the variety of ways in which mobile devices may be used.  Mobile devices can be used to 'add information' to physical space, for instance, reminding me of research into wearable computing and the development of Google Goggles, for instance.

Connecting to the themes of location, history and learning, John introduces us to a project that enabled students, through the use of mobile devices, to learn more about the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey (Fountains Abbey, Wikipedia).  Mobile devices facilitate the delivery of different types of media which can be chosen depending upon the location of the user

Whilst technology on its own is always interesting, its use and application can be enhanced through the understanding and application of pedagogic theories.  John made reference to Vygotsky (Wikipedia), who coined the term Zone of Proximal Development (Wikipedia).  Other important points that I've noted is the role that peers play a very important role in learning, and John emphasised the importance of scaffolding of learning activities (the subject of pedagogy, particularly inquiry based learning was the focus of an earlier HEA event).  On a related note, I personally feel I have a fair way to go in terms of understanding how to make the best use of the technologies I have at my disposal.  The pedagogy of technology is something that I am sure that I'll continue to mention in these blogs.

John also introduced an abbreviation that I was not familiar with: BOYD, meaning, Bring Your Own Device.  Perhaps it has already got to a point where it may be surprising if a student doesn't bring some kind of mobile technology to their lectures. 

It was interesting to hear the view that social media used in the work place was considered to be an area that is under researched.  This thought reminded me of an earlier presentation by Vanessa Gough, from IBM at a previous HEA workshop about professional on-line identities where she showed how employees were making use of social media to share information with each other.  Perhaps it is an area that is under researched, but I do sense that social media within the work place is certainly being used and applied.

John also mentioned a new EU funded project called Learning Layers.  Like many EU projects, Learning Layers has a number of collaborators from different countries. Finally, some slides that connect to the ideas and the projects that John spoke of can be found on SlideShare.

Teaching Mobile App Development at Postgraduate level at London Metropolitan

Yanguo Jin gave the first 'main' presentation of the day where he shared with us some of the experience that had been gained at London Met over the past five or six years.  Yanguo made reference to an industry report which predicted that mobile internet will take over fixed internet by 2014.  It was also viewed that mobile technology skills, such as HTML 5, iOS and Android are considered to be increasingly important.

Knowing about a particular skill is one thing, being able to demonstrate mastery in something is a different (but related issue).  To address this challenge Yanguo holds the view that students should ideally create a portfolio of apps (perhaps in combination with other students) to demonstrate their skills and abilities to a prospective employer.

Teaching of mobile technologies at London Met is through an industry-oriented practical approach that emphasises depth (in terms of making use of a single platform) as opposed to breadth (covering a number of different platforms).  I think this is important, since whatever platforms developers end up using, they always have got to 'get into the detail' of the environments and tools that they have to use. 

Key subjects that are covered in the module includes the model-view controller (MVC) design pattern, the use of an integrated development environment (IDE), aspects of visual design, issues relating to power and memory management, web services, development methods and object-oriented programming.

One particular aspect of the teaching that was said to work well is the facilitation of peer-to-peer support (a point which connected to John's keynote).  Another great technique was to encourage students to teach each other through their own seminars, and allowing them to choose their own projects (thus helping to keep students motivated).

Approaches to teaching programming of mobile devices

Gordon Eccleston from Robert Gordon University shared with us some of his experienced he gained whilst teaching students to develop iPod and iPhone apps. Gordon began by asking an interesting question.  He said, 'is programming mobile devices different to other kinds of programming, such as programming using Java or .NET?'  His answer is 'not really'.  Like with other aspects of programming the only real way to learn is to get on and do it.  Gordon also made an argument that we might get to a point where we may not distinguish between different types of device, such as a phone, a tablet or a laptop - we may end up calling them all 'computers' (especially that some mobile phones are now as powerful, computationally speaking, as laptops).  At some point in time, mobility may be an attribute that we automatically assume.

Gordon echoed John's earlier comments about BOYD.  Whilst at the moment Gordon provides his students with a set of iPod Touch devices which they can use (separately from any other device that they may own), one important consideration when teaching mobility may be the availability of effective WiFi in the classroom.

