"Letters from the Edge: Keep Calm and Carry On" @jamesclay #jiscel10 #uksnow

Below is a blog entry written by James Clay for the currently ongoing #JISCEL10 conference, drawing upon a title I suggested for our talk at #PELC10 (Keep Calm and Carry On – my PhD research included this topic). As we are running into another freezing cold snap, the issues we raised at that conference are raised highly again. At the University of Winchester as we look to embed the use of Wimba amongst staff (and students, although we’ve been running some test sessions with them, and they don’t need any guidance, but dive straight in and experiment with the tools), this re-emphasises the need for using such software, although there’s a clear feeling at the moment that’s its more of a choice/add-on.

Moor LaneLetters from the Edge

Keep Calm and Carry On
November 24, 2010 12:47pm | Categories: question, views
Tags: snow
posted by James Clay

The BBC is reporting that:

The UK is entering a prolonged cold snap which could bring one of the earliest significant snowfalls since 1993, according to weather forecasters.

Northern and eastern parts of the UK are expected to bear the brunt of the wintry conditions.

So more snow and more prospects of snow closing institutions… despite the fact that we currently have the technology to enable institutions to remain “open” virtually, whilst keeping the physical site closed.

One of my favourite quotes from Terry Pratchett is that “million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”. When something awful happens, or freakish, we hear news reporters say “it was a million-to-one chance that this would happen”.

In February 2009 we had the worst snow for twenty years. Across the UK many schools, colleges and universities closed for a few days as travel made it impossible (and unsafe) for learners to get to their lessons and classes.

As it was the worst snow for twenty years, any idea of planning to use the VLE or similar to support learning from home was thrown out of the window, as it was obvious that such bad snow probably wouldn’t happen again for another twenty years…

Of course less than twelve months later, we had even worse snow. We saw even more closures and for even longer!

What were the chances of that happening?

What are the chances of it happening again?

Probably less than a million-to-one!

Even if it doesn’t snow really badly next year, other things may happen that result in the physical closure of the educational institution. It could be floods, high winds (remember 1987), flu or similar viral infections, transport strikes, fuel crisis, anything…

So how should educational institutions be responding? How should they prepare?

Personally I think that it is not about preparation, but having the staff and learners in the right frame of mind about using online and digital tools before any such million-to-one chance happens.

Changing the culture is going to take time, having access to the right tools can help, but attitude towards those tools is just as important. Culturally we have some way to go I think before snow or any other “disaster” only closes the physical location and doesn’t close the institution.

This is something that I have been talking about for ages and discussed during a symposium at the Plymouth e-Learning Conference.

“million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”


Recording of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” debate at PELC10.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #030: Snow Joke Two

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #012: It’s Snow Joke

Academic Digital Event

The iPad – A Game Changer for E-Learning? // Graham Brown-Martin // #jiscel10

The article by Graham Brown Martin prepared for the #jiscel10 conference is fascinating, particularly having reviewed one recently, and finding that others want to use it, but because of the way iTunes works, it has been personalised to me, and I don’t particularly want people being able to use my email, etc. I have picked out some of the sections that particularly stood out for me:

The fact is that the office metaphor doesn’t work anymore, it’s just not relevant to the way most people now wish to see their lives. Why do we need to have a “computer” with an “operating system” that we must master with endless “applications and drivers” to configure and so on? As I wondered out loud in a recent volley on one of the Becta research lists – why do I need a bulky lump of tech with a lardy OS when I just want to surf, write, look and listen? If a computer is really advanced then anyone should be able to use it without any formal training.

This razor blade business model of constantly buying bloated operating systems, massive applications, managed services and an industry that exists to show you how to switch it all on and off has got to be heading for the cemetery.

So can I carry out most of my day to day work using an iPad?…

In a few short weeks I’ve found that my iPad, like a sort of transitional love object, is rarely far from my finger tips. But here lies a new problem. The iPad is intended as a personal device, it’s not easily adaptable for sharing. Friends, family and interested bystanders who want to hold and test the device have access to my private email, social media accounts, etc. There is no “guest account” and from what I understand nothing on the horizon although a printing App is coming soon. If this really is a new, third category of device between the smart phone and the laptop then guest or multiple accounts is a must.

The most surprising aspect of her immediate use of the iPad was an instantaneous understanding of how to operate it without any instruction at all. Of course, she’d had the experience of using Apps on her iPhone but that also required no instruction and the skills were completely transferable but how she used the iPad as a consequence of the size of the screen was different and noticeably better.

Not as qualified… to say how valuable this new device is to the learning and teaching process after all until it’s used as a tool it is just an inanimate piece of tech. It’s usefulness will surely depend upon how it’s deployed

Yet schools in some parts of the country and indeed HHL Girls own school where she is due to join this September are ill-prepared for this generation. They are still preoccupied with interactive white boards, ICT suites, keyboarding skills, learning platforms, educational software that is so boring your grandmother would die using it… Some will be unlucky and will risk being a generation lost to somnambulism at best or Ritalin at worst, accused of being disruptive because they can not contain their desire to learn.

Other stories about the iPad on here (including a review as an educational tool).


Are Universities Ripe for Transition?

Is human-time running into its hourglass? Or worse, is the hourglass broken and the sand rapidly spilling out? Instead of finally facing up to what is fundamentally wrong with our global society, the picture since Copenhagen (or is it the collapse of Lehmann bros.?), seems to be one where our political and economic leaders, policy-makers and opinion-formers, are not simply bent on avoiding, side-stepping, or even denying outright the crisis of the biosphere but are ploughing all their – and hence our – remaining energies into the restoration of the old, redundant, indeed suicidal growth model. Yet equally maddening – at least for those of us operating within academe – is the way our supposedly very clever university people, not least most of the ones who run the show, continue not simply to offer themselves as collaborators, advisers and handmaidens to ‘business as usual’ but to the promotion of exactly this as the strategic way forward for UK universities plc.

