Thursday, 14 June 2012

Interview with Andy Tattersall: Google+ Hangouts On Air

Image by Nelson Biagio Jr, available under a
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license
Andy Tattersall, Information Specialist in the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) has just become the first person at the University of Sheffield to run one of their 'Bite Size' staff development sessions using Google+ Hangouts On Air.  We thought that it would be great to catch up with him about his experience - find out what he got from it and where he'd like to take it next.

Sarah Horrigan: You've just done your first session for the ScHARR 'Bite Size' series using a Google+ Hangout On Air - and I wondered if we could start by having a little bit of background on the Bite Size sessions themselves? So, where did they come from, how long have they been running, who's the audience, what topics do you cover etc?

Andy Tattersall: Bite Size came about as I was trying to figure out an effective way of sharing all the great tools and websites I'd been using a for a few years with colleagues in a way that could fit in with people's busy schedules and that could be delivered in a new way. I'd been pondering a few ideas for a while and after leaving a Faculty meeting where I'd mentioned a few of these tools to a senior colleague who mentioned how much they'd like to know more about them. For me that was the drive to make me go back to my office that afternoon and devise the whole concept - I'm a bit like a bull at a gate, even as I sat at my desk I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't do any research beyond my own tacit knowledge and realised that the big issue was time - people didn't have it. Yet there were loads of ideas and ways that we're being missed by the masses in my School. I based the idea on Twenty20 cricket, basically teaching and staff development was something that I'd seen as not changing to fit in with the modern workplace, cricket had the same problem in terms of lifestyle.

I decided it would be very informal, and have posters and promotion to reflect that. I also thought it would be good to host them in smaller rooms if possible so that people would on occasion be left standing, as you always go to a club that has a queue or a restaurant that has no free tables. I launched the first session in November 2010 - I think it was on Mendeley - about 20 staff turned up. The biggest problem was how to continue it, as it was apparent it had great potential, but lucky a colleague from ScHARR, Dr. Jenny Freeman came to me and asked if she could get involved. From there on we devised two clear strands - teaching and research. We focused in three areas - tools, resources and concepts. I added the tag line - 'Learn Something New in 20 Minutes'  To be honest, Jenny was a life saver for Bite Size, I knew it had mileage - but sustaining it on my own beyond the first three sessions was going to be hard - I've run about 6 or 7 of the them personally - and am proud to say I delivered the 50th Bite Size this week. We also gained some wonderful admin support from Uzzie Potgieter who now sorts out the rooms, cakes and posters.

The audience can be any one who's interested and has half an hour spare - as we say, what have you lost by attending? just 30 minutes (we have 10 minutes for questions). We've had a wide spectrum of staff and students attend, from support staff to professors - what has amazed me is that we don't get the same staff every time. Some come for a few and then we don't see them again for months. We've been getting about 20 attend each session on average - sometimes we get 10 staff, sometimes 30. In hindsight, I wish I'd advertised it more widely from the start - as we've run some wonderful interactive and informative sessions from Margaret Freeman's Voice Works to the one yesterday on YouTube. It would be good to go back through the back catalogue and re-run some - if we had the time, but I have plans...

In terms of topics - we've covered loads of stuff, where do I begin? What ScHARR Library can do for you, How Not to Display Data, RSS, Prezi, Dissertation Supervision, Google Apps, uSpace, NLP, Sympodiums, Social Media, Data Security and the Cloud, TASH, The REF, PhD Supervision, Mobile Apps for Research, Echo360, Screencasting, Video recording, Interactive Whiteboards, Teaching Senate Awards, What the Teaching Support Unit can do for you, Mendeley, Medline and Cinahl, MOLE 2, Plagiarism, Essential Tools for 2012, Essential Tools for 2011, SCIRUS Search Engine, Supporting Students - Sources of Help, IRISS, Facilitating On-line Discussions, Pebblepad, Research Professional, Social Visual Bookmarks...I'm sure I've left a fair few out...

Wow - that's some range of topics, Andy!  And really inspiring to hear you've clocked up 50 of them too.  It's a great model and I can see why it's so successful - lots of juicy morsels of interest for people to tap into.

