MOOC: Massive Open Online Courses

12 05 2013

This morning I have learnt a new acronym: ‘MOOC’ – Massvie Open Online Courses. In previous blogs I have explored some of the free educational offerings online, particularly from the US. I found this article by Andrew McGettigan in The Guardian exploring this growing phenomenon. The article, titled Q. Will ‘Moocs’ be the scourge or saviour or higher education?, which underlines both the opportunities and the challenges of this growing educational format.

Another article by Claire Shaw focuses on the United Kingdom’s increasing investment in Moocs. FutureLearn is UK’s chance to ‘fight back’, says OU vice-chancellor

Nancy Groves provides a detailed discussion about online education in Online learning: pedagogy, technology and opening up higher education She rightly asserts that online education is not a new concept and states that:

Of course, the provision of off-campus higher education is not a recent development. The Open University has championed open and distance learning since 1969 – from its original correspondence courses and late-night TV broadcasts to the latest research and development conducted by its Institute of Educational Technology.

Returning to Gettigan’s article, a number of questions are put forward regarding the returns of investment for universities:

With no clear business models in place – and a reliance at this stage on volunteer labour – it is not clear how the returns on investment will materialise. Will Moocs be a new form of social media? Marketing tasters for established, paying courses? An alternative form of continuing education or outreach? An alternative to textbooks or course materials?

I must admit I wonder how universities can make money out of MOOCs. As a consumer I think it is great that I can study online for free, even getting a piece of paper for my efforts. As a long standing sessional (casual) academic I am concerned. Over the years, I have seen less and less opportunities for employment, particularly to transition to more permanent arrangements. I have also witnessed an erosion of working conditions for tenured and causal academic staff, which was a key motivator for me to jump from academia into government.

It is worth monitoring where MOOCs will go in the next few years and the impact on tertiary institutions. If people can access quality education for cheap or free then that is fantastic. If academics are working even longer for less remuneration then there is good reason to be concerned.

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Strategic communications

4 07 2012

Recently I attended the joint Australian Government and Australian National University workshop focused on ‘Strategic Communications and National Security’ at the National Security College, ANU 13-14 June 2012. The workshop participants came from a broad range of government agencies that work with matters of national security.

There was a solid introduction into the definition of strategic communications (strat comms), which stressed the following principles:

  • Integrity and Truth
  • Persistent and consistent
  • Independent of media and electoral cycles

From here, participants were walked through the key components of strategic communications. These included:

  • Determine communication objectives
  • Environment Scan
  • Audience and Influencers
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Key messages
  • Delivery
  • Timetable
  • Evaluation

What was very interesting to note from this presentation, was the strong preference for using an environment scan rather than a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses/Limitations, Opportunities, and Threats). The argument for using this approach was that often a SWOT analysis is too ‘mechanical’ in nature and valuable information slips through because of the need to categorise the information. Some of the benefits of environment scans are:

  • Taking stock of what the rest of the world is doing
  • May influence objectives and actions
  • Opportunity to improve communications
  • Chance to forecast issues
  • Can feature a SWOT as part of the overall assessment

It was also noted that to effectively deliver strat comms objectives is often resource heavy, and that past evaluation processes have often focused on the outputs, rather than the outcomes. It was also highlighted that strategic communications is not the same thing as media liaison. In other words – strat comms is proactive, media relations is often reactive. Also, it was very interesting to see that the work of Doug McKenzie Mohr (behaviour change expert) was discussed as an excellent source of information for agencies interested in fostering behaviour change as part of strat comms.

Many of my colleagues have attended Mohr’s workshops in the past, so it is very good to know that some of us have already had exposure to his proactive thinking and strategic approach to fostering behaviour change. One of Mohr’s key approaches is to use ‘influencers’ or community leaders as a means of instigating change.  The rationale behind this strategy is that more people pay attention to and will follow influencers. Though care must be taken when selecting ‘influencers’ to support strat comms agendas – the backlash against Cate Blanchett  in the  ‘Say Yes’ campaign was a very relevant case study presented at the workshop.

