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Brainstormers - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Brainstormers
If someone told you they could offer you Support for learners, teachers and researchers using "Web 2.0" technologies and mobile devices to access institutional systems ... what sort of things would you be asking them for? Please assume that they have reasonable quantities of time and money at their disposal, but that they would really prefer not to use up too much of that time having an argument about what "web 2.0 technologies" means. :-}

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jvvw From: jvvw Date: May 23rd, 2008 11:21 am (UTC) (Link)
Not thinking of putting something in to JISC's Institutional Innovation Programme are you? :)

j4 From: j4 Date: May 23rd, 2008 11:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, come on, would anybody really be stupid enough to try to get LJ to write JISC funding bids for them.....? ah. OK. :-}

See, we had some cool stuff we wanted to get funding for, but it doesn't really fit into any of the JISC categories. But that particular category -- well, anything we could possibly do in that area is guaranteed to be ace fun & useful to lots of people, & would probably feed into the other cool stuff we want to do anyway. So we are 'brainstorming', but the people here whose brains are most full of teh useful are too busy to allocate much time for brainstorming, so I thought some fresh brains to storm might be a good idea. Braaiiiiiiins.
jvvw From: jvvw Date: May 23rd, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I understand completely and think it's a good idea - I just couldn't help laughing as I was reading through that call the other day half-wondering whether there anything fun that we could ask for money for. In practice however I don't think that I'm likely to propose anything myself for various reasons, though no doubt there will be an OU bid of some description.

Where are you working these day? I've lost track - I'm sorry! You never know, there could be potential collaboration opportunities :)
j4 From: j4 Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm at OUCS, but Information Services rather than the Learning/Teaching/Research/etc sections...
jvvw From: jvvw Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah *think* all the people I've come across (Liz, Marion, Adam etc) are in the learning technology group I also get confused with of the Oxford people are in OUCS and which are in other parts!
nja From: nja Date: May 23rd, 2008 11:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Depends enormously on what the "institutional systems" are. Here, that would mean the website (including Blackboard etc), email (we have MS Webmail and a service for Windows Mobile devices), and web access to your filestore. The only thing I can think of which we don't support is being able to run campus software on your own PC.

http://www.le.ac.uk/its/remoteusers/

("CWIS" means "campus-wide information system", or "the intranet" in normal-speak).
j4 From: j4 Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Depends enormously on what the "institutional systems" are.

If you can imagine it, we've probably got at least three mutually-incompatible systems already doing it. :-}
caramel_betty From: caramel_betty Date: May 23rd, 2008 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Depending on just what they mean...
  • Access to things like Athens over t'Interweb is, for me, incredibly useful. The OU have a whole bunch of different databases and journals you can get access to once you're logged in.

  • At work, using Outlook Web Access can be great (because a lot of our stuff is in Outlook) - getting access to email, public folders etc. is helpful. We also have Outlook Mobile Access which is ropey and less functional, but also useful for mobiles. More generally, access to any appropriate emails/forums/newsgroups/whatever can be helpful - even read-only access can help you find out that presentation you wanted to attend.

  • I occasionally find myself wanting access to our internal directory system from my mobile, so I can grab someone's contact details.

  • Easy access to timetables, planning mails - possibly the ability to sign up for text notifications of timetable changes for courses you're taking, or something like that.
From: ext_72852 Date: May 23rd, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
... but Outlook Web Access is crippled in non-internet-explorer browsers )-:

Here, half the department seems to believe that variants on wikis are the way forward. I can't think of an obvious use case from j4's spec, though.
caramel_betty From: caramel_betty Date: May 23rd, 2008 12:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's not great in non-IE browsers, but I find it usable.

I wouldn't necessarily suggest installing OWA, not least because academentics often use all sorts of random stuff that isn't happy with Exchange so they may not be using that to start with. However, the sort of functions that are available with it can be quite useful, so a handy-dandy Web 2.0 thingermy might want to look at providing something similar.
From: ext_72852 Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, specifically, the option I needed to use the other day (setting up email forwarding), is not available outside IE. Support suggested "find a machine with IE".
nja From: nja Date: May 23rd, 2008 12:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
OWA is crippled but still quite usable, I'd say. Our people in charge of development keep telling us that blogsandwikis (one thing, apparently) are the future. I'm not convinced.
fivemack From: fivemack Date: May 23rd, 2008 12:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Competent institutional webmail, but that's really a bureaucratic issue rather than something worth storming brains about.

An integrated phone-book so I can tap Professor Huppert on my iPhone and it would ring him up, but I imagine Professor Huppert would argue long and loud for not doing this, at least in the three seconds between incoming phone calls.

Unified room booking, so you can both do 'I want a room somewhere near the Radcliffe Infirmary for twelve people to perform demonstrations on the bleeding edge of interpretive dance' and 'what interesting seminars are occurring in the Classics faculty this Wednesday afternoon?', but that involves stepping on the tail of every facilities administrator in Christendom and several in the business school, and getting room-booking to reflect reality is the hard bit.

I'd quite like the idea of a web2.0 tool for the big institutional compute facilities, so you can see that astrophysics is using two-thirds of the supercomputer for three months again, but that there's a one-week slot in which you could put your bid: but _scheduling_ access to compute facilities seems to go against the idea of the Grid, and computer-use chunks are quite large amounts of money so maybe ought to be scheduled by dispassionate professionals.
caramel_betty From: caramel_betty Date: May 23rd, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Competent institutional webmail, but that's really a bureaucratic issue rather than something worth storming brains about.