So, talk us through what you did with your Google+ Hangout on Air?  Where did the idea for that come from?

Yes, once we'd worked on the formula a bit, we realised there was a whole wealth of ideas would could play with - plus it's helped that people have been very happy to come and present, although sometimes quite nervous due to the time length - but saying that we give our students similar times to work with, so what's good for the goose... The one thing I like about Bite Size above any other is that we could pick it up and deliver the vast majority of sessions in any department across the University - remove the health-related topics and it's pretty much ready to go.

I'd planned a session on Web conferencing last year, we plan about 6 months in advance and are sorted with sessions until February 2013 at present. I was going to use something like Anymeeting to deliver...then Hangouts came up...then WebEx...then Blackboard Collaborate...then Hangouts On Air - so about 36 hours before the session I contacted Chris Clow and Graham McElearney (based in Learning and Teaching Support within CiCS) and asked if they could help. I'd decided to go with the latest tool as it looked the best option for Bite Size - in that we removed barriers for participation. One thing about Bite Size, people usually arrive with seconds to go - so using something like Blackboard Collaborate wouldn't have worked so well.

I explained what I wanted to do and how I thought we should run it using their expertise - we had a test run that morning, which worked well. Then come the afternoon we rushed to get on-line, myself and Graham were in different places before the session, I didn't get set up until 10 minutes before due to commitments as did Graham , but I think that was a testament to how wonderful some of these tools can be. We delivered them in two places where it hadn't been done fore, so setting up connections, web cams etc added to the chaos. I'm glad I didn't have been so organised to have written slides, prepared materials 6 months ago, or even a week ago - as it would have been out of the window a few days later. I'm just grateful that Chris and Graham had windows in their calendars as they were brilliant and made it work wonderfully. 

Also, I was keen to test a theory out of my own which I think worked. I'd used tools such as Wimba and screencasting software - Camtasia, Screencast-o-matic and ScreenToaster in the past to deliver teaching and had become very aware of how it felt to teach sitting down. It felt very different to standing up in the class room - less dynamic, my voice and delivery felt restricted. So I was keen to explore the idea of delivering long distance whilst standing up. So hence, why I did my bit in a lecture theatre standing up - it felt much better. I've seen teachers and lecturers deliver whilst sat at a table and it never looks right, they don't seem comfortable to me. So it's something I'd like to explore more, perhaps using a smaller room (a lecture theatre is a waste for one person, especially me) but I've thought about the idea of a good web cam and wireless mic, and clicker or wireless keyboard - I reckon it would be a worthwhile investment. I suppose only time would tell, but I intend to do this as much as I can.

How interesting to hear that presenting standing up makes a difference.  When I've done screencasts, I agree - they do feel rather stilted and awkward... but I think there's a difference too between presenting a webinar and recording a screencast - there's something about 'live' which makes a difference.  Being able to 'properly' present standing up has got to make it even more familiar and comfortable - hadn't thought of it like that!

In terms of the session - did you enjoy the juggle of face-to-face and virtual presentation?  I know that can be quite daunting - were there any issues with having two audiences and how did you handle it?

Yes, I agree - a screencast will always feel a bit 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' as it's not live - but still it doesn't feel right. I think it's something worth pursuing as I think teaching should be something the teacher enjoys themselves (well if possible), you always remember good teachers as being the more dynamic, fun, freestyle ones - well I do. Sitting down isn't any of those things, it perhaps gives an extra 10% to an on-line session. Only time will tell. 

Yes, the juggling went well - I picked up the valuable ground rule of muting mics from the Google Edu On Air sessions that happened last month - here's one I attended - innovative google apps uses | eduonair
Bjorn asked everyone to mute their mics, so I set the ground rules with Chris and Graham, and muted mine when they spoke. This is especially important when screen-sharing as you don't want people popping up on screen when they cough. It did feel quite daunting, I was nervous - especially being live on the Web - I wasn't worried about the performance as I think we're all experienced enough, I was worried about the technology acting up, lagging or that something failed us in the rooms - mics, monitors etc. Also, I think it was good that the three of us are fairly knowledgeable regarding copyright and the Web (well hopefully anyway), so would be more worried when a colleague does this and doesn't consider this issue. Also, we had the issue as you know of not being able to moderate who was viewing, so we got spam/inappropriate comments - it could have been worse, but still a worry. Hopefully Google will give users more options when hosting a service like this.