A number of other very useful case studies demonstrated the power of being strategic with communications agendas.  Jim Cannon spoke about the ADFA Reputation Retrieval exercise; Michael Player from NZ Police discussed managing international media during the Christchurch Earthquake Crisis and Kym Charlton from Qld Police discussed how they have very successfully used social media during the SE Qld floods and Cyclone Yasi. We were also very fortunate to have former ABC journalist and media expert, Prakash Mirchandani as one of the facilitators. He gave the group some great take home messages – ‘you can never start too low when thinking about strategic communications’, an encouraging thought and one, if followed, allows for many perspectives on an issue, not just a top down or media reactive approach. The other take home was ‘you can’t sell a dud policy’ or more crudely put – ‘you can’t polish a t@rd!’.

My only other comment was the success of the practical exercise in demonstrating the effectiveness using the key components to come up with the messaging and communications channels for addressing a matter of national security. We were given a scenario, split into three groups, with each having a number of components to cover. For example, group one was responsible for the first thee components – determining communication objectives, undertaking an environment scan and identifying the audience. Each group had 1.5 hours to address the issues. When we came back each group went through the findings in order. What was revealing was the similarities and linkages between the issues and how they should be addressed. The practical exercise demonstrated that it is possible in a short amount of time to come up with a plan that is interconnected and pragmatic.

Personally, I think the big benefit is that this method could be useful in  situations outside of crisis situations and matters of national security. In many ways it is an agile approach, designed to quickly get to the issue and how to resolve it.





Growing a local social media presence

1 07 2012

Ideas about how to best engage with communities have been central to a number of my ongoing projects over the years. For example, the geokult collaboration focuses on notion of social and cultural mapping, another project Remote connections which explores technology uptake in remote Indigenous communities, and of course in my work with livinggreener.gov.au.

Recently, I have been considering how social media impacts on the concept of local, specially within the context of a postcode for example. Linda Carroli’s Placing project resonates for me – particularly as Aspley is a place I know intimately. I spent a number of formative years living in the Brisbane suburb and a range of creative work has been based on my experiences and perceptions of this suburban space – see Scalpland.

So what is happening in my local community? There are community noticeboards at the library and child care and family centre, but there appears to be little social media presence that has currency on the ground. We have the tools but not the engagement it would seem. Gumtree classifieds has reasonable listings for my suburb, and local Canberra online news website The RiotACT did have some recent stories. Some of these were a bit disturbing with a number of recent reports about shops and people being threatened with knifes. It wasn’t all bad news, there were also stories of developments that benefits families with a new childcare centre and new playgrounds being built.

The online factiods about my suburb do little to really give a sense of a place, excepting the obvious need to provide safe and creative places for children and young people. Over the time we have lived here we have seen many signs of growth in the west Belconnen area. New suburbs, much more traffic (though less public transport), and the local shopping centre is becoming busier and busier. Last week Coffee Club opened at Kippax and signs a McDonalds will be opening on the now vacant block indicate that there is much more  development to come. More people are moving to the area, but I still don’t know my neighbours that well after four years. Is it Canberra, or suburbia or just modern life?

Many ‘community’ building websites offer empty promises of being connected at the local level. For example, urban farming and sustainability facebook group LocalBlu https://www.facebook.com/localblu sounds like an amazing initiative, although when I go to the website there is nothing for my community or any of the other 6 Australian postcodes I submitted (including city centre of Sydney and Melbourne).

Facebook has three pages that could be starting point for local conversations – Kippax Fair, Woolworths Kippax and a page for suburb of Holt.

Community Engine is another community building website that uses Facebook to promote its message about growing your local community. When I went to the Community Engine website and plugged in my postcode, there were a lot of returns in the search, so it would be worth learning more about this tool.

At geokult we are developing a series of workshops and a ‘toolbox’ of tools for exploring and mapping communities. The aim is to promote and facilitate a more connected community. What we realise is that social media will not promote the project alone, it is important to remember the old school ways of raising community awareness – leafleting, letterbox drops and local stalls are highly effective ways to get to know people F2F. Over the coming months, I will be monitoring how my local community is engaging online, and experimenting with a range of techniques, with a purpose of developing a strategy for other community engagement projects.





