Monthly Archive for July, 2009

Twitter integration for marketing higher education

Recently I’ve been rediscovering twitter, this was largely instigated by the discovery of a nice little application which allows me to monitor tweets from the comfort of my desktop. The application in question is called Twirl. I had previously tried another desktop client called TweetDeck but didn’t find it particularly intuitive and felt it took over my entire desktop. One of the reasons I lost touch with twitter was I didn’t have a mechanism for alerting me to new tweets. Twirl not only allows me to review my twitter feed but also pops up notifications of new messages in the corner of my screen allowing me to keep a passing eye on what is going on in the ‘twittersphere’. 

The value of twitter is still a hot debate. Moving away from a pure educational use, which I covered in Twitter in higher education, I’ve been recently interested in its use as a marketing tool. This was started after I found Heather Mansfield’s ‘10 Twitter Tips for Higher Education’ on University Business (a site for those interested in higher education management). These tips are for institutions interested in marketing themselves via twitter.

Before designing your institutional twitter campaign there are a couple of demographics you should be aware of. Firstly, How Many People Actually Use Twitter? The answer, approximately 6 million registered users (compared to Facebook’s 200 million). Also the demographic for a twitter user, as highlighted in a recent Pogue’s Post is “older, better educated and higher-earning. About 80 percent … are over 25, and two-thirds of us have college degrees”.

Secondly, who knows about twitter? According to a recent LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll over two-thirds (69%) of consumers say they “say they do not know enough about Twitter to have an opinion about it”.

So with such a tight demographic is a institutional twitter presence worthwhile? I think so but I would want to be clever about it. To add to Heather Mansfield’s tips I would add something on integration.

There are a number of ways that you can intelligently integrate twitter into your existing marketing campaigns. At RSC Scotland North & East (@rsc_ne_scotland) we use twitterfeed,which is a free service that automatically turns RSS feeds into tweets. This service has some very useful features allowing to control what is tweeted. For example you can prefix/suffix rss feeds before they are tweeted making it easier for people to scan/search. We use this on rsc_ne_scotland to separate news and events. We also use a keyword filter to be more selective in what we tweet.

I would also look at how twitter can be integrated into other ‘status updating’ services. For example Facebook uses ‘the wall’ to allow users to essentially tweet what they are doing. If your institution already has a Facebook presence I would want to sync my Facebook and Twitter updates. As it happen this is very easy to do because twitter have developed the Twitter on Facebook application.

If your institutions social network presence extends beyond twitter and Facebook you might want to look at This service is allows you to post updates to over 40 social networking sites from one site.

List of HEIs in Scotland N&E I’m following:

What I’ve starred this week: July 28, 2009

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

The future of higher education in the edgeless university

Personal Tax
Personal Tax
Originally uploaded by Pulpolux !!!
I’ve finally got around to reading a couple of reports which have been sitting on my desktop (just got a monitor big enough to read document online – the trees will be happy!). Both of them are around the theme of  working out the direction of education in a digital ‘edgeless’ age. The reports were the ‘The future of learning institutions in a digital age’ and ‘The edgeless university’. In this post I’ll highlight some of the main features of these reports, leaving the question of how do we take these ideas forward (Wordle’s for all the reports mentioned are at the end of this post).

The future of learning institutions in a digital age

The future of learning institutions in a digital age Authored by Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, this report funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on Digital Media and Learning, highlights how the affordances of the Internet, and in particular how the sharing and contribution to knowledge and ideas has created a mismatch between the general accepted model of teaching and how the current generation learns. Unlike the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World”, which in my opinion focuses too heavily on technology, this report looks at the shift from instructional to participatory learning and the resulting impact this has on the way we conceive ‘learning institutions’.

The authors of the report identify ten pedagogic principles which they believe are “foundational to rethinking the future of learning institutions”.  These are:

  1. self learning
  2. horizontal structures
  3. from presumed authority to collective credibility
  4. a de-centered pedagogy
  5. networked learning
  6. open source education
  7. learning as connectivity and interactivity
  8. lifelong learning
  9. learning institutions as mobilizing networks
  10. flexible scalability and simulation

As noted by other commentators many of these ideas are not new. For example, you could argue that ‘networked learning’ stems from Illich in the 1970s:

we can provide the learner with new links to the world instead of continuing to funnel all educational programs through the teacher (Illich, 1970)

A common theme in these principals is the move towards educational models which use participation, learning communities and collective intelligence. These principles are also evident in the way that the report has been contributed to by the wider academic community. A draft of the report was published online in January 2007 which allowed any reader to comment on each paragraph of text or add additional remarks to existing comments (this was achieved using an open source theme for WordPress called CommentPress, developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book). The original draft and comments are here.I’ve read through a number of the comments posted on the draft, the majority of which appear to be very constructive, how successful the open review was isn’t clear (but the use of CommentPress as a tool to support student peer review looks very interesting).

