Video communication with students

Our portfolio of post-grad Radiotherapy and Oncology modules are delivered via distance learning. I’ve been aware for some while of the ‘dis-connect’ that might exist between students and academic staff as a consequence of the DL format. Can video communication be an effective means of bridging this gap and add something tangible that other synchronous and a synchronous methods miss? Other than the occasional Skype video call it isn’t something I’ve used.

Video-conferencing with students will be the subject of another blog post but this one focuses on using (brief) talking head videos to introduce ideas/concepts/information and to reflect on a first effort at this. I’ll try and follow this up at the end of the semester with an evaluation of how effective it has been.

So here is a brief introduction to a research methods module done via a web cam on my home PC. I’d welcome any feedback.

It wasn’t done in one take! The first 6 or so efforts ended with me forgetting what I was going to say or stalling. Basically messing up and getting angry with myself. I then decided to pause if I made a mistake and edit afterwards to try and make it look as seamless as possible. This wasn’t very successful either. In the end I relaxed a bit and worried less about talking in to the camera or being perfect in my delivery. What you see is the result of that.

On reflection I could have prepared a little better; both in terms of the delivery of the information and the recording of it. A few key words on a post-it note under the web cam would have allowed me to maintain eye contact with the viewer and still be aware of what I was trying to convey. Thinking about making the recording as professional as it can be/needs to be is not something you do when you are videoing the kids in the park on your phone. There are, though, tips that are worth following that can improve the quality of video blog style recordings. I found the basic principles recommended here to be useful and will be aware of these in the future.


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Appreciating the value of face to face collaboration

Day 4 of #BYOD4L offered an opportunity for those in the vicinity of Sheffield to meet up and have a chat. Many thanks to Andrew Middleton for arranging this.

I appreciate the chance to meet up with those I usually collaborate with via t’interweb and just ‘have a good old chat’. I find it stimulates a lot of creative sparks and ideas. Probably more so than those generated as a result of communication via the web. And certainly more immediately. However, being immersed in the conversation means I rarely take notes or record the discussion to help solidify my recollections afterwards. In other words, even though it makes my brain tick, I quickly forget what we talked about and fail to action all those really good ideas that germinate during the chat.

Obviously it’s essential to record those thoughts immediately afterwards but adopting this practice is usually a failing of mine. Something I’m not proud of.


But even now, blogging this not long after after our meeting, in the pub while waiting for my train, I’ve already forgotten a fair bit of what we talked about (and not because of the beer) which is why it was a good idea that we collaborated to record some reflections at the time.  It was interesting that just before we decided to record the video that we realised that none of us could easily pinpoint the main points of the preceding discussion! Anyway, here it is.


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Thoughts on content curation.

Day 3 of #BYOD4L focuses on curating content and by coincidence I also came across this via (I think) @kimbowa: An organised supermap of over 400 content curation tools by Robin Good. This ‘supermap’ is organised using one of those particular tools – pearltrees. Two things immediately struck me:

  1. Pearltrees looks pretty cool (I’d never heard of it before today). Back to that in a bit.
  2. There is a VAST array of tools available. How the hell do you decide which to use? And what if those you are working with/teaching prefer to use a different one?

So what curation tools do I use and why?

Rather embarrassingly, hardly any 😦

I’m starting to dip my toe in to using Storify but still treading water a bit there. I use Evernote quite a lot for note taking but feel I could use it far more effectively than I do.  I find that I have digital content for my teaching, PhD research and other projects strewn across many different platforms, apps, portable drives and cloud-based file storage and often I lose track of where it is. Hardly very organised that is it? Maybe the trick is to commit FULLY to, say, Evernote and use it for just about EVERYTHING. That’s pretty much what is suggested in this commentary here. Everything in one place and easy to organise. Well, yes, that would work superbly for me but what about those people I collaborate and interact with on projects who don’t use Evernote and/or prefer a different platform? Thankfully Evernote has the capability to allow collaboration and integrates well with many other apps so I suppose I should explore that a bit further.

Back to Pearltrees. It looks an impressively visual tool for curation. I think I’ll sign up for it and have a play. Look out for another blog post on my reflections of it in the future.