Summary of ‘User experience fundamentals’ workshop

27 08 2011

On 24 August 2011, I participated in a workshop titled “User Experience Fundamentals” as part of the UX Australia conference, facilitated by Cennydd Bowles (@cennydd) and James Box (@boxman).

UX Design

I am a little confused to the exact difference between User Experience Design (UXD, UX Design) and User Centered Design (UCD). To be honest, I don’t think it really matters. What does matter is that this approach to design is about making things better and easier for humans.

Anyway, for those new to the field, UXD has evolved primarily through consideration of human factors and ergonomics also incorporating aspects of psychology, anthropology, sociology, computer science, graphic design, industrial design and cognitive science. UXD may also involve other content design disciplines such as communication design, instructional design, or game design.

The scope of the UCD process is directed at affecting “all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.”

This was an excellent workshop for people new to UX design as well as more experienced designers. James and Cennydd went through the essential steps of the UX design process and added in some great ways to get user information easily and cheaply.

We started off by looking at the juggling relationship between client and user by mapping strategies such as stakeholder interviews, defining organizational culture and goals to user needs to help a mutually beneficial outcome.

Some good “Red Flags”:

  • power problems
  • cash cows
  • enormous expectations
  • difficult deadlines
  • paralysing process

I really liked their hybrid approach to designing for usability  –  in particular their emphasis on finding the gap between business requirements and user needs.

It was great to also go through the UXD process with James and Cennydd to note that in almost all areas described, these approaches  have already been applied to livinggreener.gov.au. Throughout the project we have evidenced positive results after three releases and a series of usability, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), accessibility and content reviews. The results can be demonstrated in the Google Analytics over time – increased number of page views with each visit, longer times spent on the website and a decreasing bounce rate (which means people leave as soon as they land on the home page).

A range of methods were discussed  and evaluated in the workshop including:

  • developing personas
  • market research
  • card sorting
  • user testing
  • prototyping

There was a strong distinction made between the role of personas and market research segments, as good UX design is for people. Personas are archetypes that are discovered via the process of market research but are identified and people and have names. Market research segments are grouped under categories like “grey nomads” or some such collective identity. The major drawback of using personas is that they ‘freeze time’ to the moment when the initial research was undertaken. A solution would be to go through another round of market research and a revision of personas at strategic times in the life of a project.

Sketching and prototyping

The practical part of the workshop focused on creating a design for a mobile application with a bus company as the client.  In groups we brainstormed using empathy maps, then individually we made six-up and single designs.

This led into more of a discussion on the best ways to rapid prototype (Agile) vs conventional functional specifications documents. James and Cennydd discussed prototyping as having a number of fidelities – low, medium and high. Low fidelity is using paper, pens, sticky notes (to create “pop-ups”),  and collage. Medium fidelity includes Omnigraffle, Visio, Fireworks, Illustrator, Keynote, Powerpoint, Balsamiq Mockups, Mockingbird and HTML image maps. High fidelity tools cover Flash, Dreamweaver, Axure and HTML/CSS and Javascript.

Basically the best approach is to incorporate at least two methods and each from different level of fidelity. It is important to also use the tools you feel most comfortable with. Be mindful if  you are prototyping in HTML/CSS and other high fidelity tools that it is not enough to remodel the prototype for the final design – i.e. it is not a short cut.

There was also a useful discussion on how to work effectively with developers and other key stakeholders by understanding their language, challenges and constraints.

The other good take home message was that “good designers are usually good users”, which I think is key especially when designing for web and social media platforms. The fundamental role of creating user-friendly online spaces is to provide a product or service in a way that easy and accessible . It is also important to encourage a conversation at a human level, to discover other needs and to build relationships.

At the end of the day all the participants received a copy of James an Cennydd’s new book “Undercover User Experience Design” (New Riders 2011), which provides a great summary of the workshop themes and strategies.

