Books from blogs

This blog is a major dissemination channel for my work, thoughts and general ponderings. In some ways it is my memory! Although it is searchable particularly by tags and topics, there are times when a straightforward and simple way of collating several posts and converting them to another format would be really useful. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now, but never actually got round to doing anything about it.

Just now the final synthesis of the JISC Curriculum Design Programme is being produced. Over the programme life-cycle I have written quite a few posts relating directly to the programme and in particular a number of technical summaries and reviews. So yesterday I decided to try and actually stop thinking about collating them and actually try doing it.

My first port of call was Martin Hawskey as I know he has looked at this before and has the rather neat MASHezine PDF available on his blog. Unfortunately I can’t easily and quickly update my blog to include his plug in. This is due to the way our blogs are centrally hosted in CETIS. I’d need to ask someone else to do a wider upgrade -which isn’t impossible but not a huge priority and so could take a bit of time. However Martin did remind me of blog booker. Using this system you can export the content of a wordpress (and other major blogging platforms) and upload the file to the site, and it will automagically create a PDF “book” of your blog posts.

Again because of the way our CETIS blogs are set up, I had to export the content of my work blog into another wordpress site, export and then import in to the system. It works well, but didn’t give me quite the level of control of selection of posts I would have liked. I could get all the posts for a topic such as curriculum design (which again is one of the central topics our CETIS blogging system uses for aggregation on our website) but I couldn’t get just the posts with the programme tag which is what I really wanted. Note to self to discuss topics/tags in blogs. However, as a quick and (almost) free (you can donate to keep the service running) way to create a PDF book of blogs posts it’s certainly worth exploring.

This morning I had a wee search for alternatives and came across zinepal – another free (but with paid for options) which creates a variety of formats ( PDF, ePub, Kindle and Mobipocket). Again using an RSS feed or just a blog url the system will automagically create a book based on blog posts.

There is slightly more control on the actual posts you want to include once you enter a feed/url. You generally get the most recent 10 posts from any site/feed, so you may have to do a bit of feed manipulation if you want to use older posts. There are various controls over layout – number of columns, font etc, It is also possible to re-order and edit posts, and to add introductory text. If you pay $5 you can get extra features such as adding a logo and getting rid of their advertising. You can see the finished result (and download whatever version you like) here . Below is a screenshot of the PDF version.

Screen shot of zinepal PDF

Screen shot of zinepal PDF

Martin has also experimented with the service today and his alternative MASHezine using the free version of zinepal is available here.

If you have used any similar services or have any thoughts/tips, I’d love to hear about them.

Betweenness Centrality – helping us understand our networks

Like many others I’m becoming increasingly interested in the many ways we can now start to surface and visualise connections on social networks. I’ve written about some aspects social connections and measurement of networks before.

My primary interest in this area just now is more at the CETIS ISC (innovation support centre) level, and to explore ways which we can utilise technology better to surface our networks, connections and influence. To this end I’m an avid reader of Tony Hirst’s blog, and really appreciated being able to attend the recent Metrics and Social Web Services workshop organised by Brian Kelly and colleagues at UKOLN to explore this topic more.

Yesterday, promoted by a tweet of a visualisation of the twitter community at the recent eAssessment Scotland conference, the phrase “betweenness centrality” came up. If you are like me, you may well be asking yourself “what on earth is that?” And thanks to the joy of twitter this little story provides an explanation (the zombie reference at the end should clarify everything too!)

View “Betweenness centrality – explained via twitter” on Storify

In terms of CETIS, being able to illustrate aspects of our betweenness centrality is increasingly important. Like others involved in innovation and community support, it is often difficult to qualify and quantify impact and reach, and we often have to rely on anecdotal evidence. On a personal level, I do feel my own “reach” an connectedness has been greatly enhanced via social networks. And through various social analysis tools such as Klout, Peer Index and SocialBro I am now gaining a greater understand of my network interactions. At the CETIS level however we have some other factors at work.

As I’ve said before, our social media strategy has raised more through default that design with twitter being our main “corporate” use. We don’t have a CETIS presence on the other usual suspects Facebook, Linkedin , Google+. We’re not in the business of developing any kind of formal social media marketing strategy. Rather we want to enhance our existing network, let our community know about our events, blog posts and publications. At the moment twitter seems to be the most effective tool to do that.

Our @jisccetis twitter account has a very “lite” touch. It primarily pushes out notifications of blog posts and events, we don’t follow anyone back. Again this is more by accident by design, but this has resulted in a very “clean” twitter stream. On a more serious note, our main connections are built and sustained through our staff and their personal interactions (both online and offline). However, even with this limited use of twitter (and I should point out here that not all CETIS staff use twitter) Tony has been able to produce some visualisations which start to show the connections between followers of the @jisccetis account and their connections. The network visualisation below shows a view of those connections sized by betweenness centrality.