In terms of making actionable recommendations the report falls short and the authors appear to be more interested in plugging their next book. The report is probably still worth a read, particularly if you are looking for material to convince your colleagues that there is a need to change.

The Edgeless University

the edgeless university: why higher education must embrace technology Authored by Peter Bradwell at Demos and funded by JISC, this report identifies “why higher education must embrace technology” and solutions for adapting to a world which requires institutions of the same function but of a different form, present in new places, in new ways. To this end the reports remit isn’t just teaching and learning, but extends to the other key functions of universities, research.

At the heart of this report is the same recognition  that “people [are] finding new ways to access and use ideas and knowledge, by new networks of learning and innovation” made possible by technologies like mobile internet and social networking which are becoming an increasing part of our everyday lives.

Last week I touched upon the idea of this blog being an ‘intelligent filter’. In the edgeless university the same responsibility is true, but on a larger scale: “the noise of information and knowledge needs filtering; students need guidance and expertise”.

The report identifies several challenges to managing an edgeless university. One of the challenges identified was the need to “reconcile informal learning with the formal system”. To achieve this requires strong leadership at institutional and governmental level:

Government policy must help higher education institutions develop new ways of offering education seekers affiliation and accreditation

Systems for accrediting informal learning will undoubtedly create pressures within institutions at all levels particularly regarding the cost, and public perception. For example, Glasgow Caledonian University, who have a number of experts leading the field of recognising prior and experiential learning, came under fire in 2003 with tabloid headlines reporting that students were given credit for having recovered from a drug addiction. I’m sure also a number of professional bodies who accredit degree programmes will also be resistant to any change. This is certainly an area where the Government needs to lead.

The report also highlights that becoming ‘edgeless’ isn’t about becoming faceless, students still highly valuing face-to-face contact and that staff need the opportunity and incentive to develop new ways of working.

Probably the biggest barrier the report identifies is supporting and recognising changing working practices at institutional and sector level. The new £20m open learning innovation fund announced with the release of the report is only a small drop in the ocean considering the storm that is brewing.

Overall the report concludes that:

In building the e-infrastructure for higher education we should not just build around the needs of institutions as they exist already. To pursue the possibilities of the ‘Edgeless University’, technology will have to be taken more seriously as a strategic asset. Technology is a driver for change. But we should harness it as a solution, a tool, for the way we want universities to support learning and research in the future.


imageWordle: Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World
imageWordle: The future of learning institutions in a digital age
imageWordle: The edgeless university

What I’ve starred this week: July 21, 2009

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

15-year-old media experts, twitter and intelligent filters

A research note written by a 15-year-old Morgan Stanley intern on the media habits of his generation made it to the front page of the Financial Times this week sparking various headlines including ‘Twitter is not for teens, Morgan Stanley told by 15-year-old expert’ and ‘Teenage media habits: was the whiz-kid correct?’.

Apart from various other teenagers being poked and prodded by journalists to give their analysis of teen-media Jenna McWilliams at the Guardian asked “Why is one 15-year-old’s middling analysis of teen media use being interpreted as the new bible of social media?”.

Her answer:

The answer is simple. We’re lost in a forest, and we’re looking for a guide to lead us out. We live in a world where knowledge is abundant and access is near-ubiquitous. What’s scarce is the ability to sift through the information, to extract, synthesise and circulate key ideas to a public that’s starving for someone to serve as an intelligent filter. Lost in the new media universe -

Hopefully MASHe is serving as ‘an intelligent filter’ (although by highlighting the ‘middling analysis’ of a teenager I’m probably setting myself up for a fall – the full copy of the research note is here).

