Monday, 17 November 2014

Exploring play in Second Life

Well I did it - I completed a MOOC!

Exploring Play: The Importance of Play in Everyday Life was created by colleagues across various departments of The University of Sheffield, and launched on the FutureLearn platform. It was a really interesting seven weeks, looking at play in a range of contexts, from children to adults, and its role in everyday life. There was much of interest to those of us who work in Learning Technology, including explorations of gamification, augmented reality, and virtual worlds such as Second Life. I learnt much which will stay with me and hopefully influence some of the ways I work and learn.

It was the Second Life segment that perhaps piqued my interest the most, as I've always been a bit of a SL skeptic, seeing it as not much more than a big complicated chatroom for people to create fantasty personas and flirt with strangers. I'd also, wrongly, dismissed SL as something that had died out years ago; the next big thing that never really happened.

This section of the MOOC was led by the Information School's Sheila Webber (and her SL alter-ego Sheila Yoshikawa), demonstrating the iSchool's rather lovely Second Life island. Other examples showed some great work where students have been taught chemistry in SL labs with great results; elderly Parkinson's patients have used it as cognative therapy; it has been used to create an enabling forum for Second Lifers who are disabled in the "real world"; and situations in which the virtual world gives a feeling of community to distance learners.

For the first time in many years I was inspired to have a dabble with Second Life (previous attempts were just to check that, no, my creaking graphics card couldn't really handle it), first creating myself an avatar. This I made to look like myself - bespectacled, slightly paunchy and with a rather fetching striped jumper (I didn't do a lot of interaction with others, but I did get a passing comment: "Where's Waldo got old!"). It was a surprise to enter a world where I was surrounded almost exclusively by gorgeous women, chiseled hunks, and fantastical creatures. Perhaps this shows I'm comfortable in my own skin, and don't need a fantasy avatar, but I fear it just shows a distinct lack of imagination!

One of my first stops was the University of Sheffield's iSchool island, feeling something of a trespasser as I wandered round it alone on a Sunday afternoon. Even though set out as an idyllic Japanese-style island, it still impressively managed to feel like part of the UoS, in little things like the use of the University fonts and signage. The remnants of fascinating-looking projects were all around - they must have been great to see being actioned in real time.

Elsewhere I explored a few more educational resources, including a museum of Communism, and a space travel museum. I started to realise that Second Life isn't just an immersive, goal-less game, but a parallel Internet, which is navigated by individual avatars, not a text-based web browser, and where webpages are constructed on pretty, shimmering islands, not a blank white page. Yes a lot of these "pages" are chatrooms, but there's a wealth of information and educational resources out there too.

I don't think I'll become a Second Life "resident" - one life is enough for me! But it's great to see this virtual world is still so active, and that educators are using it in innovative ways.

Pete M

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Adobe iPad apps

It's worth keeping an eye on what iPad apps are released by Adobe - new ones seem to crop up all the time, and there's some really good stuff out there. Many of these free apps work well one their own, but really come into their own when it comes to integration with packages in Creative Cloud.

We already looked at the excellent Adobe Voice, but there are a lot of other gems out there. This includes Illustrator Draw, an update and rebrand of the brilliant Adobe Ideas, is a layer-based vector drawing package that allows you not only to create mini-Masterpieces on your iPad, but export them to Illustrator to brush them up. But it's just one of a small suite of drawing and image manipulation apps - Illustrator Line is for precision drawing and drafting, Photoshop Sketch for creating expressive drawings in a range of natural-style pens and brushes, Photoshop Mix for simple creative image editing, and Lightroom Mobile, a mobile version of the well-known programme for organising and editing photos.

Video-makers are also served by Adobe Premiere Clip, a very (very) scaled-down version of Premiere, which allows for simple edits to be done on the fly, and exported as XML to edit in Premiere Pro. It's one of the least polished of these apps, but still worth a look if you want to try your hand video editing on an iPad, and especially if you want to integrate this into a Premiere project.