@jisccetis twitter followers betweenness centrality

So using this notion of betweenness centrality we can start to see, understand and identify some key connections, people and networks. Going back to the twitter conversation, Wilbert pointed out ” . . . innovation tends to be spread by people who are peripheral in communities”. I think this is a key point for an Innovation Support Centre. We don’t need to be heavily involved in communities to have an impact, but we need to be able to make the right connections. One example of this type of network activity is illustrated through our involvement in standards bodies. We’re not at always at the heart of developments but we know how and where to make the most appropriate connections at the most appropriate times. It is also increasingly important that we are able to illustrate and explain these types of connections to our funders, as well as allowing us to gain greater understanding of where we make connections, and any gaps or potential for new connections.

As the conversation developed we also spoke about the opportunities to start show the connections between JISC funded projects. Where/what are the betweenness centralities across the e-Learning programme for example? What projects, technologies and methodologies are cross cutting? How can the data we hold in our PROD project database help with this? Do we need to do some semantic analysis of project descriptions? But I think that’s for another post.

Socially favoured projects, real measures of engagement?

Martin Hawksey has been doing a bit of playing around with JISC project data lately and has now created a spreadsheet of the top “socially favoured” JISC funded projects.

As a large part of my job involves supporting and amplifying the work of JISC programmes, I’m also always looking for ways to keep in touch with projects between official programme meetings and feedback on reports. Over the past few years, I have personally found that twitter has been quite revolutionary in that regard. It gives me a flexible ‘lite” way to build relationships, monitor and share project developments. I’ve also noted how twitter is becoming a key dissemination tool for projects and indeed programmes. So I was fascinated to see Martin’s table and what sources he had used.

Like many others I’m becoming increasingly interested in the numerous ways that social services such as facebook, twitter, google+ etc can be used and analyzed. I’ve got my peer-index, checked out my klout – even this morning I had to have a look at twtrland to see what that service made of me. But I do take all of these with a pinch of salt, they give indication of things but not the whole picture.

For this exercise, Martin has used several sources of data including twitter, facebook, linked-in, google+, buzz, digg, delicious, stumbleupon. (See Martin’s post on how he did it). A number of things struck me on first looking at the spreadsheet. The top projects seemed to be related to “big” collections and repository focused. There wasn’t a lot from the teaching and learning side of things till around the mid 20s the Open Spires project, again though this is very much a content related project. Also the top projects all had high scores on the bookmarking sites. Facebook and Linked-In use seemed to be limited, but again the top projects all had relatively high scores. Twitter seemed to be the most consistently used service across the board. And perhaps most striking, after the top twenty or so use of all the services decreases dramatically.

So what does this all mean? Is the fact that the top ranked projects have high bookmarking scores mean that the projects actively encourage sharing in this way – or is it down to the already web-savvy habits of their users? Checking the first couple of projects, it’s hard to tell. The first 2 don’t have any obvious links/buttons to any of the “ranked services”, but the 3rd one has a google sharing app on its front page, and others have obvious links to facebook, twitter etc. I think there would almost need to be a follow up mini-report from each project on their assessment of the impact of these services to start to be able to make any informed comment. What impact does using social services have on sustainability? Does having a facebook page make a project more likely to maintain an up to date web site as per grant funding (see Martin’s post on this too)? Another point of note is that the links for a number of the top ranked projects go to generic and not project specific websites.

I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions about this, as with any data collection exercise it has raised more questions that it has answered, and the ranking it provides can’t be judged in isolation. For me, it would be interesting enhance the data to identify what programmes the projects have been funded from and then start to explore the evidence around the effectiveness of each of the social channels. However, it is fascinating to see another example of the different ways people can now start pulling “social” statistics together. Thanks Martin!

Creating an “architecture of participation” – thoughts from JISC Learning Activities and Resources Conference, 22 January

One of the comments that seemed to summarize the myriad of discussion that took place at the JISC Learning Resources an Activities Conference yesterday in Birmingham was that in the development of learning activities and resources, what we need to start exploring is ‘architectures of participation’ (I think this phrase came from Fred Garnett, Becta).

The aim of the day, as outlined by Tish Roberts (Programme Director, E-Learning, JISC) was to provide an opportunity to bring together people and projects involved in creating and using learning resources and activities, discuss challenges and to get an indication of what areas the community think that JISC need to focus their development activities.

Professor Allison Littlejohn (Glasgow Caledonian University) started the day with her keynote presentation “Collective use of learning resources’. Allison took us through some of the work she and her colleagues are doing in relation to collective learning where learners consume and create knowledge and are encouraged to create and chart their own learning trails/paths. Advances in technology mean that these learning trails can be used by other students when they are planning their learning. Using web2 technologies, more connections can be made between the formal and informal systems students are using. This approach should take a rapid development approach with user needs analysis being at the forefront. Allison did concede that this methodology was perhaps more applicable to post graduate students and work based learning courses where sharing of knowledge is a key driver, unlike some undergraduate courses where sharing and providing access to information has more precedence.