What I’ve starred this week: July 14, 2009

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

Google Wave – Opportunities for communication, collaboration and social learning in education

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a flurry of links to Google Wave in What I’ve starred this week: June 2, 2009. This coincided with the release of a developer preview at the Google I/O Conference on 27th May 2009. This post attempts to outline what Google Wave is and features which might be of interest for teaching and learning. Whilst reading this post please remember that Google Wave is still in development and won’t be publically available until later in the year. I don’t usually highlight new products which aren’t available yet but feel there are lots of important features of Google Wave that are worth considering before its full launch.

What is Google Wave?

Wave is Google’s attempt to re-examine the way we communicate and collaborate. In particular they wanted to take a fresh look at the model we use to communicate via email. Email predates the internet and the original model used for email mirrors that of traditional postal mail. This model has a number of inefficiencies. In particular, messages are distributed to individuals rather than being stored centrally which creates issues if you want to co-collaborate on documents. There are a number of solutions which create a workaround like using SharePoint or Google Docs which allow you to contribute to a shared document but these solutions don’t necessarily have fully integrated communication tools like instant messaging.

Google Wave attempts to address this with their solution which is designed to merge e-mail, instant messaging, wiki type tools, social networking and re-syndication of data. To achieve this Google have developed a web based service, computing platform and a new email protocol. From the outset Google have designed Wave to be open so that it can be developed to fit particular user needs. The Google Wave API allows this via extensions (similar concept to Firefox add-ins – custom pieces of code which interact with the core programme) and embed (the ability to integrate Waves in your own site). A succinct overview of Wave is available here on Wikipedia.

Key features of Google Wave for teaching and learning

Google Wave was revealed to the world by Lars Rasmussen and his team at Google I/O and here is the full video (1hr:20mins) of his keynote. In this presentation some of the key features of Google Wave were demonstrated. Watching this video I could immediately see how some of these features could directly benefit teaching and learning and I’ve extracted these in a 10 minute highlights package shown below:

Google Wave: Opportunities for communication, collaboration and social learning in education (edit of Google I/O presentation - full version at

In summary, the features I thought were particularly useful were:

Documents centrally stored (00:00)
One of the issues when promoting 3rd party communication/collaboration tools is the security of data. This particularly ties into quality assurance processes which may require keeping copies of student work. Unlike other Google products like Gmail or Google Docs where information is stored on Google servers, Google Wave can be installed on local servers allowing the institution to control security, backups etc. As there is also a common standard behind Google Wave (Google Wave Federation Protocol) it also means it will be possible to share Waves on different servers. [The protocol is also open source which means anyone can build a custom Wave system]

Inline public/private replies (01:30)
Creating inline comments in available on most electronic documents. The difference with Wave is these comments could be used as a recorded discussion between student and tutor. The fact that you can also create private response which only go to named individuals also could be used to directly support group work. The main advantage of Wave is it integrates document management and collaboration tools in one environment.

Character-by-character instant messaging/collaboration (02:27)
Apart from the obvious potential productivity gains if you were solely to use a Wave for instant messaging, the ability to simultaneously edit the same document looks like a very useful feature for group work. Use of this feature doesn’t have to stop here. The ability to transmit almost character-by-character changes to a document could be used in other ways. For example, you could use a Google Wave to collect student questions during lectures which you can choose to answer straight away or at a later date. You could also use Wave as an electronic response system. Google have already implemented forms into Wave allowing you to view responses in real time. Using a Wave to support a lecture could also be an interesting way to capture, disseminate and co-create.

Syndication/embedding information and Wave functionality to other sites (05:00)
This is achieved using Wave Extensions, robots which can automate tasks or provide different ways data can be shared and interacted with. In the video above you can see an example of how the robot called Bloggy is used to simultaneously reaggregate information from a Google Wave into a blog. The potential of this would be to allow students to integrate the full functionality of Wave in a site of their choice. To expand on this a little, institutional VLEs struggle to compete with the draw of social network sites like Facebook or MySpace. Some institutions have endeavoured to create a presence in these sites but information flow and creation is limited and there is the conflict between personal and work related activities. Google Wave offers the theoretical opportunity to allow users to have the features of Wave in a 3rd party site whilst maintaining a divide between work and pleasure. This could allow students to create a personal learning environment within a site like Facebook maintaining the rich set of features available from Wave.