Increasingly, students may wish to work from home or work part time (which connects to John's earlier keynote on the subject of mobile learning).  To facilitate different ways of learning, institutions can make use of technology to allow students to gain access to learning.  Material can, of course, be delivered through an institutional VLE.

Gordon concluded his presentation by speaking about interactive books, which I remember reading was going to be Steve Job's 'next big thing'.  Gordon mentioned a company named Giglets which produces interactive multimedia 'books' for either PCs or eBook readers.  There is also the increasing possibility (or, even, likelihood) that students in primary schools may begin to make use of tablet devices.  

This broader discussion about tablet devices in schools made me begin to wonder about the extent to which digital books and institutional services or systems (such as VLEs) can be connected together and how institutions can support the use of mobile technology through the use of organisational structures.  Whilst technology may sometimes help, organisational structures and support must always facilitate its use, but understanding how to best achieve this can be a whole different challenge.

Teaching Android Programming at Oxford Brookes

Ian Bayley and Faye Mitchell gave a joint presentation about their experience of teaching Android programming at Oxford Brookes.  I remember hearing that they clearly emphasise that mobility is a whole lot more than just the phone.  I completely agree.  One interesting observation is the programming is an activity that is continually difficult.  When it comes to learning how to program, high levels of motivation is really important.  An interesting point is that students who may be strong at mathematics can find programming difficult.  Whilst mathematical skills may be useful, 'algorithmic thinking' may be something that is quite different.

Students are introduced to programming through the use of other tools and languages, such as Alice (which has been mentioned at a number of other HEA events), and Processing (which is a Java-based language that can be used to create graphics and data visualisations, for example).

I also remember hearing about the creation of screencasts to allow students to get a more direct understanding of some of the applications that are used.  Towards the end of the presentation there was time to discuss assessments.  Students are given the opportunity to create their own app.  Examinations, it was argued, was considered to be an inappropriate way to assess knowledge and understanding.  This is especially pertinent given the practical nature of mobile programming.

Bedfordshire's Experiences teaching app development with Lua and Corona SDK

Ian Masters presentation was very different from the others.  Ian's talk was more of a demonstration of two different (and related) developments: a programming language called Lua (which I had never heard of), and a corresponding SDK called Corona (which I had also never heard of).  In combination with each other they can represent a 2D game development environment for different mobile devices.  Interestingly, Lua and Corona are multi-platform, which means that code is (of course) transferrable between different mobile operating systems and devices, making it a really attractive tool.

Ian began his presentation by defining a simple environment in which a game may be played.  This involved defining screen elements, such as a floor, and also blocks.  Another interesting aspect of the environment is that Corona also comes with its own physics engine.  Items that are defined on the screen can bounce on and fall off items that have been defined.  It looks to be really good fun!

Mobile Teaching Experience from University of Buckingham

Harin Sellahewa told us about a new module that is being taught at the University of Buckingham from September onwards.  The aims of the module is to introduce students to mobile application develop, to help them to create a realistic app and to enable students to understand the wider commercial opportunities and issues that surround mobile app development.

Some of the learning objectives include understanding the components of a smartphone (such as its various peripherals), to critically understand the difference between mobile devices and PCs and for students to be able to design, develop and test applications.  Interestingly, the module is using a Windows development platform.  One reason for this different focus is due to familiarity with the Xbox development environment that Buckingham already uses.  I look forward to hearing about how the first presentation went and what challenges were overcome.

Our experience of teaching mobile programming on different platforms at Staffordshire University

Catherine French and Dave Gillibrand presented some of their experiences of teaching mobile programming at Staffordshire University.  It was great to see that mobility has been a subject that has been taught at Staffordshire for quite some time, beginning with Java ME and Windows CE (PDAs) before moving onto Android and iOS.

One of the tasks (or assignments) that students are presented with is the challenge of creating a 2D game, which sounds like a tough challenge.  To address this issue, a very useful and helpful teaching paradigm has been adopted where students are given code examples where students are then encouraged to change the example.  This was considered to be particularly useful with some aspects of programming, such as multi-threading, which students can find difficult.