In terms of the 2 audiences - on-line and in the room - I think it seems to have worked, I know a couple of other colleagues viewed it on-line and have contacted me since to say how well they thought it went, Those in the Eric Wilkes Room with Jenny Freeman were equally impressed. I didn't give the chance for questions, normally world, but due to the comments field on YouTube being spammed, thought it was best end the experiment, and moved back to the Eric Wilkes Room with Graham for a chat with the 6 members of staff who were camped there.

The very public nature of Google Hangouts On Air is an issue I think people really need to think very carefully about - and the experience of the spam comments certainly showed that the audience isn't necessarily even the audience you hope would watch let alone being interested but antagonistic!  I wonder if it's possible to have someone moderating comments as they appear?  It sounds like there's some more exploring to do for us and hopefully opportunities for development to come from Google too.

Having knowledgeable / technically comfortable people running your session definitely sounds like a huge plus... if you had a colleague who wanted to run a session like this but wasn't so confident online, what would be your top tips to get them started?  Could anyone do this do you think?

Yes, this worries - and at the same bugs me, as we have a wonderful tool in terms of global delivery without barriers - I'm sure it can be rectified simply and Google will do this - that's if they want to take this education thing seriously - as well as coming from a marketing perspective. Imagine they could have live on-line launches of products, and you'd have competitors coming on saying 'don't buy it'. It will be interesting to see about whether comments can be easily moderated as trolls will always be near, I suppose the issue is that unless sharing rights are set from the start it means moderation comes from someone else accessing your account - which again is flawed to some extent.

In terms of getting people using this who would consider themselves a techno-phobe (I meet plenty of people who use this term). I would suggest I'd be there on hand to help them, or at least have a learning technologist there. I think it's worth the expenditure as long as they don't keep you as a crutch. I think it's important that people have as comfortable first attempt as possible, rather than have a bad session and walk away for ever. It's like lot's things we learn in life, swimming, riding a bike, driving a car, they are very daunting - and you would never do it alone - but once the stabilisers and floats are removed it becomes almost second nature.
I would suggest that they try something 'out of the box', in my experience - not all ways of delivering or do something is led by the technicians and learning specialists - sometimes it comes from somewhere unexpected, it's just that no one did it that way before. The problem is that things can sometimes become too 'evidence based' such as "what's the evidence we do it this way...ah there is none, then not's let do it at all". We're seeing the technologists come up with lots of new ways of working, and invariably they don't really know how something will be used. Look at what Facebook was created for.

I would say to people thinking of wanting to try this - look at the pros and cons. That technology drives much of how we work in education, and that it's not going to go away unless someone drops an EMP bomb over the UK at least. That to get on board sooner than later will not only enhance how they work, but will help their profile and will improve and enhance the education they deliver to their students and in turn make them better learners and potentially better researchers, teachers, doctors. I am seeing staff use this kind of technology that I would have never predicted seeing at this stage of the game, there are some I expected to see on board yet to show, whilst others are taking a big leap - to which I'm very grateful and proud of them.
Finally, I would say - go get a web cam and a headset - try having a session with a colleague, perhaps start by giving tutorial support to a student in another city/country. I Professor from my department attended one of my Google workshops and now uses Google Hangouts for such a purpose, she doesn't even have a mobile phone. 

Again, saying this I appreciate the demands on all staff - we're like gerbils in a wheel - and that it's not going to change, in fact we're behind the curve and trying to catch up. So I think we need to build the mechanisms for support, as everything takes time, and in terms of learning and implementing some technologies a lot of time. 

'Have a go' is often the hardest step.  I recall reading an article about creating video for digital storytelling by Dr Helen Barrett (I read all the fun stuff!) some years ago and the conclusion was actually 'just do it'.  And it's something I often tell myself too when I'm dithering!  I think you're right though - a good positive first experience is really important - but actually, seeing a good positive first experience like yours is also valid, so it's great to see the resulting video too.

