Saturday, 23 May 2015

A new (old) role - I've been recycled!

So I've decided to start writing in this personal blog again... As many readers will know, for many years I've been a member of Dodington Parish Council. This is nothing like the Vicar of Dibley, which is based around a parochial church council. Instead it's the lowest layer of local government, a layer that people in cities don't have, which allows local facilities to be managed according to local wishes.

Quite a few years ago I became Vice-Chairman of the Parish Council, then Chairman, which was a role I undertook for five years (until I found someone else willing to take it on). I've now been "recycled" and I've just become Vice-Chairman again. As well as chairing some meetings, which I do anyway (I've chaired the Council's Community, Leisure and Environnment Committee for years), there's a more public role representing the Council at various public and private events.

I've just completed my first two events as Vice-Chairman of the Council. Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting flowers to former fellow councillor Pat Cotterell and her husband Mike on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.

This evening I attended a hog roast of the Sodbury and District Twinning Association, who are hosting a visit from our French twin town Cesson. My bilingual speech seemed to go down well - the French laughed in all the right places!

There are plans to set up youth twinning links assisted by modern technology, so that it's not just about the actual visits. I shall be very interested to see how the project develops.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Coincidences and reflections

Today has been a day for coincidences and reflections.

My colleagues in the department I have just retired from at the University of the West of England (end of career no. 3!) had invited me to lunch at an "Away Day" session in Clifton where they were planning for the new university year. Most of my colleagues would be there, so it was a good opportunity for my retirement presentation.

I boarded the bus to Bristol and checked my email, receiving a message from one of this year's graduates telling me that she had got the job she had set her heart on. That's the icing on the cake for today, I thought.

I had a little time to spare and I was in need of a coffee (not unusual?), so I sat in the cafe at the bus station. I was surprised to see one of my bosses from career no. 1 walking past, so I called to him and we had a chat. He's a good friend and a colleague in a community group that is a part of my "retirement plan" (So part of career no. 4?)

I caught the bus up to Clifton, passing Bristol University where I studied, and the Students' Union (I'm a Life Member but haven't been there for many years. Memo to self: must go and haunt the place some time) I got off at Engineers House (shades of careers 1 and 2) where I found my UWE colleagues engaged in the annual round of self-flagellation, trying to work out how to improve their ratings in the National Students Survey. I've seen this so many times.

After a very pleasant lunch, my boss from career no. 3 was very complimentary as she did my presentation. I responded, mentioning how many people (50 plus) from all my careers had made contact when I announced my retirement on the various social media. I felt that the flagellants needed cheering up, so I read them the graduate's email including her description of "the amazing staff at UWE". There aren't enough compliments to go round in today's competitive workplaces.

I left them to their deliberations and walked out into the sunshine, having bookended career no. 3. I'll go back and visit them, so the door isn't irrevocably locked behind me.

Then it was back on the bus, which took an unexpected and circuitous route through Clifton and Redland. More time travel, passing a college site where I attended Open University tutorials during career no. 2, then my old school (career zero?) and many streets that I knew well as a schoolboy and as a student.

Bus travel is good for thinking and reflecting. I certainly got my money's worth out of my "Senior Citizen's Time Travel Pass" today!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Learner personas for lesson design

Personas are a recognised technique in website design. Kruger, L (2013) suggests that they help designers to:

  • Synthesize and articulate what we learn about constituents through user research
  • Build consensus around target audiences
  • Encourage empathy for constituents when making design and/or content decisions for your website
A student who was encountering them for the first time asked me "What's a persona?", to which I replied "A persona is a web designer's imaginary friend" - flippant, but clear - it's a character representative of (part of) the audience that you are designing for.

There's nothing specific about web design, though - personas can be used for other types of communication, for example eLearning (or just learning situations or module design, I would suggest)

Malamed, C (2013) explores Learner Personas for eLearning: "Personas are well-developed profiles of audience member groups for whom we are designing a course. These audience groups are prototypes of learners in your target audience that share common characteristics, such as their training goals, job responsibilities, educational background or skill level. Every course has at least one audience group and most courses have several"

This strikes me as an interesting approach to wider course design, provided that as Malamed says you "watch that stereotypes and social judgments don’t slip into your personas. These unrealistic profiles defeat the purpose"

In particular it could potentially be helpful for designing modules that are going to have very mixed cohorts in terms of previous learning experiences, for example a mixture of students on different degrees.


