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March, 2011

  1. #Becta So long and thanks for all the fish

    March 30, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    I worked on an off for Becta for about seven years. I left in November last year to work for JISC. Becta closes (more or less) tomorrow.

    The Secretary of State issued a statement at the final meeting of the Becta Board, which is relevant to all former Becta staff like me. 
    The note acknowledges the valuable role played by Becta and thanks staff for their role in delivering that and for their professionalism in bringing Becta to a successful close. 

    message from the secretary of state to the final becta board.pdf
    Download this file


    It’s interesting to compare the sentiment in that note with the contents of the new Government ICT strategy.


  2. #SWaNI – SWANI – Secure Work based learning Administration through Networked Infrastructure

    March 25, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    How can you prove who you are?

    Well for years people have used signatures. The problem with that in a digital age is that it’s fantastically easy to copy things, including signatures.

    A quick google search for “signatures” gives over 20 million hits



    If I use the excellent Xpert attribution service [] I can even find a rights cleared image of a signature, which has profound implications.

    It’s these sort of issues that make some people unwilling to accept any form of signature that isn’t on paper. This is particularly true when it comes to money related issues, or other high stakes areas, such as assessment.


    CETIS define an Electronic signature as a signature in digital form carrying legal authority, and differentiate it from a Digital signature, which they define as a cryptographic method that enables the recipient of a document to determine the sender, and whether its contents have been altered since it was signed.

    They have been working on technical issues around the HEAR, Higher Education Achievement Record, which will only become more important as the cost of participating in Higher Education becomes more expensive.

    The SWANI project at Coleg Sir Gar is also looking at electronics signatures, which have the capacity to transform the speed and efficiency of a great range of college activities. Their proposal is to build an alternative admin system and use it to provide a clear use case and cost benefit analysis which can be used as the basis of discussions with funders like WAG towards the acceptance of electronic signatures.

    Details of the project will be up on the JISC website by the end of the month.


  3. #SWaNI – WaP – Without a paddle

    March 24, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    At  ALT-C 2010 Sugata Mitra from Newcastle University gave a keynote :”The hole in the wall: self organising systems in education”

    He discussed how in 1999 he embedded a free to use computer kiosk in the wall of an Indian slum in Delhi.


    Mitra had the idea that children are self motivated learners, and would teach themselves how to use the kiosk, without guidance, or intervention. He termed this the ” Minimally Invasive Education Environment” (MIEE).

    The project was a resounding, startling success, and has since spread to some 27 kiosks, and been trialled in a number of different situations.

    The WaP project at Pembrokeshire College has identified parallels in the emergence of new mobile technology and boldly proposes to investigate whether such a minimal intervention can lead to alternative pedagogic models better suited to our cash strapped economy.

    The details of the project can be found on the JISC website, [] and on the project blog []


    At the time of writing the project have just purchased the handsets, so things are about to proceed.

    I’m quite excited.

  4. #JISCExpert11 – C-Link- Concept Linking – Seven steps to Kevin Bacon?

    March 23, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    Today I had the very great pleasure of chairing a session at the JISC Learning and Teaching Practice Experts Group meeting in Birmingham. The session was run by the very animated Professor Peter Hartley, technology evangelist from the University of Bradford.
    Peter shared the fruits of a JISC rapid innovation project, in the form of the C-Link concept mapping tool



    The tool enables teaching staff or learners to develop their understanding and critical thinking by providing a intuitive and highly visual concept map to be created linking any two terms.
    C-Link searches wikipedia to to identify the terms being selected, and then automatically searches for links between them. The resulting map can bee zoomed into, and moved around the screen to better identify links and paths. The tool can export the map as .cxl format files which can be mainpulated in the Free Open Source C-Map tool

    Whilst the tool currently searches wikipedia, it can equally search any modern database, or with a little manipulation, open data source.


    The team are in ongoing discussions with the dynamic learning maps project at Newcastle, and feel the tool has uses in He, FE and wider education.
    I think they are right, I can imagine using the tool to stimulate discussions in sessions, to challenge thinking and generally engage the learner, or support the researcher.

    The only downside for me is that it runs on Silverlight, which doesn’t play nicely on my old PPC mac. The tool is open source and you can look at the code here:
    The team are also keen to hear from sources of further funding.