Finally there's a range of pretty random, but surprisingly useful, tools for capturing material the world to integrate into your Creative projects. Adobe Brushes (pictured) turns your photos into Brushes to be used in Sketch, Photoshop or Illustrator. Adobe Shape will scan images and turn them into vector shapes to use in Illustrator. And finally Adobe Color will create colour themes based on a photo.

As I've said, many of these work well on their own - especially Draw and Sketch - and are well worth downloading even if you're not a Creative Cloud user. However if you are a paid-up member of Creative Cloud, these apps are brilliant ways to use your iPad in creative ways and integrate this into your larger projects, and to incorporate the world around you into your works.

Pete


Friday, 17 October 2014

Adobe Voice

A few weeks ago I delivered a workshop, along with Tommy Wilson from the Creative Media team, on ways to record media on mobile devices, as part of the Technology Enhanced Learning team's series of lunchtime mobile learning sessions. Explain Everything, iMovie and Vine were among the apps discussed, but one of my favourites, and one that seemed to go down very well with participants, was Adobe Voice.

Adobe Voice is a free app for iPad, in which users can very easily create a short animation to express an idea or process. It allows you to record audio, and match this to copyright safe icons and photographs, or images from your own Camera Roll. You can apply a series of templates and styles, and suitable music.

The example below was recorded in just a few minutes, live as part of the demonstration of the software.
The example below is a good example from the Adobe Voice blog, of how it can be used to convey an idea. A very simple concept, and one that has a lot of potential in learning and teaching. It can be used for teachers, wanting to quickly create video content in a charming and polished way, but without having to have the time or skill to create an animation. Equally, it can be used by students exploring ideas with media, without having to learn complicated software.

Are you using Adobe Voice, or have some thoughts how you can use it? Please leave us a comment!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

10(ish) Top Tips for MOLE

A colleague of mine here in CiCS, who didn't know a great deal about MOLE and what you can do in it,  asked me if I could give her some ideas about what could be achieved, so I ran through ten top tips with her. She wrote them up, so I asked her if I could put them on here. Of course, she said yes :)

Engage your Students with New Improved MOLE

Photo by Chris Metcalf
on a CC BY 2.0 license
 Now that MOLE is hosted and supported by its suppliers in Amsterdam we can expect a faster, more reliable user experience for all. So there’s never been a better time to explore the full features of MOLE to further engage your students with a diverse online learning experience. Here are 10 features that we think make MOLE such an exciting virtual learning environment.



Mash it Up!

 Using rich content you can enhance your learning modules, assignments and submissions. Using the mashup tool you can add Flickr photos, myEcho, a slideshare presentation or a YouTube video, plus you can embed interactive SCORM modules.  MOLE structures content in a way that gives a pathway through the content with its own navigation menu. If you structure and put effort into your content you can add depth and a richer experience for users. The powerful text editor gives you word processing type controls and you can even export content from one course to another.

Video Everywhere

The Video Everywhere tool is built into the text editor and allows easy recording of video from a webcam or embedding of YouTube videos into the course.

Flip that Classroom!

The traditional way students are taught is a student goes to a lecture and the lecturer lectures. The flipped classroom turns this around as the homework is carried out before the teaching. The lecturer can then offer more personalised guidance and interaction with their students, instead of lecturing. This blended learning approach is achieved easily in MOLE.

Gamification

Giving recognition for achievement is possible in MOLE as you can use the achievements tool to create opportunities for students to earn recognition for their work. You can designate criteria for issuing achievements through badges and certificates. The tool also allows you to monitor the student’s progression throughout a piece of work.

Get Social!

The social learning tools available in MOLE, particularly blogs and wikis, help students create a Facebook-like site within the learning environment. Reflective practice, group and individual work can be used to build content alongside charting student progression. You can easily facilitate group work giving you the ability to group students and release content specifically to those individual groups. Each group can hold online discussions through the Discussion Board and you can create blogs or wikis for members of a group to use.

Peer Pleasure!