I hold the view that using examples is a really good idea; I very often used this strategy when I was working in industry.  Examples give students a combination of relatively immediate results (which can be rewarding) whilst also providing the materials that allow learners to gain an understanding of how things work, which may be only acquired over time.

An important point that was made is that a using a real mobile device is so much better than an emulator.  Whilst an emulator can simulate the operation of some mobile peripherals, such as the GPS sensor, for example, other aspects of a mobile device, such as the behaviour of the touch screen are best experienced (and tested) with a real device.

I was impressed by the breadth of subjects that students may be introduced to as a part of their studies.  These may include consuming public web services, development of an application using agile techniques which can include the use of test driven development (TDD) and using tools that are used in industry, such as Subversion.

A final point is that some students may begin a module with the view that developing apps may be something that could be easy.  Programming is something that certainly isn't easy.   I guess a personal reflection is that educators not only need to convey difficult technical concepts and expose problem solving challenges to students, educators also need to work to manage expectations.  Programming, irrespective of whatever form it takes, is a craft and it takes time to acquire craft knowledge (and experience).

From the desktop to devices: teaching interaction design

I have to confess that I was responsible for the penultimate presentation of the day.  Tempting though it is, I'm not going to write in the third person for this part of this blog.  Instead, I'll refer to myself as 'I' as opposed to 'Chris'.

My own presentation was slightly different than all the others since it wasn't about mobile technology or even about programming.  Instead it focused upon the process of designing interactive products and experiences (of which, programming will eventually play an important part).  My presentation was based on experience gained as an Open University associate lecturer over the past six or so years where I have tutored a module entitled Fundamentals of Interaction Design (which I'll call M364).

M364 is a great module.  It introduces students to key concepts such as usability goals, user experience goals and design principles.  It then helps students to appreciate the power of sketching.  Students are introduced to the concepts of evaluation where they are then encouraged to understand the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches.

During my presentation I described a scenario where a mobile device to guide a visitor around a historical location needed to be designed.  I quickly outlined different types of sketches.  The first was a storyboard, which enables designers to think about the broader context in which a product is used.  The second is a card-based prototype which allows designers to consider the sequence of interactions (and even simulate them).  The final sketch was a more detailed interface sketch which contained more detailed design about icons and how information is presented to a user.

The title of my brief presentation reflects the notion that the design process can be applied to many different kinds of platforms and devices.  Not only can the interaction design process be applied to mobile or desktop applications, but also to static devices, such as ticket machines, for example.

Why teaching mobile? An Industry's perspective

The final presentation of the day was by Abdul Hamid.  One of the striking aspects of Abdul's presentation was where he shared with us some graphs from an on-line job site (Indeed) which emphasised the demand for certain mobile skills.  Some older skills, it was argued, were waning in popularity whilst others (particular those that were mobile related) were becoming increasingly popular.

Reflections

I felt that this was a very cohesive event, in the sense that there were a number of presentations that were entirely dedicated to sharing of not only teaching practice (and insights about what works and what doesn't), but there was a lot of commonality in terms of technologies and tools.  Although there were many high points of the day, the highlight for me was finding out about Lua and Corona.  I had never heard of these tools before, which reminded me of how difficult it is sometimes to keep up to date in a fast moving field, such as mobile technology and software development.

As mentioned earlier, technology is a part of a bigger picture.  John's presentation touched upon the importance of theory and history, particularly with regards to the domain of mobile learning.  Mobile has an important role to play within business, commerce and our wider social environment.  Other disciplines will undoubtedly play an increasing role when it to understanding the increasing role that mobile technology plays in our everyday lives.  Just to echo words from John's keynote, pedagogy, usability and content are all important areas.

At the end of the workshop there was a short opportunity to discuss how the participants could potentially work together, collaborate and continue to share practice.  There was also some debate about having a follow up meeting next year: a really positive outcome - congratulations to the organisers at London Met!

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