That's provoked a thought.

Cambridge's Prayer webmail system was a response to Oxford's rather good Wing system. It was really very good at the end of my time in Cambridge, and has been upgraded quite a bit since.

It's open source for HOT HOT geek action.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Interesting! Never even heard of Prayer before...
caramel_betty From: caramel_betty Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's (partly) a creation of Tony Finch / fanf, who I thought you knew.

One of the initial reasons for writing it, I gather, is that Cambridge didn't have a webmail system, Pine sucked for attachments, and people didn't like Mulberry (a properly installed client). One of the geek motivations for it was that Wing at Oxford took up a shelf or two of computers, at the time; Tony and David were very happy they had Prayer running for the whole university on two machines.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do indeed know fanf, but he has done so many cool geeky things that I don't have a mental list of all of them!! 8-)

Oxford's mail situation is, uh, in flux at the moment, though. If I told you anything more I'd probably have to kill you, & that would be a shame.
caramel_betty From: caramel_betty Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Would make for great blog posts, though.
fanf From: fanf Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Prayer is currently undergoing some fairly heavy development for the first time in several years. It now has proper Unicode support, and the next version has a templating system to make it easier to redesign its look & feel.
nja From: nja Date: May 23rd, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Some of that is back-end stuff, though (and some is politics rather than technology). I think what J is suggesting is novel methods of accessing institutional systems, not setting up institutional systems. I'd like a system which allowed students to see their previous module marks, for example (the OU allows this), but I suspect the problems are political (and perhaps to do with the fact that the Registry often has the wrong information). Registering for modules, too - we currently have a paper-based system which has allowed one student to register for 10 more credits than he should be taking, and several others (according to the database) to register for 1/12 of a year on a degree course which doesn't allow part-time study. That shouldn't be too hard to do, given the will, and it doesn't rely on anything more complex than web forms and databases.

j4 From: j4 Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think what J is suggesting is novel methods of accessing institutional systems, not setting up institutional systems.

Yes, but sometimes the possibility of Cool Stuff -- and crucially cool stuff that someone else will do and pay for -- can be enough leverage for changes to institutional systems.

Sometimes.

Not very often in the sort of organisation that thinks "recent" means "last 300 years", admittedly. But I don't like to rule anything out. :-)
j4 From: j4 Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Unified room booking, so you can both do 'I want a room somewhere near the Radcliffe Infirmary for twelve people to perform demonstrations on the bleeding edge of interpretive dance' and 'what interesting seminars are occurring in the Classics faculty this Wednesday afternoon?'

Ooooh, oooh, this is all beautifully possible!

Put it this way, if the above ideas were a car, we'd already have at least three wheels (only one of them square), a driver-side quarterlight, two carburettors, an accelerator pedal made of marzipan, a windscreen, twenty-six copies of the Highway Code containing typing errors, and seven different-colour fluffy dice. :-}

I may be exaggerating the current situation for comic effect.
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From: ext_72852 Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
a decent bloody search engine on the departmental website

Oh, yes, me too please.
(Deleted comment)
fanf From: fanf Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
WiFi hot spots.

Instant messaging & group chat. Even whiteboarding.
monkeyhands From: monkeyhands Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
When I was a student, I think the thing I'd have liked most would have been a human explaining how the email system worked. A human explaining how to do internet research and why it would be necessary in the future would have been good too. Yeah, we got printed info about it, but I never wrapped my head around the concept. I'd never used email or the internet before and I just couldn't believe that it would ever have any relevance to my life.

No amount of new technology, however exciting, could have got me to access the technology available, because my problem was with technology per se, IYSWIM. I only got into using the email system at all because a friend got irritated with not being able to contact me and dragged me up to the computer room for a drunken demo in my second year.

I guess these days things are very different. Most students have already used the internet to copy ^H^H research their A'level essays, and they're probably all on Facebook or whatever. So one option is to work with, or mimic, things like Bebo, Facebook, MySpace or whatever, so that students stay within their comfort zones as far as interfaces are concerned. Or you do something new and innovative and use a lot of resources to reel in neophobes like me.
monkeyhands From: monkeyhands Date: May 23rd, 2008 01:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Apologies if the above comment isn't really relevant to what you're asking. I'm coming from a completely different perspective because I'm a technophobe who spends a lot of her working life with even bigger technophobes. I genuinely think that a lot of access issues are to do with the people rather than the technology: good metaphors to explain to people why they need this stuff in the first place, good support, good training. A lot of people - and they're not all over 70 - desperately need a human being to get them on the road to using technology in their lives. And I'm worried that whizzy new ways of using technology to access learning are also ways of excluding technophobes from the learning process.
livredor From: livredor Date: May 26th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
The course I taught this term had an internal website where lecturers could upload their slides, administrators could upload timetables and room booking information. There was also a general message board type area for students and teachers to contact eachother and extend discussions beyond the classroom. The first part is really really useful and sensible and integrated, just having a one-stop place for all information related to the course, updated nearly in real time. And there's a standard template for all courses, none of this balkanization between different departments, and it's all run by central IT.

The message board part is more Web 2.0 ish, I think, and isn't really very developed here; basically, any registered student, teaching assistant, teacher, or course leader can start a topic there, and there's no real guidance or incentive to do so. But that kind of thing could be extended to have a really useful system for communication between teachers and students, that would ideally be more or less asynchronous. So, something like that was more user friendly would be very useful for making teachers available outside class, but without expecting them to be constantly on call.
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