There are multiple ways of using peer assessment and peer review although there is no formal peer marking tool that allows a student to mark another students work. Structuring content using blogs, wikis and discussion groups enables students to mark another student’s work by making comments and leaving feedback.

Online Submission

Electronic submission and feedback has many advantages for both students and lecturers. It can simplify and speed up the assessment and feedback process; opens up opportunities to use tools that can add value to the assessment process; assignments can be set up in MOLE or Turnitin; and assignments, feedback and marks can be archived for future reference.

Online Assessment

The powerful and comprehensive online assessment tool allows formative and summative testing from quizzes to online invigilated exams.  The question content can include audio, video and photos and the question choice is varied and wide-ranging. New assessment tools are also being developed.

Time to Think

Students can use the reflective practice tool to create a journal to collect observations, thoughts, concerns, notes, progress, and opinions that they can keep private. You can be invited to leave comments and feedback and it works exactly the same as a blog.  Using reflective practice can build a rapport between instructors and students, contributing to a positive learning


If you’re new to MOLE, the name means My Online Learning Environment and it is the University’s virtual learning environment.  One big advantage of using MOLE is it is hosted on secure servers, students are already using the site, data is secure, backed up and archived. Students can access materials 24/7 and there are over 25 tools to engage students in active learning and provide them with the best learning experience possible.

If you need any help at all getting started with MOLE or using its advanced features come and talk to us. The TEL TEam are a dedicated team of learning technologists who are experts in using MOLE and other learning technologies, and who work with a University-wide community of teaching staff and elearning champions to use the advanced features in MOLE to produce innovative and engaging online content.

Just as a footnote, I know there aren't ten tips here, only nine... it seems counting isn't my strong point!
Danny

Friday, 12 September 2014

TELFest - Final day!

This was the last day of our week long TELfest extravaganza, but there was still plenty of great sessions taking place to ensure we finished things off with a bang!

We  kicked things off with Zafer Ali and David Read from the ELTC, giving us some valuable insight into using web conferencing technologies; Adobe Connect and Google Hangouts.

Adobe Connect was featured first, ably led by David Read. David explained the many features of Adobe Connect including the chat window, screensharing, use of quizzes and polls and use of virtual break out rooms.

As Adobe Connect is not available University wide yet, Zaf then showed us how Google hangouts could be used as viable free alternative. This walkthrough included screen sharing, remote access to another users screen and sharing documents.

Next up we had Farzana Latif and Zafer (who surely wins the most sessions presented award!) demonstrating how you can incorporate mobile learning into your teaching and student learning. 

This session covered a variety of mobile apps including: Aurasma, Autonomy 4D as well as Blackboard Mobile Learn (MOLE).

This session showed us how we can ably engage students in sessions using these apps. The main mantra of this session was, "give it a go"!. See how these apps can fit in with what you want to acheive. 


The lunch time panel sessions have proved very popular throughout the week and this one was no exception. This time we were treated to a showcase of innovative practice using learning technologies.
Marie Mawson, who is the Faculty of Social Sciences Library Liaison, gave us her tips on  utilising library resources that are valuable to learning and teaching. This included utilising Star Plus, the online reading list, promoting digital collections and embedding tutorials and quizzes into your modules. 

Nicki Newman gave us a great walkthrough of the Turnitin iPad App for marking and feedback. Features included the ability to mark offline, as well as it being a  more convenient/portable device to mark on. Nicki mentioned that she had saved time using the iPad App, and that by and large students really liked it. 

Gary Wood gave us some valuable insight into his work in USE -  University of Sheffield Enterprise. This included a student project case study based on the theme of syntax. This project involved students creating an online course that could be accessed through iTunes U. A main focus for the project was to help students gain and build key enterprise skills including: self belief, ambition, innovation and confidence.

Neil Everill took us through the content of a module focusing on new media skills that is now core in BMS (Biomedical Science). This modules focus was on students developing new skills in media as well as being aware of their digital footprint. The module was split into  areas including, video production, social media and google sites .
Finally, the last session of the day was led by Chris Clow and Tommy Wilson and focused on being creative in developing multimedia resources for learning and teaching.