Now you've had the experience and lived to tell the tale... what next?  What else would you like to try with it?

Yes, I think it's like I say to people when they argue it's best to wait and see whether a better tool will come out. It's like waiting to get a PC or laptop as a better one will be released, well yes it will, but waiting means you may miss out all together. That's not to say it's a one size fits all - but as with tools, you have to jump in some time. The goal posts will always change from now on, and as a result people like ourselves have to think on our feet. It's pretty hard work and it certainly clouds my mind every so often - as less can be more. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to keep driving forward, and think that we've got a great mixture of people at The University who feel the same - except we can all see each other on the various networks. That is a good thing for the most part, the exception is that I feel over-whelmed when trying to read what every one is doing. I think in the future we're all going to have to find our niche and work together.

I think there's a few things to try out next, but am still concerned by the comment moderation problem. I'd love to see our seminars and public lectures delivered via this. It would be great to run something similar to Edu On Air. I've been thinking about a cross-University Bite Size Festival with various curators from Faculties for some months - and this would make it more possible - no need to book rooms as such. It all depends on what happens with the moderation - I think that is the only stumbling block for me. I think on a wider note, there are two stumbling blocks, the first is obviously engagement, the second legality - I'm an information professional by trade, so am keen we stay safe - and seeing most people's 'stand alone' presentations - we've got some educating to do - but in the end, it will be worth it.

Mmmm, I think the second of those stumbling blocks is potentially a show stopper - I wonder if you could give us some of the key things people should bear in mind when they're moving to teaching / delivering lectures online using tools such as Google+ Hangouts?  How can people 'stay safe'?

As you know, we've got some work to do in this area to 'clean up our act' so to speak. It's been very easy to take content and re-use it within our teaching with no attribution - I would say that in most cases people have been unaware they are breaking copyright laws - which is a worry in its self. 

I think people need a balance, they need their teaching to be visual whilst remaining legal, obviously the easiest thing to do is just have text on slides, but that is plain dull, certainly for the modern learner. One obvious way around the problem of image use is to use your own - this especially works in topics. I'm not suggesting you go out and take pictures as a lot of people don't have the time, but maybe build a collection and host them somewhere like Pinterest or Flickr and use them as your own image bank. Creative Commons licensed material is always a winner, but people need to be aware of the various licences - you could use one image within a set of teaching slides without a problem, but with the same set of slides delivered as part of a commercial venture you'd be in trouble. I quite often use Flickr via their various licences, but is always good as well - there are dozens of such sites out there.
Attribution is key, remember if you are taking something, however legal, it belongs to someone, so don't forget to credit them on your materials.

Music and video is more tricky, again the best way around this is to use your own music, something I've done in the past - but remember if you use samples you could still have problems. There are lots of free music out there released via Creative Commons especially on free netlabels - again remember to check how you can use it and to attribute it.

I'm sure you experience the same feeling Sarah in that you quite often feel like a party-pooper for telling people that they 'can't do this'. I look at all the mistakes I've made whilst becoming more visible on-line and regard myself as fairly clued up in this area as I have a lot of experience with copyright - so it worries me with what others may be doing. I think we're in a transitional period, one where a lot of information literacy training needs spreading. I've seen a few cases in the past that have shown how people can get caught out - it's no different from copyright misuse of journal papers. The emergence of visual search engines and the ability for owners to track where their image has landed up on the Web has placed some power back in to the hands of the copyright holder. Also there has been a shift towards multi-contextual learning so we're using more materials to enhance our teaching, this opens us up even more. I doubt we'll see anything serious happen, but people will get caught out and get their fingers burned in education - it's pretty inevitable sadly.

I think you're right - learning from experience is necessary, even it isn't always positive it's important to try and take advantage of those learning opportunities.  I've not come across - thanks for the link, that's really helpful.

Thank you so much for telling us about your experience with the Bite Size session - and all the other gems that snuck in along the way!  Very much appreciated.

Inspiring stuff as ever, cheers Andy!

Thanks, that was good fun!

Andy Tattersall interviewed by Sarah Horrigan, June 2012

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