Filtered ‘playback’ (07:20)
Being able to step through the creation of a document isn’t a new idea and there are a number of other applications and web services which allow you see how a document has been built up. The feature of Google’s implementation of playback which most interested me was the planned ability to control who or which parts of the document you want replayed. The immediate use for this could be to assess individual contributions in group work, but there are other uses which could be explored. For example, feedback could be given on the process used to create/structure the document (e.g. preparing an outline of ideas, writing main points, introduction, conclusions etc.). Because Wave combines communication and collaboration it will be possible to capture and playback discussions between students/tutors and the resulting actions.


Hopefully this post has highlighted how Google Wave could impact communication, collaboration and social learning in education. Even if the ideas behind Wave don’t become fully adopted I think it will have enough of an impact to change our expectations of how we should communicate and collaborate. For example, I’ve already heard that the next version of Microsoft Office will have improved communication tools like the ability for electronic voting style interaction with PowerPoint presentations with any other device running the same software.

Whilst I’ve focused on student/tutor interactions it shouldn’t be ignored that Wave could also support the operation of institutions in other ways. In particular I have in mind the fact that a number of institutions in our region have distributed campuses and Google Wave could directly benefit collaboration in creating course/learning materials (networked learning) as well as the creation and administration of collaborative research projects.

If you would like to see some very early examples of Wave, Scott Wilson at JISC CETIS looks like he’s been having fun (this saved search contains Scott’s current posts on Google Wave) and his colleague Wilber Kraan has a post on Google Wave and teaching & learning.

If you have any ideas of how you could use Google Wave in teaching and learning please share them in the comments below.

Free Events: Green IT, Freedom of Information for Researchers and e-Assessment Scotland 2009

Some events of note:

Implementing Green IT

24th August 2009 – 13:00 to 16:30
Queen Margaret University, EH21 6UU

Following on from the JISC-funded Smarter Greener Learning Conference in April the RSCs in Scotland and the EAUC (Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges) are now following-up with an event which dives more firmly into issues around implementation.

On the programme:

  • How to minimise power consumption through water cooling, powerdown, thin client and virtualisation.
  • How to understand your energy and carbon needs and then to reduce them

Confirmed speakers from City College, Norwich; Napier University, Edinburgh; Angus College, Arbroath, and the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges.

Click here to book in for your free place now.

Freedom of Information: what’s in it for researchers?

14 September 2009 – 10:00 to 16:00
The Lighthouse, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, G1 3NU

Research Information Network LogoThe Research Information Network is holding this free event to raise awareness of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) as a tool for researchers and to aid understanding of the new access regime. The day will cover how to use FOI to access records and information and how to make successful requests. Case studies will be presented to explore how to use FOI in practice, offering strategies for what works well for particular disciplines and types of research and insights will be provided from the Scottish perspective.

Key speakers:

  • Professor Duncan Tanner – Director, Welsh Institute for Social and Cultural Affairs, Bangor University
  • Sarah Hutchinson - Head of Policy and Information, Scottish Information Commissioner
  • Bruno Longmore – Head of Government Records, National Archives of Scotland
  • Hugh Hagan – Senior Inspecting Officer Government Records Branch, National Archives of Scotland

The workshop is aimed at academic researchers; other research workers, such as journalists; librarians, archivists and other information professionals who provide research services and research training; compliance officers interested in facilitating access and advising requestors and public policy makers in the access to information arena.

For a full programme, more information and to book your free place, visit

Tel 020 7412 7946 Email [email protected]

e-Assessment Scotland 2009

25th September 2009 – 09:30 to 16:00
Hilton Dundee Hotel, Earl Grey Place, Dundee, DD1 4DE

Scotland’s first annual e-Assessment conference has been scheduled for the 25th of September at Dundee’s Hilton hotel. Bringing together speakers from schools, further and higher education, the event will showcase Scottish innovation and best practice in the field.

It’s free to attend the one-day event, which will also play host to the Scottish e-Assessment Awards, which recognises achievements in the categories of:

  • Formative e-Assessment
  • Summative e-Assessment
  • e-Portfolio/PDP
  • Mobile e-Assessment
  • e-Assessment Administration
  • Innovation

The conference is being organised by the University of Dundee, e-Assessment Association, Scottish Regional Support Centres, SQA and Higher Education Academy.

More details on how to book a place at the conference and submit an entry to the Scottish e-Assessment Awards can be found on the eAssessment Scotland website



This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

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