I’m looking forward to this evenings twitter chat.

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Reflections on building a peer network

Another #BYOD4L activity. Reflect on this:

So I tried:

Posting a video commentary like this is, erm, uncomfortable. Which is odd as I don’t worry about standing up in front of people in classrooms and conferences. Wonder why this felt different? Something to ponder on.

Oh, and I’m REALLY annoyed that I didn’t think and recorded this in portrait mode. I hate that …


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Me as a communicator

As part of #BYOD4L day 2 we were asked to share a mind map of how we see ourselves as communicators. Here’s mine. Click on it for a full size, easier to read image:

mind map

Being lazy I downloaded the first iPad app I came across in the app store – SimpleMind+

It was surprisingly intuitive to use but after completing the mind map I discovered an almost total lack of sharing options without purchasing accompanying software for a desktop device. Only option was to take a screen shot and use that photo.

In terms of me as a communicator I would say that I’m rather introverted and uncommunicative on the whole. I’m also lazy. If needing to offer feedback to a student, say, I’ll find myself wanting to call and talk to them about their work rather than annotating a script/writing feedback. I generally go for the quickest, easiest, least hassle option. Sadly that’s not necessarily the best option for the other party!

I’d also say that I’m very pragmatic about communication method. I don’t predominantly rely on one method over another. Use the right tool for the job! I AM, however, reliant on mobile devices for the majority of my communications.

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Mobile devices in learning: It’s not the future. It’s the present.


As part of day 1 on the Bring Your Own Devices For Learning mini course we were asked to view a short video – this one – and use it to prompt some reflection on the ways in which we used smart devices to discover and connect to people, ideas and resources.

My initial impression of the video was that the scenario seemed very contrived and exaggerated. I thought it provided us with a stereotype.  A dinosaur academic who is content with face-to-face interactions and feels too busy to use mobile technology to enhance their learning, teaching and professional development. Of course it IS possible to deliver high quality education without the use of mobile technology. It IS possible to access the resources you need without the use of mobile technology. And it IS possible to connect and network with peers and students on a national and international basis without the use of mobile technology. But it isn’t as easy and empowering as when you take advantage of the portable tech and associated software available to us all.

In contrast to the lady in the video, I am an enthusiastic user of mobile technology. A few examples neatly illustrate how using smart devices are substantially benefiting my own effectiveness and promoting connectivity.

  1. Twitter (accessed largely though Ipad or Android phone) allows me to interact with a developing network of students and professional colleagues across the globe. It facilitates discussion and the sharing of resources that inform both my teaching and own professional development. It has become an invaluable tool. I’ll construct another blog post at some point discussing how I am starting to use Twitter in learning and teaching contexts.
  2. Simple video-conferencing through Skype and Facetime facilitate meetings that would otherwise be unlikely to take place. Many meetings with my PhD supervisory team have occurred this way.
  3. Evernote and Cloud-based file sharing with Dropbox and Google Drive interact well with a wide variety of mobile apps and allow me to collate resources and work collaboratively with students and colleagues anywhere.

Of course none of these are without problems. It particularly concerns me that using smart devices in the ways I describe can become all-consuming and impact on a healthy work-life balance. This study by Stawarz et al. (2013) highlights this very point.  Overall though, my feeling is that, with some awareness of the drawbacks and some effort directed at managing them, the benefits outweigh the limitations. Furthermore, I really don’t think that adopting an uncompromising opposition to the use of mobile devices in education is a sustainable one.

By all means feel free to swim against the tide and not use smart devices within your professional capacity as an academic but be prepared to be left behind. Quickly.


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A space for personal and professional development

So, this my first brief post on a new blog. A blog devoted to reflecting on and sharing my thoughts on the use of technology to enhance learning and teaching. Mainly. I’m sure other stuff will creep in from time to time. It’s generation was inspired to a certain extent by my (willing and unforced) participation in the bite-size open course ‘Bring Your Own Devices For Learning‘. In fact, the next few posts will probably relate to the course content and suggested activities.

Lets see how it goes.


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