  5. #SWaNI -xGames – Using game controllers in education

    March 23, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    When I was working on the Becta Interactive Whiteboard common file format [] I dallied briefly with a Wiimote controller as an alternative to the IWB hardware whilst testing our reference implementation.

    Wiimotes track infrared signals from a a static base emitter, and with a bit of trigonometry provide a motion tracking system.

    If you use the wiimote as a fixed point and build a simple Infrared emitting pen, you can create a somewhat clunky Interactive whiteboard setup for the price of a wiimote and an IR LED (about £35 all in) with cracking software to do all the hard work like

    Things have got far more sophisticated in the wiimote realm since then, with commercial offerings providing rather swanky looking applications like

    Wiimote Smoothboard:


    X-box controllers offer other possibilities, and of course have the whole Microsoft empire behind them to build SDK’s and code libraries. That said there are a great number of open source projects out there using the controllers, though using the wireless controllers appears to be somewhat trickier due to the proprietary  RF technologies, so a USB receiver is required. However the fact that the Xbox 360 has been around for so long now means that in the controllers at least bugs and issues have been sorted out long ago.


    The SWaNI LTIG x-games project is taking advantage of this robust and mature platform to investigate ways of improving attainment in some of the less popular topics. Certainly the ease of use should be a step up from other interactive systems. If I look at the instructions for my Turning Point response card it requires a fair amount of tiddling around, and luck, I can imagine the chaos using it with a group of truculent learners. 

    What’s interesting to me is the sticking points the project may encounter, and how the very fact they are using ‘GAME” controllers might iron things out.

    There are further details including the project stage 2 bid and the final  project plan on the JISC site: [] The project hopes to use their own site to keep the world informed of their progress.

  6. #SWaNI – TYBA- Try Before You Apply

    March 22, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    I can’t imagine buying a car without doing a bit of research beforehand, checking to find out what sort of performance and economy I’ll get at the very least.

    Yet strangely finding out information regarding college and university courses seems to be far harder than gathering detailed specifications for almost any car produced since the war. This is a particular issue for me currently as my elder Son is in the final stages of deciding at which University to study this September.

    David Willets recently announced the coalition Government’s commitment to providing better data with which students can decide their future in education. […] As course fees rise, this information will become more and more important. In HE they are piloting the Key Information Sheets (KIS) as a way of providing comparable data covering things potential students have identified as being critical in informing their decisions. 

    JISC e-learning projects have explored how potential students can be better prepared for HE – both socially and academically. For example, a project at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), TAG, allows potential applicants to develop realistic expectations of study at UCLan, from application to first assessment. 

    KIS is not currently being made available for Further Education which has a different set of drivers, and appears to be bound by geographical decisions, although there appear to be discussions afoot with BSI and AoC.


    The TBYA Project at North West Regional College aims to investigate how students select their courses in FE. By providing a Virtual Pre Course taster area, the aim could be seen as being almost “anti-marketing”, but should ensure a student cohort that is committed to the course, and thus improve retention.


    More information about the project can be found :[…]






  7. #SWaNI – MOtIvATE – Mobile messaging and Community Education

    March 21, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    I’ve been a very late adopter of mobile tech. Being a big burly fellow I was never really fussed with the need for lightweight kit, in fact when I started travelling the UK as an NLN ILT mentor, I used to lug around an enormous projector (Philips B-Sure) about 1foot square, it was so big it didn’t fit in train overhead luggage racks. In fact it had a fold out handle like a suitcase, I just looked at the specs, and it weighed 3.7KG, plus all the leads and stuff…


    Anyway, one of the first times I realised the use of mobile technologies was when I was attending an event at London Met, and Dave Sugden [] was presenting. He used bulk SMS the day before the event to remind me and all the other delegates when it was, and as I emerged from the tube station on the morning of the event I got a text telling me I needed to turn left, and giving me directions to the the event.
    The technology was poor, a Motorola T-180 handset (which my wife still uses, much to the amusement of my kids), BUT that text arriving in a timely manner, giving me the information I needed, made me feel engaged, and cared for in a really completely disproportionate way.
    The MOtIvATE – (Mobile messaging and Community Education) project at Coleg Gwent is hoping to capitalise on that powerful capacity to make people feel valued. The project will look at how retention of learners can be improved by using using SMS for feedback, advice and guidance. 
    The project is working with disenfranchised learner groups studying in the community,16 to18 year olds and 19+ who have not succeeded at school, and are reluctant to re-engage with formal education via College.  The stats show that those who finish the course are successful, but that retention is an issue. Labour force statistics reveal that the areas served range from some of the most affluent to most deprived areas in Wales, which also presents a number of challenges in relation to access to technology.