Attendees were given some great tips and things to avoid in video production (including planning, storyboarding and recording on smart devices) before embarking on a  practical activity... ensuring that attendees could put those tips to immediate use! 

Attendees were asked to create their own 30 second video and then view it back on their PCs.

Whilst all this was going on the drop in sessions were also open once again for anyone looking for a bit of learning technology advice/help from the team.



So that, as they say, is the end of the show folks.  The Learning Technologies Team would like  to say a big thank you to everyone involved who helped make this week the success it was. From presenters, to attendees, to caterers and fellow CiCs colleagues who helped us out when we needed it.

We hope all of those who were able to attend enjoyed it, we certainly had a blast. 

In fact, it was so good, we wouldn’t mind at all running it again next year, what do you think?

Goodbye from TELFest 2014!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

TELFest - Day Four

We're in our fourth day and still going strong!

Thursday at TELFest began with an introductory practical session led by Zaf Ali on MOLE Assignment, allowing a hands-on look at electronic submission via the University's VLE. This was followed by Ros Walker leading a session on the suite of software available by Echo. This included the Echo360 lecture capture system, MyEcho personal capture, and a demonstration of Lecture Tools, an system for interactive lectures currently being trialed by the University.


Today's panel discussion was on Assessment and Feedback. It was chaired by Duco vo Oostrom, of the School of English, and featured System Engineering's Anthony Rossiter, Ollie Johnson of Academic & Learning Service's Flexible and Formative Feedback Project, and Nicki Newman and Andrea Ward of the Management School.

The panel began by discussing what they regard as good assessment, with answers including being clearly aligned with learning outcomes, clear links with lectures and tutorials, consistency, and good communication of what assessment entails. However it was identified that these are ideals that cannot always be afforded with practical considerations such as modularisation and large class sizes. Technology was discussed as a way to solve such as these problems, such as time-saving caused by discussion groups over emails, and electronic marking being an agency for consistency among different markers.

On feedback, it was seen that students do not take full responsibility for their own part. Anthony Rossiter led with comments that all emphasis was with staff, and feedback doesn't even become feedback until something's done with it by the student. Ollie Johnson agreed in th sense that the National Student Survey, which had led to much pressure to improve feedback, saw feedback as too much of a product, but there should be further support to help students engage with it. A general theme on the panel was challenges of student engagement with feedback, and being interested mainly with marks, with Andrea Ward giving an example of statistics that show relatively few students actually read feedback at all. This led to a suggestion of introducing a system where marks were only released to students once feedback has been read, although it was noted this may inconvenience and annoy students finding the information they need if not implemented correctly. Also it's academics' responsibility to elevate feedback above mere justification for grades, and points about engaging with feedback being a developmental need for entering work were raised.

This was a lively and interesting discussion on a topic close to all academics' hearts, with some great interaction from the audience.

Finally, Thursday ended with another practical session, this time Grazyna Whalley and Zaf Ali led a beginner's session on using Google Apps for Productivity, Learning and Teaching.

The week's flown, and it all ends tomorrow! Friday's sessions include talks on web conferencing, mobile learning, innovative practice and multimedia. Hopefully we'll see some of you down there.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

TELFest - Day Three

Today was day three of TELFest, and with over 200 session attendees in the first two days, we were ready for another day of engaging talks and workshops.




First off today was a hands on Workshop from Zafer Ali (CiCS) and Ian Palmer (Faculty of Medicine) on Making reflection Easy Using Pebblepad, covering what PebblePad is and how it is currently used. Attendees had the opportunity to build their own unique reflection template which they could share with others, discovered how students could use the system and investigated what happened when a student submitted something. Quite a few people left the session feeling so inspired that they have already arranged to spend more time with us to develop their ideas for using Pebblepad.


Next an iTunes U update from Graham McElearney (CiCS), who talked about where the University ITunesU development has progressed and what it holds for the future, and led discussion on how we can make the best use of the service.