Reference

Donald Norman Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex and Information Appliances Are the Solution. MIT Press, 1999





Gov 2.0 Conference – Some thoughts

5 11 2010

The recent Gov 2.0 conference in Canberra was a great demonstration of the momentum that is continuing to build around social media and access to open government data.

These moves have not come over night, over the course of many years there has been a strong movement towards applying the principles of the W3C and the vision of the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee. In short, his vision is about a Web for everyone and by everyone­—accessible, usable and a space of equity. Berners-Lee’s creation was fueled by a highly personal vision of the Web as a powerful force for social change and individual creativity. See Weaving the Web (1999) if you are interested in his philosophical take on the web.

The reality is that although open source, free ware developers, artists and citizen journalists have been actively sharing, talking, forming communities and mixing online content for nearly two decades, government has been slow to come to the table. Issues of copyright, protection of information and IT security are all seen as potential barriers for government agencies to join the conversation.

The community online has also changed exponentially. For example, research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics about Internet Activity cited that 3.8 million Internet subscribers registered in Australia at the end of the September quarter 2000, and by June 2010 this had increased to 9.6 million. Also, the way we access the internet has changed – with wireless and mobile access now almost on par with broadband access. See Internet Activity, Australia, Jun 2010 for more information.

These videos from YouTube is a good example of the growth of social media


What this conference has demonstrated is that there is a significant risk to not taking action, as government will be left behind and not seen as credible, approachable or responsive to citizens concerns. Sadly to say, in many areas of government there is active resistance to the principles of Gov2.0 because of an unwillingness to acknowledge that the issues are not about technology but about effective engagement and fostering behaviour change. But on the positive side there is some very engaged use of social media and open data that demonstrates a willingness to ‘go to where the conversation is’.

Aside from the recommendations set forth in the Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0 report put out by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and the Declaration of Open Government, there are also significant moves in the sharing of government data. Peter Alexander from AGIMO discussed a range of initiatives, which are all on the AGIMO Blog as well as the use of Creative Commons Licences (see the Qld Government Information Licencing Framework).

The range of talks was excellent and to have senior public servants supporting moves towards Gov2.0  is very encouraging – thanks especially to Mia Garlick, Andrew Stott, Andrew Mills, Patrick McCormack and Peter Alexander.

In conclusion, there are still many challenges to educate people in decision making positions about the benefits of social media and open data. Perhaps the wrong people were in the room as there was a sense of ‘preaching to the converted’.  The tweet stream reflected this sentiment with one tweet referring to the lack of support as CRAP – Chronic Risk Averse Paranoia, which I thought was hilarious. That said, what I took away from the conference was some potential solutions and strategies that may be effective in terms of building support for more open and engaged approaches to communications and information sharing.

Gov 2.0 2010 Conference themes included:

  • Update on where the government will take Gov 2.0
  • Promoting innovation
  • Using a crowd sourced community of peers to assist decision making
  • Implementing a business communication strategy that includes Gov 2.0
  • Demonstrating net outcomes and benefits
  • Upskilling your team in social media
  • Utilising open and closed online forums, blogs, twitter and e-newsletters
  • Managing engagement within the twitter sphere
  • Maximising the time of limited resources

Check out:





What’s hot at Web Directions

15 10 2010

Yesterday a colleague and I were interviewed at Web Directions about “What’s hot and what’s not”. This was a great opportunity for us to plug livinggreener.gov.au as well as offer our opinion about what is emerging in the web development and design space.

Well, for me what is smoking hot at the moment is HTML5 and CSS3. I am uber impressed by what you can do without Javascript – transitions, fades, specialised fonts, animating images. To be honest I don’t think I have even explored the tip of the iceberg here as there is so much new stuff.

It seems so long ago when I created my first page in 1995, complete with tiled pineapples and a flashing title (many would remember that now ousted tag). There was not a lot of opportunity to animate then, not unless you included an animated gif or a flash tag. Javascript and Flash came later and both had their pros and cons. The capacity HTML5 and CSS3 has for doing much more of this work with less code is very inspiring.

