Open Access Week 2011

It’s the second year that Wits celebrates Open Access Week. Along with 2,000 individuals from more than 110 that have registered at, eLSI and the Library will be hosting two events.

24 October 2011 (Monday) 13.00-14.00
Wartenweiler Conference Room, 4th Floor
Theme: Open Access & Scholarly Communication

  • Prof. Yunus Ballim – “Wits and Open Scholarship”
  • Pierre Malan (Sabinet) – “The African Journal Archive”
  • Luci Abrahams (Wits LINK Centre) – “The OpenAir Project and South African Research”

26 October 2011 (Wednesday) 13.00-14.00
Wartenweiler Media Centre, 2nd Floor
Theme: Open Access Projects

  • Prof. Yunus Ballim – Welcome
  • Kerryn McKay – The African Commons Project
  • Shelley Nicholas – Neil Butcher & Associates
  • Barry Dwolatzky – Joburg Centre for Software Engineering

Three steps to a Twitter +

Wouldn’t be useful if public posts on Google +were also published on Twitter?

It’s helpful when platforms can talk to each other. My tweets with links, for example, are automatically stored in my delicious account, thanks to Google + looks like it has a future with other Google sites, but I’d like it to connect further – with Twitter.

To get the two connected, follow these three steps

  1. You are just a number to Google + but your unique number is special. Find it when you click on your Google + profile, then take a look in the URL bar and note that number.
  2. Go to plusfeed and create an unofficial atom feed.  Just paste your Google + account number after the above URL and it will generate an atom feed of your public posts.
  3. Signup for a service like Twitterfeed that enables you to send RSS feeds to your Twitter (or Facebook) account.

There – Google + is linked to Twitter. Your thought stream is now available as an information stream. Now all my public posts on Google + are also published on Twitter.

A wet & soggy account of ANT

Wits has decided that if they are going to prepare students for a 21st century world, then they will have to equip their students with connected digital devices that enable 21st century thinking and work. Accordingly, they have embarked on a number of projects to wirelessly connect the campus and improve the ratio of students who have access to computing devices. In understanding how this project is going to play out, I propose that I use ANT as a lens to understand the process, identify the actors that play a role in ICT diffusion at Wits and investigate the relationship between them.

Two weeks of dipping in and out of Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (ANT) has left my mind drenched with a new thought framework. Instead of looking for another article, I’ve decided to articulate what I have (and haven’t) grasped about material-semiotics. By straining my synapses through a textual sieve, I’m going to attempt to apply ANT to my area of study, and see what I’ve absorbed and what I need to clarify.

ANT is a reasonably established theory that has been used for understanding information systems. It avoids some of the common technology cliches; “ICT as an enabler” or “bridging the digital divide” . It supports thinking about the sociotechnical networks that incorporate people, computers, institutions, policies etc into ICT.

What is ANT
A repeated theme in the literature is that ANT refuses to be labeled as a theory or a methodology. ANT asks that the person to look at all “actants” (be they people or objects) and describe what they see. In this project at Wits, there are a range of different actants. Do I need to list all of them? Is it possible to list them all? No. I anticipate that what will emerge will be complicated, complex or chaotic. But the ANT lens says that we should resist the temptation to reduce what we see into natural, social, or discursive categories. Rather than reduce the various entities or see them as separate objects that can be manipulated, ANT asks the observer to note the actants and their relationship to each other.

How does ANT work?
The relationship between the heterogeneous actants interests is called a network. The formation of this network occurs by translation, not transmission. The stability of the network depends on the ability of the different actants to translate that is, re-interpret, re-present or appropriate, others’ interests to one’s own. There are four moments in translation; Problematisation, Intressement, Enrolment, Mobilisation of allies. In order to bring clarity – the focus on the process of translation is usually taken from the point of view of a single actor

What will the ANT framework accomplish?
Who shapes, enables and constrains change in an organisation? People or technology? The debate as to has agency swings between technology and society. ANT would argue that the relationship between technology and humans are interwoven. Although technology is changing rapidly, technology does not drive the development of an organizations’s values. But neither can an organization behaviors be entirely explained by social interactions and constructs. Rather, ANT argues that human and non human actors have agency and create a network that influences how things get done. ANT ask that we acknowledge the reciprocal and dynamic interaction between technology and humans.
This is by no means intended as accurate or authoritative account of ANT. It’s me squeezing my brain against words (much like a sponge against the palm of my hand), waiting to see if anything useful emerges. Please feel free to comment. Hopefully my mind will feel less soggy soon.