The lunchtime session was an Introduction to Flipped Learning. It started with Sam Marsh (Maths and Statistics) talking about how they had restructured a Engineering Maths module into a blended learning one. Using a weekly structure, they made available a video at the beginning of the week for the students to watch and then engage in an online test in preparation for the face to face class at the end of the week. Supported by online notes and additional exercises, this changed the focus of the classes to become a time to review the work done that week and then move into a much more productive session of problem solving. This has lead to an increase in class attendance and engagement from the students.
Following Sam was Anthony Rossiter (Automatic Control and Systems Engineering) who took the session through what flipped learning was, and how it can put the students in control, and demonstrated how he had created a range of resources without using any special tools.
For both presenters, there was lengthy quality discussion about the topic.

The day ended with Rene Meijer and Chris Clow (both from CiCS) talking about Engaging Students in Teaching Spaces which explained how staff can make the most of teaching spaces, including using clickers for interactive feedback and how the symposium system can be used to create a flipped learning environment. Once again the session had a very good discussion around this topic and finished off another great day.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

TELFest - Day Two


It was day two of TELFest today, continuing the talks and workshops helping university staff explore the use of technologies in learning and teaching.

James Goldingay once again started proceedings, giving a practical introductory session on Turnitin. This gave staff the opportunity to see behind the scenes of electronic submission and marking, and see some of the features available to academics. Further training is available, including forthcoming sessions on the Turnitin iPad app, so do get in touch with the team if you have any questions or requirements.

Next up was Marie Kinsie, the academic lead on the University's MOOC project, giving a talk entitled 'Learning & Teaching in MOOCland'. Marie started by explaining what MOOCs are, and discussed the differences between MOOCs and conventional learning. The emphasis was on learners being in the driving seat of the course, and the opportunities for community-building. Marie saw the role of MOOCs to use a narrative to tell stories; to take learners on an adventure.

Questions of why the University is creating MOOCs were discussed. It’s the University’s job to innovate and try new things, and to find new learners and new markets. As well as this, these online courses are creating engaging content to enhance the experience of existing students, and not just new, online learners.

Marie showed the FutureLearn platform, which hosts the University’s MOOCs, and trailers for the forthcoming MOOCs the University are launching soon. This includes an intriguing module on Exploring Play, and a series of three-week “mini-MOOCs” developed with the Careers Service. As well as this, there are others in the pipeline on songwriting, robotics and criminology. The talk showed the breadth of topics that can be covered by the MOOC platform, and the fascinating way this new way of providing educational content is engaging learners around the world.

This was followed by a session on using Twitter in learning and teaching, chaired by Rene Meijer, with short talks by Dena Shah (Information School), Gary Wood (USE) and Ruth Stirton (Law).

Dena began, talking about how academics are increasingly using Twitter to meet complex challenges of communication, networking and knowledge dissemination. As well as this, academics are increasingly using Twitter to improve communication with students, and Dina demonstrated that the principles of good practice of student engagement.


These themes were continued in Gary’s talk, in which he ably demonstrated his impressive use of Twitter in the classroom, during his work at the Department of English. Gary used hashtags extensively during sessions, and as the main form of communication outside lessons. His conclusions were that this led to a great rapport with students, who perceived Gary was more available and accessible due to his interaction on Twitter, but in reality he was saving time by replying to fewer emails, as he could give quicker answer to questions, repeating himself less, and queries were answered by students were replying to one another.

These points were reiterated by work Ruth undertook in the Law School, where a two hour revision Q&A session held on Twitter saw her successfully fielding questions from a large number of students. She was surprised by the level of complex discussion held under the 140 character limit, and student feedback was excellent.

The theme from all three speakers was that when facilitated correctly, students really engage with Twitter in this way, and bringing academic discussion to online spaces the students already use, rather than using systems new to them, works well.

After lunch Farzana Latif led a lively workshop on social media, discussing the learning and teaching benefits of Twitter, blogging and Flickr. The day ended with a practical session by Trish Murray on peer review within MOLE via WebPA.

