Monthly Archives: September 2013

Workflow

I’m wanting to be diligent with my studying. I know that babies, house renovation, dogs, work, church and all the other things I fill my life with are going to be jostling for time and headspace, so I promised myself that Monday and Wednesday evenings are study nights (once William is in bed).

So, as it’s Wednesday, I sat down to do some writing – and then it occurred to me, I don’t have any software to write in! Word for Mac is utterly terrible (go figure) and all the other writing programs I have used on the Mac are designed to for code (Text Wrangler, Sublime Text) or are too basic for academic work (IA Writer). I need a new tool…

However, the fact I wasn’t doing any work began to trouble me, then this quote came to mind:

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

Excellent; now I felt I could justify spending the evening sorting out my workflow. (I’ll definitely do some work on Monday. I promise!)

So my brief:

  • cross-platfrom (Windows / OSX)
  • simple yet has necessary features (can produce a dynamic table of contents for example)
  • ideally free!
  • interface with a citation manager

Now, going down the ‘free’ route, EndNote (which has been recommended citation manager) wasn’t a option, so I looked for an alternative first. Wikipedia had the most information on Zotero out of the free ones. This looks good, but best works as a addon to FireFox rather than a standalone app.

With that in mind, Google Docs seemed like a sensible option to do the actual writing. It’s online so I can do it from any platform or browser. All my work is automatically backed up with revisions and it plays nicely with Zotero. Working in my browser also opened up the abililty to quickly look at University resources (this is a distance learning course after all) and research materials on the web.

Being browser based (and feeling very web 2.0 about this workflow so far) I wondered about keeping all my bookmarks in sync too (something I always meant to get around to). I logged into my old Delicious account and after 5 minutes of attempting to sync bookmarks and being asked to enter my credentials at least 10 times, I gave up, uninstalled Delicious and looked elsewhere. I found Xmarks – it’s brilliant! It uses the browser’s native bookmarking, syncs automatically and supports tagging.

Final piece in the puzzle was ‘focus’. Working on a home laptop with all the distractions and temptations, I remembered OSX’s full screen feature – it’s turns any software into a bit like an iPad app – no menus, so toolbars, just the browser. Perfect.So, after an evening researching, installing, uninstalling, customizing and synchronizing, I’ve settled on a browser based workflow:

Google Docs + Zotero in Firefox (full-screen) with Xmarks.
It’s neat, effective, portable, automatically backed up and extendable.

Saw sharpened.

Now, let’s get to work.

6 Mini Projects

Interestingly, mini-Magnums also come in sixes. Coincidence…?

I’ve decided on my mini-projects for the first module, although this could change, I’m fairly confident that these are the 6 I’ll undertake. To reach this decision, I rated each project out of 5 for interest and also out of 5 for difficulty based on the synopsis given in the module handbook.

Interestingly, the 4 I rated to be the most interesting (4 or 5 out of 5),  I also rated to be the most difficult. Mostly due to the new skills I’d have to use like using researching journal articles or looking at learning theories; both of which I’ve not really encountered before (yes I know, how did I get my PGCE..?!)

I was left then with choosing 2 ‘three’s. For these I chose what I perceived to be most achievable, as I might find it harder to be motivated on these topics.

So, with that process in mind, the 6 I shall endeavour to embark on are:

  1. Strategic Context (interest 4, difficulty 4) – looking at policy
  2. Conferencing (interest 5, difficulty 4) – summarising a journal article
  3. Design of elearning (interest 4, difficulty 5) – analyse a previous project using relevant theory
  4. E-portfolios and assessment of reflection (interest 3, difficulty 3) – evaluate e-portfolios in education
  5. Assessment of learning in a digital age (interest3, difficulty 2) – how can tech support assessment
  6. Social software (interest 4, difficulty 4) – reflect and analyse activities on http://exploreandlearn.wordpress.com

Well hello there…

One of the tasks for the first module on the TEL is to setup a WordPress blog (tick!)

So, task one requires me to  introduce myself and state the purpose of this blog, so here goes…

Hello, I’m Mike. Here’s a picture of my family (task 2 – tick!):

IMG_8996

I’ve just started a MSc Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Huddersfield. I’m excited about course; partly because of the content and topics covered, but mostly I think I’m excited about studying again and challenging myself to work at the level required by the course.

I work at Henshaws College in Harrogate; a specialist provision, and my role is to support the students to use technology to develop their independence. As such, most of my work falls under the title of Assistive Technology; a relatively new term in the education sector, although it has been widely used for clinical purposes for some time now.

I’m very lucky to be involved with a few projects; one of which is to visit other specialist colleges as well as further education colleges to share expertise and resources and upskill staff in the realm of assistive technology. Another is my personal baby; the ACCESS: Technology suite of accesible web applications – which I have recently open-sourced.

