Looking back on 2012

Tray of brussels sproutsOnce again, it’s time to round up the year’s events: to clear away the past to prepare for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

It’s been a strange year work-wise with little in the way of continuity. Without work from LSIS, JISC TechDis and the JISC RSC-SE, the year would have been very bleak indeed.

I started the blogging year with a rant about Michael Gove’s well-publicised wish to turn all school children into computer programmers.  However, in the speech he used to announce his programming initiative he also said: “As online materials grow and flourish, we all need to think about how we can guide students through the wealth of information and techniques freely available and accessible online.” … a statement that I heartily agree with and something that is still sadly lacking in everyday teaching and learning environments.

Learners need to check the validity and veracity of the information they find on the Internet and to evaluate its worth for their purpose.

Quite a number of teachers spent their own ‘learning’ years, studying worthy tomes without any thought of the way that contradictory, conflicting and simply inaccurate information might ‘one day’ be easily found ‘online’. They were not brought up to undertake research in the manner that today’s information sources demand; the ways that their charges need to employ.

Moodle training has been a great feature of my work this year and will hopefully continue to be something that draws interest from customers. My first Moodle training event was in January at Pontefract Sixth Form College, arranged by the Yorkshire and Humberside RSC. The most recent was for Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) in December. I spent a week at the college, close to Maidenhead, towards the end of November, delivering training to Moodle Champions in VLE use and then again just last week, I delivered a short online course to the same team – about features of Moodle Admin.

Ambassador logo

During the summer months, I was employed by TechDis to be their RSC-Conference Trolly Dolly.  In this role, I promoted the newly launched ‘TechDis Voices’ and ‘TechDis Toolbox’; two of the most significant and exciting initiatives of the year.

I continue to work with TechDis over the winter 2012/13 as part of the Ambassador programme. I’ve already travelled widely in the south east of England as part of this face-to-face TechDis Accredited Trainer role, visiting Lingfield, Weybridge, Margate and Aylesbury.

During December, I decided to deliver a series of #Advent #SugSnips#SugSnips. This revived a very successful delivery of #SugSnips during 2011.

I’m not convinced that this current short series of posts, delivered in a completely different way to before and copied to Facebook, has been quite as successful. Time will tell (I haven’t checked the individual logs yet). However, re-tweets and shares have been non-existent. Maybe it’s time to re-think the #SugSnips idea?

Finally, back in August 2011 I asked why does Flickr not have a belting App? Well, it does now – having released a new (and absolutely ‘belting’ App) during the latter months of 2012.  Well done Flickr. Here it is.

Anyway, if you’re still reading this, may I wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year?

Happy New Year.

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Winter working

I’m writing this in the comfort of a delightful cottage, just off The Green, in Reeth, North Yorkshire. We’re here for a long weekend with friends and after a two hours drive, began the day with some shopping in the local Friday market followed by lunch in front of a roaring fire in The King’s Arms. Lovely.

On Monday (probably tomorrow, given my current lack of Internet access) I begin a hectic three weeks. I’m travelling to Maidenhead, where I will stay until Friday – working at Berkshire College of Agriculture. I’ve been asked to work with the college on training staff in the use of their new Moodle installation.

The following week I’m back in the south, this time working on face-to-face aspects of the TechDis Ambassador programme (follow on Twitter – https://twitter.com/TechDisAmbassad). I’m travelling to Lingfield on the Tuesday, to work with Young Epilepsy (http://www.ncype.org.uk/) on the Wednesday. I’ll then travel to Weybridge that evening before working at Brooklands College (http://www.brooklands.ac.uk/) on the Thursday. I’ll travel home that night, so I’m home for my birthday on Friday.

My TechDis Ambassador (follow on Facebook – http://on.fb.me/XS317i) work continues the following week with and overnight in Aylesbury, where I will visit Haydon Training http://www.haydontraining.co.uk/home.cfm. I will return from them on Tuesday evening and then set off again on Wednesday to Margate, where I’m visiting the Margate Adult Education Centre.

All of the projects appear to be wildly different at the moment, but we’ll see – watch this space.  Also see the TechDis Ambassador blog: http://jtdambassadors.posterous.com/.

Ambassadors

On Thursday last, at Guildford College, we launched the TechDis Ambassadors programme.

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

Our aim is to promote and celebrate the use of technologies that help the learning process, especially for those who experience difficulties with their learning. We explored a number of these at last week’s launch event.

Three TechDis Accredited Trainers were present: myself, Sally Betts and Lilian Soon; along with three TechDis Senior Advisors (Alistair McNaught, Simon Ball and Lisa Featherstone) and two representatives from the JISC Regional Support Centre in Canterbury (Amanda Riley and Artie Vossel-Newman).

Following a quick overview of the project and brief introductions, we began with a game of Taboo!  Lilian led this, with the intention of getting everyone present working together with a common aim – it worked very well and by the end everyone was talking happily to everyone else. And smiling.

We then had introductions to a variety of easily available, easy to use and free technologies. I showed some simple techniques in Microsoft® Word that might have passed people by.