Another packed day at TELFest, with much more to come. Wednesday’s session sees sessions on PebblePad, iTunesU, flipped learning and engaging students in teaching spaces. See you there!

Monday, 8 September 2014

TELFest Day One


Today saw the launch of the CiCS Learning Technologies Team’s TELFest (Technology Enhanced Learning Festival). The week will see a wide range of talks, discussions and workshops on a range of learning technologies, designed to help staff at the University make the most of technology to add value to their teaching and learning.



The festival was kicked off by James Goldingay, giving a hands-on overview of the University’s VLE, MOLE. This was a great opportunity to introduce MOLE to staff members who may not have had previous experience of the system, giving colleagues a chance to use it and find out what it can do.


This was followed by a session led by Danny Monaghan, entitled ‘MOLE - Looking Ahead’. This saw the team joined by John Usher from Blackboard, to give update on recent development, and future plans.



Danny gave an update on MOLE's recent move to managed hosting on Blackboard's servers in Amsterdam, which has improved stability and speed of the service, and looked ahead to future plans, including software updates which will hopefully be implemented at the end of the year. As well as general bug fixes, this would include changes in My Grades, to improve access to feedback, a facelift to the portfolio tool, and an improved Student Preview. Perhaps of most interest to colleagues are tools to allow Anonymous and Parallel marking during peer assessment. These features, and the new version in general, will be trialled before software updates are applied.


Looking further ahead, John updated with future plans for Blackboard, largely listening to user feedback, which include a simplified, cleaner, redesigned user interface, which includes new features such as drag and drop when designing courses, improved optimisation for viewing on mobile devices, and a new mobile app. Another plan is the tutor-only app Blackboard Grader for marking on mobile devices. My EDU will be a new product that is "Facebook for the academic world", and Blackboard Analytics will be improved to more complex analysis of data.

This was followed by a useful Q&A with academic users from across the University.



After lunch, today's panel discussion took place, entitled 'The Value and Impact of Learning Technologies in Higher Education'. This was chaired by Dr Christine Sexton (Director of CiCS), with a panel consisting of Prof Anne Peat (Pro Vice Chancellor for Learning & Teaching), Dr Tim Herrick (Education), Dr Gordon Cooper (Biomedical Science), Andrea Fox (Nursing & Midwifery), Dr Bob Johnston (Archaeology) and Louise Woodcock (Academic & Learning Services). It was a lively and far-reaching disucssion, with just some of the highlights below.

The panel began by discussing which technologies have had the biggest impact in learning and teaching, which produced a range of answers, including mobile learning, MOOCs, the speed of connections and social media, but with a theme of greater collaboration being made possible through technology, and a move from front-led lectures.

The discussion turned to the need to keep up with students' expectations, and young people's adeptness with technology, but the point was made that we should not presume that familiarity translates to expertise (TH), and while students may be confident in using web-based technology, they may not be as knowledgable as we think on its finer points (CS). Points were also raised that while we try and bridge the gap of school and higher and education, we also need to look ahead and bridge the technology between education and the workplace (BJ).



During the course of the discussion, topics covered included the future of learning spaces, and why face-to-face contact is still important in the digital age, how student analytics can be used more effectively, and how we can assess if technology is genuinely enhancing learning and teaching. Throughout, points were made that the role of Learning Technologists is integral, with academics needing support to help them realise their ideas. Collaboration between students, academics and Learning Technologists are integral in making decisions (BJ), and we should work with academics' strengths when trying to introduce technology, not see them as a barrier to change (TH).



The session ended with a question of what technology will have the biggest impact in five years' time. Increased prominence of the private sector, and higher education's response to that, was highlighted as a major change, as was students expecting to plug their own devices into the University's facilities. Specific technologies such as Google Glass, and the way we interact with screens, were also mentioned. The session ended with a concern, that perhaps the increased connectivity of students will mean an expectation of 24/7 access to lecturers, and how will be respond to this? (GC).


Ending the day it was Danny Monaghan up again, giving a detailed hands-on session on building interactive tests in MOLE.