So then, the purpose of this blog: As well as being used for submission of work and assessment as required by the course, I’ve setup this blog as an easy method to log personal reflection (which you can already see in the older posts here, I started this as soon as I was accepted on the course!). Reason being, I struggle with personal reflection, mostly the actual submitting and recovery of data. As blogging is fairly motivational and simple to do (I’ve setup the blog to accept email submissions and also have Wordpress app  on my iPad so its really easy to input content) this seems like the best method.

You may notice this blog runs incredibly slow. This is because it’s hosted on a tiny Raspberry Pi under my stairs at home which struggles with a ‘heavy’ program like WordPress. “Why is your blog running on a tiny computer under your stairs?” you may well ask. Well, as it turns out, I’m a bit of a geek! However, the £30 spent on the Pi and the hours spent setting it up as webserver have been invaluable to me and my career. I have learnt so much from doing it! I can now operate Linux using the command-line, remotely from any device (in fact, I setup this self-hosted blog whilst at a ‘Technology in HE’ conference in London using my iPad on a 3G connection – which I personally find incredible), I’ve learnt about SSH, setting up Apache, MySql and PHP from scratch and opening up ports which has given me some real depth to my web coding ability. All of which, has helped me develop new resources for the students to use at work.

I also have 2 other blogs; a personal family one and my work one here.

Well, it has been lovely chatting, feel free to say ‘hi’ in the comments, but I feel I really must get on with some work now…

Critical reading attempt 1

There was a lot of talk today on the importance of critical reading. A friend at church told me this week, that at masters level, we step onto the next block of Bloom’s taxonomy looking at critical reading and writing. I naively thought that’s something I can already do and shouldn’t be an issue.

Then I read the (very useful) handout given today about critical reading leading to critical writing. I realised that I don’t yet intuitively understand this process or how to apply it. Reading, not to extract information, but to analyse arguments that convey information is a brand new concept to me. First questions are, well, why? Would doing this then make me miss the information presented? Probably not, but I’m going to struggle not to highlight the interesting information and start commenting on the authors intentions and target audience as well as their methods at arriving at conclusions etc.

With this in mind, I read through a text about ten suggestions to improve academic research. We briefly looks through this in class and attempted to made some ‘critical’ comments.

However, on this reread, with this new mindset, I begin to now release that I think this is actually quite a poor piece of work, even if the author makes some interesting and valid points. I even wonder if in fact it was given to us a test (that I failed!) to critically analyse this and point out why this is an example of a poor piece of work.

Firstly, their is very scarce evidence to support his points, only towards the end do we get some useful backing research. The first couple of quotes used could have been lifted out of anything as the context is very generic. “No point in pretending the future is anything other than unknowable”. Agree, but without context, something like this could have be lifted from a Douglas Adams novel and been made to fit the authors statement.

Each of the ten points are laced with generic agreeable statements that would be hard to contend with, but are then used to support the authors argument – that the current research is poor and needs to be improved. No evidence of this poor research is provided throughout the text. In addition, I feel some points are very weak and seem to be included to make up a round number 10.

There is occasional use of good counter argument and citation of research towards the end. Generally I agree with the authors points, but it isn’t clear who is actually disagreeing? It is a current piece of work built upon the authors own experiences , but without the supporting evidence and contrary arguments, it seems to just contain banal platitudes so that the reader is coerced into nodding along as they read, to then encourage them to agree with some of the authors bolder (and again unsupported) points.

Towards the end, his agenda becomes clear; dropping in statements about ‘fairness’ and how technology can better serve social relations; both interesting concepts that I would like to explore, but not written about in any depth other to say we should look at this.

So then, that’s my reflection on my first attempt at critical reading. I feel that I’ve just been marking someone else’s work! It certainly looks like that from the highlights and comments I’ve scrawled all over the paper. Is this what critical reading is meant to be? I don’t know, but it certainly changed the way I looked at this paper.

Unless of course it was presented to us as an example of good practice…. Then I’ve really missed the point!

Induction day

Well, I’m now officially enrolled! Have a NUS card and everything.

A really good day meeting everyone on the course, plus the staff who support our learning. I have been really impressed with the infrastructure and professionalism of them all, but it’s all very human and laid back too. It looks like we’ll get excellent support with academic writing, something I think I’ll enjoy but am a little apprehensive of my ability to do this well, so that’s a great comfort. The introduction to the library was useful and I was particularly struck by the librarians comments that ‘studies show there is a direct correlation between engagement with the library and results’. Having not frequented the library during my undergraduate degree or PGCE, I’ve made a point of at least finding where it is on campus!

So, have details of the first assignments, a series of mini-modules which look to upskill our abilities in academic writing, researching and the like. Seems manageable within the time frame, which is a relief. It looks like I can draw from past experiences and projects for these, but I wonder if I would be better off pursuing something new to challenge me. We’ll see what circumstances allow….

Also, interestingly, there’s a task of setting up a wordpress blog! So, at least that’s something off the (slightly mammoth) todo list I can check off.