Digital Slates

Digital slates

Digital slates

So, you want to move from OHP transparencies, where you portably project the process of working through a problem to a class on a transparency, to a more modern device that should allow you to do the same…and more.

Projecting and recording the process of obtaining a solution on a data projector should be simple, portable and cost effective. Yes? Sadly no. This is technology. Things are not always easy to master or easy on the back pocket.

The OHP allows the process to be demonstrated in small or big steps in front of the class. A PowerPoint presentation is great for presenting a prepared show, but it does not really allow the teacher to modify the presentation on the fly and decide what size steps they will take as he/she presents the sums up in front of the classroom. So what other options are there.

Option 1 – Interactive Whiteboard
Go ahead, blow your budget and install a interactive whiteboard, and give your class a large monitor on which you can write, show and record. But whiteboards are costly, they re-enforce student passivity and carrying a white board around to your different lecture venue is fairly tricky.

Option 2 – A tablet computer
Be trendy and purchase a tablet computer (preferably an iPad 2) and a stylus and wirelessly connect with the data projector. Then demonstrate your working process on screen and walk around the class and show solutions to specific problems that students are facing. But tablets are expensive, the stylus may not be as precise (and using your finger to write does not work). Hooking up to the data projector wirelessly is not as straightforward as it sounds.

Option 3 – Plug in your pen and pad
Before you ditch those transparencies, scan them and convert them to a PDF. Now project the scanned transparencies on the data projector, and then write on the transparencies with a digital drawing device. Want to show and image or video. Then hyperlink to the resource. Digital drawing devices are cheap, but they do require new skills and an extra layer of technology to be plugged into the laptop

Option 4 – Get a Smartpen
Or get out some paper and a special pen and press record. The pen has a small camera installed and your handwriting and audio is recorded and then can be downloaded to a PC. The working process can be projected on the data projector – but if you want the process to be visible in real time, you need to forgo the pens recording ability.

None of the solutions are perfect, they never are. Option 3 is the cheapest, option 4, the most portable and option 2, once you’ve installed the bits, may be the simplest.

Resident, Visitors and Tourists

Do you speak digital

Many students that I come across are digital residents; they are people that have grown up in a world where the computer is no longer an exciting, mysterious machine. Open their wallet or desk drawer and it’s likely that you’ll find flash sticks, self printed airline/concert/movie tickets, mp3 players, a range of swipe cards and digital photos. These are common artefacts of their connected lives.

Local digital demographics clearly show that that not all students share such access to this digital world. The access to electronic and digital resources that their peers, on campus, take for granted, is most certainly not shared by the majority of their South African youth. Some call the gap between the digital have’s and have-nots a “digital divide”. I don’t think this gap is a wide as it seems. Even without access, the digital visitors are familiar with certain digital concepts, like chat, downloading mp3’s and Facebook. They are often able to connect with certain aspects of the connected world. Their mobile phones have allowed them to embed certain digital actions in unexpected life situations. These students are digital visitors and the artefacts of their connected lives are usually found in their pockets – mobile phones, sim cards and air time vouchers.

These parts of the population that do not live in digital land  - but it would be wrong to assume that they are unfamiliar with technology. I think that distinction needs to be made between familiarity with technology and access to technology. Students that are have friends, have worked or learned before in this digital land have found ways to breach this “gap”.