Kruger, L (2013) Nonprofit Web Design Process Part 2e: Personas

Malamed, C (2013) Learner Personas for eLearning

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

If you want to know something, ask a student

A few weeks ago I was teaching a session for the Year 2 eBusiness module at the University of the West of England, and we were discussing content syndication and analytics. Similar content can be cycled through blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook and email newsletters, being repurposed to suit each of these marketing channels.

I talked about how organisations can monitor interactions with these media, for example Google Analytics gives rich data about location, landing page, depth of interaction and so forth. Advertisers need to be able to judge whether their spend on social media is good value for money (ROI - return on investment)

Chaffey, D (2011) has a nice explanation of the cycle and suggests different ways of monitoring engagement, which can then be extended into measurements of ROI (return on investment) in social media.

A straw poll of 35 students in my class, mainly aged around 20, showed that virtually everyone is on Facebook, about 60% are on Twitter, but only 6% actively blog. I must admit that I found this last figure a little surprising.

Shortly afterwards I read an Observer article by Parmy Olsen "Teenagers say goodbye to Facebook and hello to messenger apps" which suggests that teens are moving away from Facebook - possibly because of its public nature, and because it's now also populated by older relatives, and (shock horror) even a few teachers and lecturers. Instead they are using the more private medium of instant messaging (IM) apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat and KakaoTalk.

The same week I found out that one of my Year 3 project teams is using WhatApp for internal communications. I talked to them about it and found that the key features of WhatsApp are:
  • Instant messaging
  • Push messaging – with alerts
  • Can see whether people have read a message
  • Can set up groups
  • Discussion can be fast-paced
  • No character number limitation
  • Can send media, location, speech
  • Facebook has distractions!
Back in the Year 2 class I asked about IM use, and found that around 55% use IM apps - almost all WhatsApp - on a regular basis. In other words, nearly the same proportion as Twitter.

The Guardian article set me wondering about three issues:
  • If this trend continues, how can advertisers use IM channels? They would need individual information about people. Yes, you need individual information for an email newsletter or any other "push" medium, but emails can be harvested. If IM apps need phone numbers these are a lot harder to harvest. Maybe incentive schemes like loyalty cards would be a way to do this.
  • Assuming that advertisers use IM apps, how then can they measure the effectiveness of their spend?
  • Are teenagers also leaving Facebook to get away from its increasing commercialisation?

This is an example of two streams of thought coming together, my own reading and my observation of the Year 3 WhatsApp users - a pattern of synthesis.

Instant messaging is a trend that caught me unawares. I must admit that I'm not a fan of IM and try to avoid its use in a teaching context. This is because of an experience quite a few years ago where a student became over-dependent through the channel of IM, to the extent that it was penetrating too deep through my admittedly ill-defined barrier between work and home life.


Chaffey, D (2011) Developing a Joined Up Approach to your Social Media and Customer Communications

Olsen, P (2013) Teenagers say goodbye to Facebook and hello to messenger apps

Friday, 1 November 2013

Capturing a VIP lecture (video and audio)

As mentioned in previous blog posts (see the bottom three posts here), I'm trialling the Panopto lecture capture software. One of the tasks I set myself back at the beginning was to capture VIP lectures on one of my modules. The opportunity came this week with a session by John Rushforth, UWE Deputy Vice-Chancellor (there are no public samples in this post because he was talking for an internal audience)

I simply set Panopto to "Record" before John began, and stopped Panopto after he had left. Not complicated at all.

First of all John gave a talk standing at the lectern with a set of prepared slides, and then he moved to sit with the audience for a question and answer session. This meant that I had in effect two sets of material in one recording:
  • Video image plus slides for the presentation
  • Audio only (lower volume) for the Q and A session
1. Audio track of Q and A

I started editing by exporting the whole sound track from Panopto as an MP3 file, which I opened in Audacity, my favourite (free) sound editor. I'll talk more about Audacity in a later blog post. I trimmed off the bits before and after the Q and A session and used the Amplify tool to make everything louder except for the applause at the end.