  8. #SWaNI – PEDL – Using Peer eGuides to promote digital literacy

    March 18, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    You may remember a while back some reporters got stung when they didn’t properly research an obituary and credited Ronnie Hazelhurst with writing the S-club seven hit “Reach”. That’s all quite amusing, but not the sort of thing that would happen to you… or your students?  Right? Unfortunately the evidence seems to highlight some serious issues with the skills our “Digital Natives” possess. Have a look at the video on Teachers TV, and as it says “be afraid, be very afraid”: [] 


    The video shows Year 9’s being asked to review three websites, one on Martin Luther King, another on the Holocaust, and a third on Victorian robots. The sites appear credible, if a little dull, but the first two are subtle racist propaganda, and the third is a spoof using heavily photoshopped images. In the clip, the pupils don’t question the validity of the information on the sites, and suggest they might be useful for RE, or History coursework.

    Some scams are easier to spot than others like the Victorian robot “boilerplate” [], but how do you explain to your students how judge the veracity of information on a website, especially when they see themselves as far more savvy that their fusty old lecturers?  A 2008 report by the CIBER research team at University College London [ ] found that whilst young people appear confident  and competent users of technology, they frequently use only the most basic search functions, and don’t question the results.

    Paul Glister coined the term “Digital Literacy” back in 1997 [ ] to suggest a more active engagement with the then emerging new media, emphasising it was about mastering  ‘ideas, not keystrokes’. Since then technology and our perception and acceptance of technology has changed dramatically. The rapid growth of Web2 and social networks have changed the skills required from being about discerning consumption of content, to being about a person’s whole digital footprint. 

    In practical terms Digital Literacy is a combination of functional technology skills, critical thinking, collaboration skills and social awareness.[]

    Digital Literacy is about the skills to use technology effectively, being able to analyse the information found and make a judgement about its value. It’s about thinking longer term, and acting sensibly and safely, and being aware that confidence doesn’t equate to competence.

    Much of the literature concerning Digital literacy identifies that these skills are best taught at an early stage by teachers and parents. Changes in Educational policy mean that this may not be such a high priority in schools, and so learners reaching the FE and HE  system are likely to arrive less well prepared. The PEDL project at Coleg Llandrillo aims to build competence by using the confidence that students do have,  and create a peer support framework. This approach worked well at Oaklands College where the students supported the teaching staff [].

    Details of the project including the stage2 bid, and project plan can be found on the JISC website []

    Further reading: 

    JISC developing digital literacies:

    Getting the Buggers to Find Out: Information Skills and Learning How to Learn (2008) Duncan Grey []

  9. #SWaNI – SWEET – Synchronous Web Enabled Employee Training

    March 17, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    There’s been a great deal of discussion on the ILT champs list recently about which video conferencing systems work best, and Graham Boxwell at City of Sunderland highlighted a cracking list comparing the features on wikipedia: 

    I’ve also noted a recent announcement that slideshare the popular presentation service with academics have launched a conferencing solution
    which may be a useful solution for some of those situations that have  locked down systems which prevent users from accessing services that  
    require a client file to be run each time, like Elluminate with its  jnlp file, and the citrix offerings with their ica file.

    JISCmail dev team have been investigating whether the open source offering “BigBlueButton” is a viable solution for a JISC community offering.

    All of this makes it rather timely that the Jewel and Esk college are investigating how BigBlueButton can be integrated into their moodle based learning platform, to provide alternative routes to engage with some of their time poor, remote learners.
    The project aims to investigate how Remote Synchronous learning can improve the quality of the learning experience, and provide a cost benefit analysis to identify any economic benefits.


  10. #SWaNI LTIG projects get a write up in JISC inform.

    March 11, 2011 by Robin Englebright

    JISC inform goes completely online this quarter, and features a brief article on the SWaNI LTIG projects.

    Get your copy, or any of the previous issues, all the way back to 2002 here:

    The SWaNI LTIG stuff is here:


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