Then there are the students where things digital are still uncommon and a novelty. They are digital foreigners that have managed to conduct their lives without ICT access. When such a person, becomes a student, and is expected to receive and send an email, to download readings and listen to an MP3 audio file, it is likely that they will be disorientated. When thrust into situations where they are expected to use the technology, they behave as if they were digital refugees, unfamiliar with the landscape, uncomfortable in a foreign culture and unable to understand the language.

I’d suggest that we call those that do not have access or any degree of familiarity with the digital land, digital foreigners. When they enter the land of digital, we should treat them as a digital tourist. Look out for the student has never sent an email, searched using Google, sent an SMS. They are the ones looking perplexed as look as they do not know where to start how to use particular technologies. They are not fools, they are feeling a little disorientated or lost. Ignore them and they may become alienated and perplexed. Welcome and assist them and they’ll have a pleasant visit, and maybe even regularly return.

Some students (digital residents) will view this computer as a transparent mirror. Other students (digital visitors), due to circumstances or choice may be able to use certain computer applications or may understand the opportunities of electronic media, but due to circumstances are unable to actively use these tools on a daily basis.  And others (digital tourists) may see this as a mysterious contraption with unknown capabilities. If we are willing to accept that there are degrees of access and familiarity, based on a range of factors and not only on birthdate) then Perensky’s concept of Digital Native and Digital immigrant can become more nuanced.  And whether these students are residents, visitors or tourists – the question that now needs to answered is “How are we going to ensure that students are able to make confident and critical use of ICT for studies, leisure and communication?” – but that’s a topic for another post.

(Originally published on my eLSI  blog)

What do I want to do in 2011

My ToDo list

At 5:56 AM I started my first formal day of work for 2011.

  1. Work Life Balance:  My alarm, set for 5:00 a.m. reminded me of my first intention, to balance work and life. I’m no longer a migrant knowledge worker with a remote family. I’m going to arrive early at work and leave early.
  2. Provoke Thoughts: This half an hour of writing is part of my second goal, to disconnect and carve out silence for some goal setting, personal thoughts or reflections about learning and technology. This space will brief (half an hour). I’m going to also chip out a regular afternoon for a more professional blog post or podcast.
  3. Community of practice and purpose: And you, dear reader, are the third part of the resolution. I’m hoping that in the process of making my thinking public, that you are going to provoke me to become more coherent in my thought or more thorough in my practice. In turn, I hope that I’ll be able to connect with you, your learning and thoughts.

So before the arrival of the masses, with one programme open (no web, social networks, calendars reminders or urgent emails), I’m going to generate my own resolutions, add type to my thoughts, nail them to my blog and go make some strong coffee. Let’s see what my 2011 resolutions look like in a weeks time.

Augmented Reality = Hollywood + Ordinary Reality

I spoke at the National Library in Pretoria this morning about Augmented Reality and Libraries. [Disclosure: I'm a bit of a fraud. Neither a librarian, nor a seasoned AR guru]. As a heutagogist, I went to YouTube, because that’s where we go when we don’t know, and found three examples of Augmented Reality from Films.

The first example I found was Terminator 3, where Arnies vision, as used in T3, came in useful for finding Sarah Connor. The second was the meta-commentary on product placement in the start of Fight Club. Here the narrator (Edward Norton) describes his IKEA furnished apartment while each item is visually names, described and priced, very much like a catalogue. The third example was Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report where he uses a gesture based interface (and a glove) to manipulate and interact with a mass of multi-media content on the screen.

The three films allowed me to gently introduce three types of Augmented Reality (without sounding too geeky). A common understanding of Location (T3), Pattern (Fight Club) and Surface (Minority Report) based augmented reality was established. Hollywood was unable to provide any ready examples of holographic AR and Outline AR.

So, now – the crux of the presentation. How we can use AR in a library? The three films allowed me to suggest some ideas. My campus has 15 libraries. With location data and an inbuilt gprs, a phone can be used to direct a lost student to the nearest library or to an appropriate person or section of the library. We could consider the possibility of applying pattern recognition to books, so when the user looks through their “layer” (whether it be a phone or set of googles), they see associated tags, reviews and comments. Or maybe we need to create augmented library desks, install augmented catalogues, and places book under a camera virtually stamp your borrowed book. Holograms of librarians may be taking things a bit too far.