So, the purpose of this dissenters’ conference is to consider whether an alternative university frame of reference can be meaningfully and practically developed. Thus, it is not interested in REF’s or research funding per se. On the contrary, it seeks to ask a fundamental question for this age of Climate Change, Peak Oil and Global Inequality: can universities radically change course, and initiate a programme of genuine ‘transition’ not simply for their own benefit but for that of the wider common weal?

A National Weekend Conference

West Downs Centre, Winchester

February 5-6 2011


FarmVille: they reap what you sow

There can be no more elegant example of the alienation of the modern workplace than the fact that hundreds of millions of employees across the globe spend their lunch hours pretending to be farmers on the internet. With all the breathtaking and transformative power of the web at their fingertips, armies of workers and young people still choose to spend their online hours growing virtual potatoes on badly animated digital fields.

One of the biggest forums for this activity is FarmVille, the online role-playing game made popular through Facebook, whose players tend and trade digital crops and livestock. Almost 100 million people subscribe to the game, which has just announced profits of $500m (£300m) for 2010. I have an account myself, and have spent many happy hours playing on my virtual farm, although my attempts to grow virtual opium were swiftly curtailed by the virtual CIA.

Thanks to @Kerileef for telling us about this article from the Guardian. I tried joining Farmville, but I’ve never been one for virtual worlds (Second Life has never grabbed me!)… I’m more interested in what’s online as a tool to enable me to live my life to the fullest, rather than creating a second life…

Digital Event Speaker

My Thinking & Preparation for #jiscel10 podcast

Hear the full podcast.

What have you got from attending previous JISC Online Conferences? What has been the impact on your practice or institution.

  • Last year I’d only been in role for a few weeks. Prior to gaining the role as Blended Learning Fellow at the University of Winchester I’d followed the ALT-C conference via Twitter, and followed a number of people who featured highly in online discussions. All seemed to be heading for the JISC conference, and it was great to be able to attend a 4-day conference, with access to a huge range of debates, theories and practice, both at the time, and then stored online for more leisurely asynchronous access.
  • With only 1-2 days per week in role, it’s a quick way of getting to the heart of current debates, and to gain ideas and inspiration from the top speakers in the field, as well as the opportunity to debate (via the comment threads) with fellow practitioners as to the possibilities available, and ways to overcome the difficulties to be faced. Whilst the speaker presents live, the backchannel is a particularly good place for debates, triggered by specific thoughts from the presenter.
  • Despite being a real people person, I have always found it quite intimidating at academic conferences to approach people “blind”. With an online-only conference, a  lot of those ‘artificial’ status barriers are removed, and it’s a lot easier to ‘approach’ people with genuine interest in the debates, and a feeling that we are working together to a shared goal. Many people at this conference are at other conferences I’ll be attending next year, such as PELC and ALT-C and having already had a conversation online, and potentially followed that up via other media, e.g. Twitter, partaking at discussions at those events has been much easier.
  • Information taken from the conference (alongside that from other conferences) has been reworked into events at the University, and the ideas disseminated more widely amongst the University community. I’ve got particularly involved in the question of digital literacies and Communities of Practice, and it’s been great to attend an event at times that suit, whilst being  able to continue the day job around the conference.

What are you looking forward to seeing at this year’s JISC Online Conference?

  • I’m one of those people who likes a bit of everything, and all of the talks look interesting, but much of what we see in THE, and in the doom-laden papers is that HE is reaching the end of it’s time, so it’ll be interesting to see what Keri Facer identifies as the key purpose of educational institutions in the current tough times, and whether the face of education is about to change again…
  • The University of Winchester is currently working on a £250,000 project with a number of other institutions investigating assessment practices (including whether we over-assess, or assess the wrong things), so the use of digital tools for transforming assessment sounds good too – to be honest, anything with the title ‘in a digital age’ tends to grab me!
  • Having been working on a JISC-funded project entitled ‘Bringing Organisational Development into IT’, the different stages of resistance outlined by Anne Miller are of interest, and I’m keen to see the approaches that she takes in trying to get her ideas over.  The session with Gus Cameron, Marion Manton and Phil George I am particularly interested in for the same reason… how to embed new projects in the face of disinterest or hostility.
  • I’ve listened to Patrick Dixon another futurist at a different conference, and their informed ideas of what appears to be coming are always fascinating. Although no one can predict the future, we need some idea of where we think we’re going so that we can devise appropriate policies, and encourage staff to get involved in areas of development (including the anticipated growth in distance learning).
  • I’m currently writing an assignment re: student motivation, and what helps them to contribute and partake in sessions, so I’m interested in what the NUS guys have to say about what students really want, and I’ll be interested to see what they base their information on.

What piece of advice would you give anyone attending the JISC Online Conference? How is it different?

  • Ensure that you set aside time to engage with the conference, especially for the live sessions, but don’t expect to be sat online for 4 days straight. I have multiple jobs, so I’ll see what I can engage with before the conference, and then see if I can check in of an evening, but really I’ll be focusing on joining in on Thursday and Friday!
  • It’s great to take advantage of being online to take a little time to think about what you’re saying before you post… although don’t leave it too long, or the debate may have moved onto the next thing!!
  • Ensure that you join in on a variety of different fronts, focusing on the areas that you’re particularly interested in, but challenge yourself to engage with someone entirely new! Look to follow people on Twitter, etc.