The result was acceptable apart from some high level noise, so I then applied a low pass filter to cut out the top end (I could have tried a noise removal filter instead, but I didn't have any wild track without conversation to act as a reference signal for the filter)

Finally I exported the result as an MP3 file and uploaded it into Blackboard - a reasonable recording in the circumstances, certainly fit for purpose.

2. Video with slides

I then returned to Panopto and used the "handles" to mark the start and end points for the video. Panopto is a bit more "twitchy" than other video editing software I've used, and I often found myself having to reselect the mark several times to get it right. Either the interface is less intuitive, or I haven't totally got the sequence right yet.

Having got the handles in the right places, I exported the required section of video as another Panopto file, waited for it to process, "shared" the presentation and copied the URL into Blackboard for my students.

I chose to share the link to view the presentation via the Panopto viewer, with windows for the presenter and the slides, rather than exporting it as picture-in-picture for example. I made this choice to allow students to move around within John's well-structured slide set, and to avoid the picture-in-picture effect obscuring part of one of John's most important slides.


The whole package I put into Blackboard consisted of John's original slides, the Panopto video of the presentation, and the audio recording. Between them they "capture the moment" (see another earlier blog post) reasonably effectively. I'm particularly pleased with my a first attempt at "rescuing" lower level audio from the video recording.

In terms of time, it probably took me around an hour (total) to edit the audio and the video, including some pauses while the files were processing. I'm fairly used to this sort of thing, but without some previous basic experience of editing audio and video it would have taken me longer.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Second experiment in video podcasting

As explained in an earlier post, I'm taking part in a trial of video capturing of lectures and other material using Panopto software. In another blog entry I posted a link to my first experiment, an extract from a lecture. The link takes students to the Panopto viewer, in which they can view my Powerpoint slides and a video of me. 

In my second experiment I wanted to create some learning material at home, for my students to review between live sessions. All I wanted was Powerpoint slides with a voiceover - I felt that a head and shoulders of me from my webcam wouldn't convey much extra meaning, if any. In contrast the first experiment was a recording of an "event", a live talk with audience interaction, and in that case I felt there was some value to me being visible.

So I had decided on Powerpoint plus voice. To do this I recorded the presentations on Panopto in the same way as for lectures. Panopto offers the following output formats:
  • Panopto web viewer
  • Video podcast (view, download, embed, subscribe to folder via iTunes or RSS)
  • Audio podcast (play, download, subscribe to folder via iTunes or RSS)
I selected video podcast (secondary video only - that's the Powerpoint). I tried the embed code but wasn't very happy with the results in Blackboard, so I just copied the address as a hyperlink. However here is one of my podcasts as an embedded video:

This is the second of two video podcasts. The first one revised some a range of basic system modelling tools that students had covered last year - Rich Picture, Stakeholder Analysis etc. In this second podcast I talked about a voluntary organisation and applied these modelling tools to the case study. 

I'll be interested to see what use the students make of these podcasts, and what use they make of the modelling techniques - I should get some idea from a formative assignment that is due to be handed in next week.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Apple "giveaways" may gain major advantage over Microsoft

Apple's free productivity software and free operating system upgrades could be a game-changer, undermining a key part of Microsoft's revenue model.

Diana Hwang's article on Techtarget talks about Apple's decision to offer productivity tools iWorks and iLife free, as well as allowing owners of Mac computers from 2007 onwards to upgrade to the Maverick OS without any payment.

Compare this to Microsoft's high prices for MS Office and Windows 8, and this starts to close the gap between typical Microsoft and Apple high street prices for equipment.

This shows up a fundamental difference between the two companies' revenue models. Apple makes much of its money from selling a range of hardware with similar user experiences, an upmarket image and excellent service. Microsoft's key revenues depend on selling (or with Office 365, leasing) software.

Apple can afford to give away free software as a "bonus" - Microsoft can't. Yes, Word for example has many, many features, but only a small subset of them is used by most people. How long can it go on becoming more and more bloated? Could Apple's "free offer" even remind Windows PC users that there are good, open-source products out there?

This is a good example of a company trying to gain competitive advantage by adopting a radically different revenue model  from others in the same market.