Sadly, our expectations are running far ahead of reality. Mobile batteries, cameras and the other associated applications are not sufficiently standardised to be able to support such visions. AR markup is fragmented, there are no common standards to ensure that metadata is searchable, location-aware and federated. If we want to look at AR in libraries, we should be looking at other invisible, but present nodes on the network. The students that are using social media, like Twitter of Foursquare, to create a networked blanket of media and place. Foursquare, for example, collects experiential and location based data. A library, with a Foursquare account could, for example, encourage students to record their book activities and reward repeated visits to the library. While this realtime data cannot yet be visualized through the cameras lens, it could allow a librarian, for example, to answer a general query about library.

The appeal of drawing the net out into the phenomenal world appeals to our nomadic sensibilities. Hollywood visions of students that are able to take out their cell phones and interrogating their surroundings have great appeal But, if AR is going to go beyond sci-fi & cyberpunk visions of our expected futures, then the personally informative overlay available in the library needs to move beyond novelty and offer seamless and minimally intrusive data.

Plans for Open Access Week at Wits

Denise Nicholason and I have been working together to create a programme to celebrate Open Access week (18 – 22 October) here at Wits University, with a series of lunchtime seminars promoting openness – including Open Access, Open Educational Resources (OER), Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and Open Data.

The seminars include the following themes:

18 Oct -  Openness – the key to creating a culture of innovation at Wits
19 Oct  – Publishing Smart – Tools that maximize scholarly impact
20 Oct  – Open Education  -  Openness and educational resources
21 Oct  – The Right to Research – an activists guide to Open Access
22 Oct  – What are you doing about Open Access?

Presentations and discussions will take place during the lunch hour and will be aimed at raising awareness about the concept of openness.

  • We want to promote participation in a local, national and international communities of practice that share an open attitude
  • We also want to help local academics and students here at Wits to realise that they can make open choices when publishing research, creating or using digital media.
  • We want to give participants the opportunity to familiarise themselves with a range of teaching techniques often associated with open resources (podcasts, blogs, web video etc).

If you want to show case some  open initiatives here at WITS please notify me and we’ll be very happy to demonstrate your project, research or work.

How do you do

For me it started with a diagram. After a decades worth of dulling down, the horizons of my educational web landscape suddenly broadened with Scott Wilsons’ Future VLE illustration. While I struggled to understand the ramifications of this shift from the funnel model for my teaching, I saw in these diagrams,  the possibility of re-creating a new owned but distributed space where we were all learner, encouraged to take responsibility for the configuration and direction.

After starting my blog, creating my image gallery, selecting my bookmarks etc … I posted and collected and started to wonder if this was what learning was.  While my online environment stopped being centralized, my learning remained solitary and much like the zen question about hearing trees falling in forests, I started wondering if I posted on my latest web 2.0 platform nobody read it, would it exist?

At the end of 2008, while attempting to put a PGCE course, I stumbled upon Alec Couros blog and his research and teaching materials from University of Regina. Here he demonstrated the PLE in action, but linked it strongly with networked communities, participation and collaboration. Excited about this idea, I reactivated my Twitter account and started building a network.   Steve Wheeler (aka @timbuckteeth) helped me gel the two concepts together and articulated the Personal Space concept and I was lucky enough to be able to engage with him and Alec, who both walked their talk and connected with me as I took my time about putting the concepts together.

Now, I’m trying out my learning paramaters and have joined George Siemens, Stephen Downes et al at #PLENK2010. This is my attempt to say hello to fellow learners. Look forward to learning together

Supporting learning in unexpected spaces.

I’m in the business of assisting academics and teachers to electronically develop their courses. I work alongside them and systematically we design learning experiences. The ideas that I tout are often responsible for reshaping or traversing classroom walls. By installing new technologies into existing classrooms or introducing new virtual environments, I may be transforming traditional teaching practices. While it’s unlikely that any of my technological interventions will cause the university to dispense with the traditional classroom, it is likely that my work will allow academics and students to better engage with each other in the educational process.