Silvia Pfeiffer’s talk on HTML5 audio and video was fantastic (I know that is totally uncritical feedback). It was excellent because the possibilities offered to audio and video in HTML5. Silvia’s knowledge of this area as impressive and I look forward to keeping abreast of developments with HTML5, particularly in the open video space.

Knud Möller’s talk on RDFa was good value. As a member of the W3C RDFa working group he has a lot of insight into this emerging standard for tagging data. Again, there seems to be some good support in the open source community with Drupal 7 including RDFa as part of the standard set up.

Michael Smith’s “HTML5 Report Card” was very entertaining, the information was really useful and the presenting style was lots of fun. The useful links from this talk are all covered in his presentation on Slideshare (where he appears under the handle of sideshowbarker).

Also, I think there is momentum building in the geomapping space, though I have a way to go to get around the dev side of things. Icelabs Max Wheeler’s talk went a bit over my head on a technical level, though his website decaf sucks, is a lovely example of the use of geo-data that displays elegantly across desktop and mobile devices. Although I still have lots to learn, I am certainly getting a much better idea of what is possible with flexible design and geo-data.

Speaking of Icelab, it was great to see Nathan McGinness, who used to work there and was a member of dorkbot cbr before he relocated to Sydney to work with Digital Eskimo. He was there showing off his invention sketch lab. Good luck Nathan – it is a great idea!

Nathan McGinness - sketch lab

As a first timer, I understand now why so many web people make the pilgrimage to Web Direction year after year, as this is a great opportunity to learn, network, catch up with friends, colleagues and even past students. One of the things that hit me the most is this where people talk about how they make things, rather than just thinking or writing about it (which is what I have spent last 9 years doing –  focusing on my PhD).

I am looking forward to much more time to play and learning through doing, not just observing and I have plenty to inspiration thanks to Web Directions.





Real World CSS3 for designers – Dan Rubin workshop

13 10 2010

Dan Rubin’s CSS3 workshop was featured as part of the Web Directions South, which is a very popular event for web professionals.

It must be said that Dan is a bit of celebrity in this community as he has been involved in many high profile projects and contributed to a number of influential texts in this field. For example, Dan is a contributing author of Cascading Style Sheets: Sepa­rating Content from Presen­tation (2nd Edition, friends of ED, 2003), tech­nical reviewer for Beginning CSS Web Devel­opment (Apress, 2006), The Art & Science of CSS (Site­Point, 2007) and Sexy Web Design (Site­Point, 2009), coauthor of Pro CSS Tech­niques (Apress, 2006), and Web Stan­dards Creativity (friends of ED, 2007).

Even though I am not a designer in my current job, occasionally I do some freelance work, and, as my approach focuses on accessibility and usability, there is a significant role for CSS in the design process. Ironically, I really got into CSS when one of my PhD advisers, Tim Brook helped me to solve a design problem on a website project titled swipe. My initial design was of a bar code that was composed of images sliced into a table and then JavaScript was used to do roll overs and change words. My approach could only be described as very 1997, as despite my awareness of the accessibility issues, I could not think of another solution except for Flash. After Tim looked at the website he sent through a small piece of CSS which gave me the roll over. This was enough to get me thinking and playing with CSS as a design tool and I was very happy with the result.

The idea of play was a big theme in Dan’s workshop, which was a very practical tour of websites and tools that are utilising CSS3. The two things that were the most inspiring was media queries (new and easy ways of including multi device support in one style sheet) and the availability of a range of fonts that you can access and download.

The range of tools and the browser support for CSS has been exponential and Dan’s survey of CSS3 was very helpful. I will certainly be downloading tools such as CSS Edit (Mac), Modernizr, Selectivizr and accessing the quirksmode, hard boiled web design by Andy Clark and realworldcss3 by Dan Rubin websites as resources.

Some useful links from Dan’s workshop:

I am definitely inspired to experiment and remember the fun of play and of creative problem solving with CSS design. I have started a sandbox section of my blog to document my experiments and will share this play with readers.