This was an excellent start to the festival, with colleagues across the institution attending and engaging with the sessions. And this is just the beginning! The festival continues all this week with a packed schedule, tomorrow seeing sessions on electronic submission through Turnitin, MOOCs, Twitter, social media and peer review in MOLE.


Drop-in sessions will also be run parallel to scheduled sessions each day 10am-4pm in Hicks G29, so if you have a question for the team on pedagogy and learning technology, no matter how basic or complex, then do feel free to come down and say hello.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Mobile Apps for Higher Education Videos

There has been a lot of discussion over the last year or so on the Web over the merits of using tablets and apps within education, more notably primary and secondary schools. In higher education there have been various initiatives to encourage staff and students to get more value from their smart devices going beyond the stock use of email, calendar and Social Media. Yet there is an increasingly growing conversation on the Web that the tablets have not changed learning and teaching in the way they were heralded a couple of years ago. Some academics are reaping the benefits of their mobile devices by using a multitude of apps, but from my own personal experience these are in the minority. Part reason for this is there are still only a small number of good quality academic apps out there, or ones that can be applied to higher education. 

Again for the most part staff are using their devices as bigger screen versions of their smartphones to access emails and calendars with some taking and reading notes. Tablets represent a great example of the Gartner Hype Cycle, although according to the technology forecasters we were on the slope of enlightenment a year ago and probably should be somewhere near the plateau of productivity any time soon. It may be the case for many uses for tablet devices, as I said school education, there are no shortage of useful apps for kids (when you remove the U.S biased ones), in addition to apps on cooking, consuming, playing and communicating. Whilst some of these can be applied to higher education, the list of really useful, mass-appealing academic apps remains just a handful and rarely used by most academics and students. The reasons for this lack of uptake is many, that some of the apps are no good, poorly designed or just do not do enough compared to their desktop/laptop counterparts; that it could be argued that the app was created for the sake of having an app. That staff and students do not invariably have the time to explore these apps beyond the ones key to their work, email, calendar, PDF reader and those they are instructed to use institutionally, Turnitin, Pebblepad etc. There are of course exceptions to these rules and communities, student doctors use tablets increasingly to diagnose patients and check medications, whilst for anyone working out in the field, archaeologists, engineers and suchlike there is greater uptake. For the majority of mostly office and lecture-theatre based academics and their students there is still so way to go before they truly do reach the heady heights on the plateau of productivity.

Whilst tablets will increasingly seep into our working environment there needs to be a better understanding of not only how they work, how to stay safe using them and maintaining them but what apps are out there and how can they be employed within a university environment; in a streamlined process rather than just for the sake of it. The reality is that most apps have very small learning curves and are often just lightweight versions of software packages, that an awful lot of them are free and some are hidden gems not always spotted by certain communities. Take Evernote for example, the tablet version allowing for note, image and audio capture are perfect for students in classrooms and academics at conferences, yet many do not apply an academic use for it beyond taking meeting notes. 

 


The Evernote issue is understandable as with many applications it often takes a colleague or friend to explain and show the benefits of using a certain technology. It very much feels like the period shortly after Web 2.0 had arrived in 2005, and a couple of years later when innovative platforms like Prezi, Mendeley, Dropbox and Twitter appeared and where starting to gain popularity, yet the academic uptake was still fairly low. The reason behind that takes us back to the Hype Cycle again and reasons behind many technology adoptions, that users are wary of new technologies, cannot afford them, do not have the time to explore them and can often feel overwhelmed by them, the same is happening again but on a bigger scale as we have more platforms than before.

 


With regards to apps there have been Initiatives at our own institution through workshops, short seminars and such as the App Swap Breakfast idea. Another option is by making short videos that not only explain an app's use but also that it exists in the first place, awareness at least opens the mind to the possibilities. At present I have created just seven short videos hosted on the Information Resources YouTube channel and later on the University's iTunes U, but the intention is to create more. The videos explain briefly Evernote, BibMe, Harvard Easy Referencing, Mendeley, Readability and Browzine - the series can be viewed here.

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