  1. Scroll Wheel+Ctrl easily increases/decreases text size (not Word specific),
  2. Web View overcomes the problem of horizontal scrolling caused by 1. above, and
  3. Drag ‘n’ Drop – using simple techniques to create an interactive resource.

Sally discussed some video creation techniques including:

Lilian, Lisa and Alistair continued the theme by showing a variety of audio creation techniques, uses for Xerte and a variety of uses for everything we had shown. By lunchtime there was a real buzz about the room and everyone was keen to speak with their appointed mentor.

I’m not sure whether ‘mentor’ capture the role properly. Certainly we are there to help, to offer guidance, to train, to be a critical friend, to keep the project on track – but in the end, each person working on the various projects will be the real stars: The TechDis Ambassadors.

You can find the TechDis Ambassadors on Facebook.
You can find the TechDis Ambassadors on Twitter – #jtdambassadors

I’m looking after five projects. All are currently working on their action plans, whilst I work on the logistics for travelling extensively across the south of England ;-).

Also see my previous post:
https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/techdis-ambassadors/

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.

Trolly Dolly

Over the last few weeks I have been attending a series of JISC Advance Regional Support Centre (RSC) summer fairs on behalf of TechDis. Many readers will know that TechDis are one of JISC Advance’s advisory services promoting:

‘… inclusive practices, resources and advice for learning and teaching in UK higher education, further education & skills, and independent and specialist colleges’. From http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/ [downloaded 4th July 2012]

My most recent (final) two roles were in London at the RSC London ‘eFactor2012’ event, which took place in the magnificent Senate House, close to Russell Square and at Hartlepool College’s superb new build for RSC Northern. I wasn’t at my best for the London event having contracted a mild dose of man-flu earlier in the week.

However, I did manage to rustle up enough voice to talk with the many visitors to my stand.

I was there primarily to promote the newly launched ‘TechDis Voices’ and ‘TechDis Toolbox’.

As before in Glasgow, Leeds and Taunton there was great interest in both products but what was interesting here in London was the fact that the range of attendees seemed to more widely cover the F.E. and Skills sector. There was equal interest from college teachers (not just the techie types, but real teachers) to ACL and WBL representatives. Many of those I spoke to here were not aware of the potential for text-to-speech or of the free tools which might allow it to happen. ACL (adult and community learning) tutors were even more excited by the range and simplicity of Toolbox, which will hopefully help their learners to better overcome and fears of technology.

Sadly, my trip to Hartlepool was a little less successful due to the leaflets and banner being sent to the wrong address by couriers. It’s surprising how much these colourful artifacts do attract people to the stand. With just a laptop, a white tablecloth and two hastily created A4 notices, it was hard to attract attention of anyone. Some folks who had been involved in development did stop by and chat but very few others.

Did you know that folks around here are called monkey hangers?

Please see the previous two posts concerning my visits:

https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/jess-and-jack/

https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/toolbox/

… and the post by Rosemary Leadley, from which the video above is kindly loaned.

http://jiscrsclondon.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/jisc-techdis-introduce-jess-and-jack-at-e-factor-2012/

Toolbox

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.http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/news/detail/2012/ND2012Launch

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.

Jess and Jack

Last week I found myself in Glasgow hosting a stand on behalf of JISC TechDis at the RSC Scotland ‘Here Be Dragons‘ summer fair.

It was good to get back out on the road again and to meet friends old and new. It’s been a while since I was in Scotland to work, and therefore great to catch up with members of the RSC Scotland team.

This was the first of five RSC summer fairs I will be attending this month.

TechDis have recently launched two major new tools, which are aimed at improving the online lives of a significant range of people, not just learners. Although ‘Voices‘ can only be accessed by post 16 learners in England, ‘Toolbox‘ can be accessed via an open site. Other new tools, similarly sponsored by BIS are also planned for release in 2013 and it was my role to discuss all of these initiatives with callers at the stand.

I will concentrate this blog post on Voices.

The TechDis voices are two high-quality, youthful and modern voices (Jack and Jess) that can be used with text-to-speech (TTS) tools. Across England, staff and learners in higher education institutions and further education colleges as well as the skills, adult and lifelong learning sectors will have access to these voices.From:

Many of us will have heard the robotic voices installed on our computers and shied away from using them ourselves, but many computer users can and do benefit from text-to-speech facilities. Jack and Jess have been developed to make listening to computer generated speech that little bit easier. Go to Control Panel > Ease of Access > Ease of Access Center (in Win 7) and ‘click’ Start Narrator to hear the robotic Microsoft Mary. Previous versions of Windows and other operating systems present similarly dire voices.

Now go and download the new TechDis voices to hear what good quality voices CAN sound like.

Jack and Jess are available for both Windows and Mac machines. They work with the computers own facilities as well as freely available text-to-speech software like Balabolka and DSpeech, both of which have featured on either AccessApps or MyStudyBar.

If you’d like to know more, visit the TechDis site, or pop along and see me in Leeds [13th June], Taunton [14th June], London [27th June] and Sunderland (I think) on 3rd July. You’ll find more details on the respective JISC RSC web sites.