Recently we’ve been asked to give some thought to the development of a new learning space (see the photo). While researching the possibilities I’ve wondered whether we are missing a large learning opportunity. All of our attention is focused on real and virtual classrooms and we often neglect the space between the lecture theater and the LMS. Attention, I think, needs to be given to unacknowledged learning and teaching places. Around the water cooler, between computer terminals, seated in the cafetaria, texting on mobile phones, waiting on strategically placed benches, posted on signboards, relaxing in a residence hall etc. If we claim to know how people learn and have ideas on how to help them learn better, then we should also be investigating the interesting and unexpected situations that students and faculty lurk around in. Learning designers need to think between the corridors and computers, and ask how can these spaces be used to support learning.

When data projectors were installed in classrooms, these new fangled slide projector re-framed the way that visual information (a graph, chart, diagram, poster etc) was accessed and distributed. A teacher with a data projector did not need to find in a book, photocopy the diagram and distribute it to the class. At a mouse click, the educator could open a series of images that illustrated the concept and immediately project those image for students. Students were then at liberty to retrieve the illustration, electronically.
Or when journals stopped being printed and distributed digitally, librarians found (for the first time) that they didn’t need to find more shelf space. Their users were now needing space and place to discover information resources, engage in peer to peer learning and explore new ideas within networked group. Libraries responded by creating Information Commons, where students and faculty can make sense of what they were reading.
Before learning went virtual, a teacher’s had to hand around a class register and match submitted assignments to student numbers to ensure lecture attendance and assignment submission. Now the grade book within the LMS automatically performs this function.

When technologies were introduced in a classroom or library or the virtual classroom, new functionalities were acquired and traditional practices were reshaped. Now, as it becomes the norm for students to own their mobile, wireless, connected computing devices and for the university to offer wireless access, we must ask, what new functionalities will be a result of this these technological innovations

The first implication is that real time communication between students and faculty will be possible. Where discussions and clarification took place either in the lecture / tutorial / virtual room, teachers and students that use networked digital devices can conduct their teaching and learning seamlessly across both physical and virtual spaces, synchronously and asynchronously.

A second implication is that we may come to re-appreciate the importance of ‘physical situatedness’ for community and collaboration. Although the concept of an alternate constantly connected virtual learning space has gained some traction, the novelty value of being online is wearing thin. Students will always want to explore new learning opportunities that lie beyond the confines of the physical classroom. But the don’t necessarily want to do it behind a computer.

The third implication is that learning designers also need to find a way to support the creation of informal learning space between the virtual world and the classroom place.

Computer networks may have opened the world’s knowledge bases, enhanced our storage capacity and granted unexpected access to scholars and their work. The scope of data, information and expertise available will however not by itself enrich our learning landscapes. Neither will new real time functionalities within available technologies necessarily make a big difference to practice. Although it may be possible for questions about content to be posed within the lecture theatre, within the virtual learning environment or between these spaces, the instructional designer needs to insert themselves into the places where these clarifications questions are being made. Once we understand what’s happening there, then we may discover interesting ways to support students learning in these inbetween spaces. This information can help focus our planning discussions as we decide how to go about designing new spaces that can support the curriculum.

If universities are only seeing the installations of wireless access and static free carpets as another round of technological interventions, we won’t be able to assist teachers teach and students learn best in the inbetween places. If our attention is focused only between the real and virtual classrooms then it’s likely that we’ll fail in our attempt to use these new spaces constructively. Learning designers have used the functionalities of emerging technology to create new practices in the classroom, in libraries and the virtual world. We also need to articulate a vision for real time networked technologies that works in tandem to support our institutions overall teaching and learning objectives. Yes, focus on the virtual and face to face classrooms but don’t forget about the inbetween spaces and ask how you can support students freedom to engage in self-directed and independent learning outside the formally planned and tutor-directed activities.