TechDis Ambassadors

Ever since the first meting in August, I’ve been working with some delightful colleagues on the planning of a new initiative being undertaken jointly by the JISC TechDis and the JISC RSC SE.

The intention is to create and develop a community of TechDis Ambassadors in the south east of England. The TechDis Ambassadors can be students or staff.

In the first instance, interested parties have been asked to fill in a short form by 12th October and to then attend a face to face meeting at Guildford College, on 8th November. Invitations are offered to all areas of post 16 education [the further education sector] based in the JISC RSC-SE region.

The aim is to promote and celebrate the use of technologies that help the learning process, especially for those who experience difficulties with their learning. Our meeting on 8th November will explore ways in which this can be done and begin the project planning process.

A Facebook group has also been set up for TechDis Ambassadors and the hope is that this will form the basis of an ongoing, collaborative community. Anyone with tips or tricks that promote and celebrate the use of accessible interventions is welcome to join. Or, you can follow the TechDis Ambassadors on Twitter.



I’ve just completed two more days out on the road for JISC TechDis.

It has been great to get out and meet people again this week: in Leeds on Wednesday and Taunton on Thursday. At both venues, it was good to meet old friends and colleagues and to make new acquaintances.

One of the things I’ve missed about my most recent work (2012) being mainly office based has been the lack of face-to-face human contact. There are various points of view regarding the fitness for purpose and value of online learning/collaboration and I have to say that I have argued for many of its positive aspects in the past, yet I believe that online activities can only be truly effective if there is some planned human contact as part of the process.

Being out and about and meeting people again has been great for me, I thrive on it.

I wrote last week about the new TechDis ‘Voices’ and this week I will touch upon the new ‘Toolbox’ facility. Perhaps later, when I have finished with the RSC summer fairs, I will reflect more on online distance learning and communications.

“[Toolbox] is a collection of resources which give useful hints and tips on technologies that can help individuals work smarter, quicker and more efficiently. JISC TechDis has a history of providing simple easy-to-use resources for tutors and lecturers. Here we have shifted our focus and Toolbox is aimed directly at the end users – the learners themselves.

As the above quote suggests, the Toolbox resources are aimed at learners rather than at teachers (although teachers are learners too!) When I was asked to create one small section of the site, it was suggested that I put myself in the shoes of someone who had never opened a computer before and to try and explain to that person how they might ‘Get started with Windows (7)’. That was an enlightening exercise, I can tell you because I’d never used Windows 7 at the time. I had stopped using Windows Vista in some despair and had become a Mac enthusiast. That ‘distance’ made it much easier for me to imagine the virginal adult user and hopefully, the resources I made are as acceptable and usable as those created by my fellow authors.

The Toolbox page is divided into ‘drawers’. Following the Toolbox semiotic, each drawer contains a different type of tool:

  • Using Technology: features subjects like Working in Windows, Microsoft Office, Working in Mac OSX and many more.
  • Planning and Organisation: featuring; managing your messages, finding information (amongst others).
  • Communicating: Presenting yourself, Reading tools, Writing tools (and so on).
  • Teamworking: Team planning, Team communication, Collaboration etc.
  • Different needs: Vision, Hearing, Mobility to name just a few subjects in this section.

You may well recognise some of the different voices featured in each section (drawer) – and hopefully, you will recommend this site to colleagues and friends who may find something useful amongst the many resources to be found there. Let us know what you think.

Cinderella Experts

This has been a comparatively busy week. A weeks of highs and lows.

The low was at a college I visited, where they’d spent £900+ on some software that came on a WinMob device (x 10 units = circa £10,000) but hadn’t been able to deploy the tools yet, despite having had two lots of training. Summer curtailed the first effort and an OfSTED visit curtailed the second. All is set up now to begin deploying straight after half term, fingers crossed.

The software allows a teacher to set up a graphical interface which learners can then follow – ideal for some autistics and those needing reminders of and instructions for various tasks. I can’t name the software, that would be unfair, but the tutor involved was gutted when I showed her what we could do now with an iPod Touch (current version or previous).

I showed her iConverse, which is a tool designed for young children and learners with communicative disabilities and toddler-aged children who have yet to master language. £5.99 on iTunes. She saw that it could pretty much do the job needed and with iPod Touches running at less than £200 they could have had five times as many units to play with – and with hardly any training required. The same devices could also have run the SpeakIt App which allows words to be typed in to it (or cut and pasted in) to be read out aloud. £1.99. And then of course there are all the useful FREE Apps that would make the purchase worthwhile. But now they know. Now YOU know.

I also attended the JISC e-Ped Experts meeting in Birmingham on Wednesday.

I’ve not been able to attend any of these periodic meetings for a while now, but the current scarcity of work allowed me to attend this week’s. And although I have nothing to do with any of the projects which were being reported on I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The people I met made the day for me – networking is one of the real benefits of get togethers like this.

These JISC led ‘experts’ meetings have always been good, a great chance to share information and to comment on the work of others but there was a time when I felt I was attending a dinner to which I’d not been invited. Not much has changed I’m afraid. None of JISC’s project money has gone to F.E. in England for quite a number of years now – through no fault of those working in F.E, just some political machinations. Actually, I mislead my readers as some money has gone to F.E: if they teach H.E. to more than 400 FTEs and if those 400 directly benefit, there has been the chance of funding. Still, there has been no real financial imperative to foment innovation and its spread across F.E.

That sounds like sour grapes, and I suppose it is, but as I sat and listened to some interesting and exciting new initiatives (we did have a little debate on Twitter about what ‘innovation’ was, so I’ll avoid that word if I can) but all of them were from H.E. and yet all of them had been done and are still being done in F.E. Sadly there’s no platform to shout out about these successes. Very often the tutor doing that inventive work is doing so in a silo and getting little if any support from the institution itself (even less now that there will be 25% cuts across the board). Why doesn’t Sandra get the chance to show what she’s doing with Nintendos, or Gill what she’s doing with PSPs? Why has Paul’s use of memory cards gone unsung? Jonathan’s great work with GPS and special needs learners? Is it that their work isn’t well regarded or is it just because they don’t have a platform to shout from any more?

Hopefully, the drive to be more efficient across public sectors will help funders to realise that F.E. cannot be left out in the cold like this, there is too much for everyone else (especially in H.E.) to lose by not taking note of the ‘innovations’ which are being trialled and then discarded or embedded in a whole variety of sub-H.E. subject areas.

It was great to see many old friends in Birmingham; the old Ferl team seemed to be there in force – in different guises these days, but there nevertheless. Many friends from the various RSCs too, I renewed my acquaintance with Paul Richardson, with Shri, with Cam and although no longer with RSC, with Helen. It was great to hear Ron talking about Xerte again, I learn something new from him every time he speaks. I’d like to have had more time to speak with Geoff Rebbeck, we keep seeing each other but saying nothing more than hello. And finally, it was sad that Sarah Knight couldn’t make it to the meeting, I’d so looked forward to seeing her again. Sarah is the backbone of all these meetings and the person who holds it all together.

I hope you’re feeling much better now Sarah xx.