After lunch Andrew Comrie (former VP of Lauder College and director of the TESEP project) gave the second keynote of the day outlining his own transformational journey in e-learning and some of the highs and lows he has experienced when trying to drive transformational change. Andrew admitted that the TESEP project hadn’t brought about wholeshale transformation in his institution but it had allowed for pockets of change to occur. For each of the partners the project had been an important step on their continuing transformational journey. It had provided an opportunity to allow staff and students to change their attitudes and behaviours in relation to teaching and learning. Andrew outlined the main principles of the TESEP transformational model being; non threating to staff, preparing learners to take more control of their learning and encouraging staff to spend more time designing learning activities rather than developing more content.

In between the keynotes there were 5 parallel sessions focusing on key questions around developing, sharing, re-purposing, managing and design and effective use of learning resources. The day ended with a plenary where the key issues from each session were discussed. And this is where the idea of ‘architecture of participation’ came to my attention. There seemed to be a general consensus that people were more concerned with developing methods to create and sharing learning designs/activities rather than creating more content (which maybe a bit of a “no-brainer” for some, but it was good to hear this come through so clearly). However there is increasing awareness of the need to incorporate students into the process and how to make use of informal and formal networks and technologies and develop and use appropriate pedagogical approaches. Of course this challenges the traditional approach of many of our HE institutions, who as Mark Stiles pointed out are more interested in maintaining control rather than managing changes in behaviour. To bring about transformational change we need to re-think all our traditional architectures, not just in terms of technical infrastructure but in terms of social networks too and explore the key connections between all of them.

Other key points raised were the need to engage middle management in development of practice. It would seem that we have a strong community of practitioners who are committed to sharing and developing practice but they can be thwarted by lack of support. One possible approach to this is to develop some business cases, but I’m really not sure just how much the JISC can do in reaching this sector. Another message coming through loudly was that IPR and copyright is still a key issues for practitioners, and despite lots of work being done by JISC in this area, people are crying out for good, clear simple advice on where they stand.

As ever it is hard to condense the whole day into one post, but it was heartening to see so many people at the event and we will try and build on key parts of the feedback in a future SIG meeting.

Design Bash: moving towards learning design interoperability

Question: How do you get a group of projects with a common overarching goal, but with disparate outputs to share outputs? Answer: Hold a design bash. . .

Codebashes and CETIS are quite synonymous now and they have proved to be an effective way for our community to feedback into specification bodies and increase our own knowledge of how specs actually need to be implemented to allow interoperability. So, we decided that with a few modifications, the general codebash approach would be a great way for the current JISC Design for Learning Programme projects to share their outputs and start to get to grips with the many levels of interoperability the varied outputs of the programme present.

To prepare for the day the projects were asked to submit resources which fitted into four broad categories (tools, guidelines/resources, inspirational designs and runnable designs). These resources were tagged into the programmes’ site and using the DFL SUM (see Wilbert’s blog for more information on that) we were able to aggregrate resources and use rss feeds to pull them into the programme wiki. Over 60 resources were submitted, offering a great snapshot of the huge level activity within the programme.

One of the main differences between the design bash and the more established codebashes was the fact that there wasn’t really much code to bash. So we outlined three broad areas of interoperability to help begin conversations between projects. These were:
* conceptual interoperability: the two designs or design systems won’t work together because they make very different assumptions about the learning process, or are aimed at different parts of the process;
* semantic interoperability: the two designs or design systems won’t work together because they provide or expect functionality that the other doesn’t have. E.g. a learning design that calls for a shared whiteboard presented to a design system that doesn’t have such a service;
* syntactic interoperability:the two designs or design systems won’t work together because required or expected functionality is expressed in a format that is not understood by the other.

So did it work? Well in a word yes. As the programme was exploring general issues around designing for learning and not just looking at for example the IMS LD specification there wasn’t as much ‘hard’ interoperability evidence as one would expect from a codebash. However there were many levels of discussions between projects. It would be nigh on impossible to convey the depth and range of discussions in this article, but using the three broad categories above, I’ll try and summarize some of the emerging issues.

In terms of conceptual interoperability one of the main discussion points was the role of context in designing for learning. Was the influence coming from bottom up or top down? This has a clear effect on the way projects have been working and the tools they are using and outcomes produced. Also in some cases the tools sometimes didn’t really fit with the pedagogical concepts of some projects which led to a discussion around the need to start facilitating student design tools -what would these tools look like/work?

In terms of semantic interoperability there were wide ranging discussions around the levels of granularity of designs from the self contained learning object level to the issues of extending and embellishing designs created in LAMS by using IMS LD and tools such as Reload and SLeD.

At the syntactic level there were a number of discussions not just around the more obvious interoperability issues between systems such as LAMS and Reload, but also around the use of wikis and how best to access and share resources It was good to hear that some of the projects are now thinking of looking at the programme SUM as a possible way to access and share resources. There was also a lot of discussion around the incorporation of course description specifications such as XCRI into the pedagogic planner tools.

Overall a number of key issues were teased out over the day, with lots of firm commitment shown by all the projects to continue to work together and increase all levels of interoperability. There was also the acknowledgement that these discussions cannot take place in a vacuum and we need to connect with the rest of the learning design community. This is something which the CETIS support project will continue during the coming months.

More information about the Design Bash and the programme in general can be found on the programme support wiki.