Innovative Programmes

I was recently asked a question about innovation. .. what are some characteristics of truly innovative programs (sic) using technology ..”

I had to say that I no longer have any confidence in programmes.

Like ‘project’, the word programme conjures up something that has a defined beginning and end, and which can be put away when finished. I’m sorry to say that this is my jaundiced view of many such programmes that have taken place over the past ten years or so; there seems to be a nod in the direction of sustainability but no more.

MoleNET for example, was at its outset a truly innovative and far reaching programme. As time progressed (it lasted three years until funding stopped) its value became more widely understood and it became a catalyst for understanding the potential for pedagogical use of technology per se and not just for mobile technologies. Mobile became interactive web and then cloud; each development being incorporated into projects and disseminated via the team of MoLeNET Mentors. It was just beginning to work when the financial rug was pulled. Despite the £millions pumped into MoLeNET and its requirement for sustainability the hosting websites have disappeared from view – they don’t even show up on Google anymore. In fact the Programme administrators, LSN are no more!

I’ve been asked lots of times what innovation is and I’m not sure that I know. Not for certain. I’m sure that it means new things, useful things, exciting things? But what is the purpose of innovation? Is it simply to exhibit new, useful and shiny things or is it to see these through to mainstream acceptance and understanding? I suspect that the latter is right but that innovators get bored once mainstream gets ahold and they move on. In that case I’m not really an innovator. I see the point and given the opportunity will try to mainstream that point.

With MoleNET we were able to see a widespread acceptance for the use of mobile tools and technologies throughout Further Education but I’m not certain that this innovation transferred to schools or universities. Schools are still running scared of mobile tools (unnecessarily in my opinion) and H.E. simply doesn’t get it. e.g. I delivered a workshop at an ALT conference some time ago, showing the then innovative use of PDAs (this was just before the iPhone) to those attending. Afterwards, someone from a university came up to me and asked if I really thought that PDAs would replace PCs because if that was so it would save the university £1,000s. First of all – I’d never said that anything mobile would ‘replace’, only ‘supplement’ and ‘add value’, and secondly, all this person could see was a way of saving money for her Chancellor.

I know that this isn’t the place to say it but … hey ho … the programme we most need is one that doesn’t finish: one where all those of us involved in education constantly seek effective ways of reaching our learners, we use what we can (whether it be a new method or technology or an old one) and move on from what doesn’t work.

Also see:

http://www.m-learning.org/

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IPDs

I’ve waited a while to post this. To protect the guilty I suppose, but even so – I think the issue needs raising. Perhaps even debating: my views might be wrong – who knows?

IPD’s? Innovation prevention departments: a term coined by a colleague in Scotland. What are they, why do they exist and how do they function?

Well, all institutions need someone, often a large team of someones, to look after their various networks and their technological kit. This, in many cases (but before you shout at me – not all, by any means) is the IPD.

These are the girls and boys who make sure the bulb in your projector is working. They ensure that your Interactive Whiteboard is aligned with the projector and that the PC running both is connected to both. They install the necessary software and keep it updated (they even ensure that all necessary plug-ins are installed and updated). Don’t they?

These are the people that make sure no one can get onto the institution’s ‘systems’ without a proper security clearance, but who also ensure that learners and visitors can easily access the internet from the institution’s premises. Don’t they?

They work with learning and teaching professionals, and management to decide which, if any, web sites should be banned or black listed following carefully considered reasoning. Often, when asked they move certain sites for certain courses onto course specific white lists. Don’t they?

Well – no: not all. Not by any means! In many establishments, several of which I have visited over recent weeks, getting onto the Internet is nigh on impossible unless you work or study there. As a visitor, an invited visitor at that, it is often a real chore to deliver the work I’m invited to deliver. Whilst I’ve yet to hear ‘not on your nellie’ I have had many similar responses when asking for access to the Internet via an institutional network. Let me clarify that – I don’t want to go onto the network itself, just to use it to access the Internet. Now – I can hear the clatter of keyboards rushing to tell me that the security of blah blah blah, is their role and to let me onto their blah blah blah is a breach of that security but surely – having someone in the room log me into ‘their’ (the staff member’s) little bit of the college network is far more dangerous. Yet it happens all the time.

Why can’t these unenlightened IPD professionals realise that all I (and others like me) want is Internet access? Like I would get in Starbucks (I think Mick Mullane, who is a [learner orientated] techie and who advocates this progressive sort of approach, calls it the Starbucks approach). I would have to log in of course, but the login I’m given would not allow me onto the institutional network, only the Internet (and by logging in I would be deemed to have accepted the institutional AUP). What’s hard about that?

Then – what about the bulb in the projector? Do these ever get changed? Several places I’ve visited lately don’t seem to have changed the bulb (or cleaned the lens) at all: ever. This leads to an unsatisfactory learning experience. One recently, was so bad that we had to borrow another projector and project that on the ceiling to get anything like a clear image. That was partly because the blinds on the sunshine side of the building didn’t function well – meaning that the poor bulb had to struggle even more in the (in other circumstances, welcome) daylight. [This would of course be a lack of communication between ‘estates’ and ‘IPD’ – but I won’t go there] Bulbs cost money I know – but so do disengaged learners that leave the course. And don’t get me started on disengaged teachers who have to put up with it every day.

So may I pose a few questions to the IPD (I’ll provide my own answers but welcome others)

What’s your role? To support the business of the institution.

What’s the business of the institution? Teaching and learning.

Who is at the core of teaching and learning? Teachers and Learners?

What’s your role?

Part two – software, updates and web sites – maybe coming soon …

Is Twitter innovative?

On Sunday last, I was invited to follow #spymaster (http://playspymaster.com/) on Twitter. Given that my invite came from a respected friend, and the fact that that friend is one who pushes the boundaries of learning technology (and the further – final fact that it was Sunday and not really a work day – although ….) I succumbed. You never know unless you try!

The game – and this does not really matter for the purposes of my post – puts you in the position of a James Bond, Ilya Kuryakin sort of spy. You have to earn money by doing simple tasks, buy ‘stuff’ to make you more powerful and assassinate people. That’s about it. I saw pretty early on that it was something that, if you became committed to it, would suck the time out of your life. It is/was like everything I hate about Face Book – pointless and silly. However, for the occasional 10 minutes I played with it on the day it was a harmless pastime. The main problem with it, is the viral nature of its invitation policy – unless you’re careful everyone you’ve ever written to or heard from on your email programme will be invited. The designers have clearly set out to rule the world.

Nevertheless, my agreeing to use the game was my choice.

It was a surprise therefore to read several Twitter posts which implied that the game was ‘not an innovative use of Twitter’. Because I thought it was. Had it been the sort of thing I actually liked, or if I could have found an educational use for the game – it might have been an innovative use of Twitter. Because Twitter itself no longer innovates. Twitter for many, is just another bandwagon and it’s shine will fade (see James Clay’s excellent:Ten reasons why Twitter will eventually wither and die… – he cites this game as an example of #9 ). Others have posted that they will un-follow(!!) Twitterers that post to #followfriday. Another form of creeping death.

So what is innovation? Is it anything that doesn’t have a bandwagon following it? Surely innovation is the taking of ‘something’ and putting it to another – useful – use? Perhaps that’s the real question – what do we as individuals deem to be useful?

Needless to say, I’ve now done what I can to disable my #spymaster account. I didn’t like it, I couldn’t see how it could be adapted for educational purposes and I can’t be bothered with it – but as I said before: you never know unless you try!

Also read: Ten things people say about using Twitter, but really they shouldn’t (James Clay).