Tag Archives: software

Blogs for teaching, learning and research: a personal collection

The blog is an established social media tool, emerging in the late 1990s as a way to publish online. A wide variety of organisations have developed ways to create a blog: mostly free, generally making the process easier, with greater flexible and ultimately creating more attractive finished products. Text remains very important to many blogs, though within a given blog post it is also possible to include photos, video, sound recordings, tweets and links to other sites. The basic structure for most blogs continues to work on the sequential addition of these posts – hence their popularity as diaries, or to chart the progress of a project over time. For more information on blogs head the Wikipedia entry.

This particular post is the basis of my short talk at Edinburgh Napier’s programme leaders’ symposium on Thursday 12 January – welcome if you’re sitting in front of me reading this from the screen! There are links below to posts that have been written for different purposes, some by me, that I’d like to talk about. We’ll also look at one written by students for an autumn 2011 module.

Personal blogs for a (semi)public audience

Blogs used in modules

Programme management

The flexibility of the blog format lends itself to use across our work, with many examples of excellent practice publicly available. Some blogging platforms advertise the potential to use their tools in education: Posterous, WordPress and Edublogs for example.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions, either later today or in the comments below.

Image: ‘my first lolcat – in ur blog’

Software review: Scrivener and NVivo

As my PhD research slowly gets into gear this quick post reflects some current joy with Scrivener and potential future fun with NVivo. (The latter is largely notes to myself and might not make for great reading.)

There’s a ten minute introductory video to ease people into the ways Scrivener works, which is time enough to decide that it’s the right piece of writing software. In time I’ll start using some of the compilation tools to produce finished documents, though for now I’m creating all my PhD work on it’s simple structure ??? very much a living document. Here’s a grab of the binder for my research:


It’s a mix of working files (including ‘SM’: notes from a supervisory meeting), an existing draft pasted in and split up, tables of sources reviewed and my reading notes from particular texts. At the bottom are some pdf that have been imported. Each item above can have its own metadata to keep track of keywords and the like. And everything is kept together which makes for very easy backing up ??? a quick copy and paste to Dropbox for example.

I thoroughly recommend a quick look at that video for anyone who hasn’t played around with the software.

I attended a workshop delivered by QSR International, the people behind NVivo. It was pitched as an information and training session, with participants having had different exposure to the software and wanting it to do different things. For me this was the first time I’d used it: a potential way to manage qualitative information, driven by the coding of data. It could be used for a literature review as much as primary research, but the former doesn’t appeal to me ??? partly because of my current love for Scrivener, partly because NVivo isn’t available for the Mac and therefore not as appropriate for long term use in my Apple world.

The basics of the software focus on creating or importing data, then annotating it, coding, making notes and writing documents. The flexibility available in linking themes across documents (or in fact virtually any kind of media) is impressive and I can see that greater familiarity would serve to make for a powerful way to handle sources and ideas. With primary data in mind, the way individual sections of audio and video can be coded has a range of advantages, such as potentially not needing to transcribe interviews; this in turn keeps the researcher in direct contact with the source material. Fortunately video files can be embedded or linked, helping to keep down the overall file size.

‘Nodes’ is the terminology of choice: you can code data by dragging it onto a node. These nodes can be nested, giving some handy parent-child relationships. Viewing the coded themes across sources is attractively presented with stripes and such in the relevant views. This is intended to be part of ones workflow, with plenty of flexibility to do some coding, spot when you’ve reached a good place to take stock, write up some memos and get back to it.

Classifications was also introduced, partly based on establishing one’s unit of measurement: a node for each person perhaps, or each hotel or geographical region. Data can then be linked to such units as well as thematically, enabling closer analysis of the data from within NVivo.

As with so much software the more you use something like this the better you’ll get and the more you’ll get out of it. I don’t see myself using it much to begin with, but over time it’s clear that there’s plenty of tools in place to work with. From what I’ve seen, and because the university supports it, I’ll likely turn to NVivo when the time comes. (At which point I’ll have to learn it all over again, but no matter.)

Digital Audience Development, courtesy of Inner Ear.

It was very good to see a large audience for the 2011 ‘Digital Audience Development‘ session at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Run by Inner Ear Ltd. again on Thursday 4 August, this was the second time I’ve seen them present ideas and case studies to help those who would like to use social media to spread the word about their work. The presenters were Dougal Perman (@dougalperman)and Anny Deery (@adeery).

Why the larger audience? Partly because the tools are more pervasive within the arts community I should imagine, but also because more people want to use them and are keen to learn. The fact that this event took place before the official start to the fringe made it all the more impressive: visiting artists should probably have been spending their time settling in, doing their tech rehearsals and buying waterproof jackets. Something that particularly impresses me about Inner Ear is their knowledge of the range of social tools available, with pretty well defined ideas about the strengths of each and when it could/should be employed by different users. There was a mixed audience for the event in terms of social media experience, but I think it’s likely that as time goes by they will find ever more savvy audience members who come to these sessions with their own ideas of what works in this space. To this end it’s great that those folk can tap into Inner Ear’s expertise just as effectively as the relative novices who need some guidance on where to start.

For a recommendation however I think there is scope for a follow up session on a more ‘workshop’ based level, where people can show and tell the methods and approaches that have worked for them. There’s no reason that this couldn’t still be set up for the 2011 Fringe, I’m sure it’s already taken place on a small scale many times over as people discuss stuff over a pint, but something more formal could be very rewarding for all.

To finish this post, as suggested by Dougal, you should find their presentation embedded into this blog just below (although it needs Flash). The slides are hosted on Slideshare and contain a heap of good ideas and suggestions.

View more presentations from Inner Ear

Breda on screen.

Following up some recent posts on the Breda project, just a couple of notes on the next stage of the work. A fortnight ago I watched the students’ presentations from the Netherlands, while I sat in my flat in EH11. Breda live stream all their lectures and record them for later online viewing – some examples are here – which made it dead easy to tune in.


What with modern easy familiarity with technology you can probably picture me dialling in to Skype and offering my thoughts, asking questions and otherwise being a part of the event. Watching my face appear where once had been PowerPoint slides and Prezi animations can’t have been easy for anyone, but I resisted the temptation to abuse that highly visible position: think Sir Patrick Moore on Gamesmaster.


The students used a wide range of styles, approaches and technologies for their presentations, populating each short talk with the results of their research, their recommendations and some reflections on the overall project. It was great to see that each of the four chosen venues seems to have given them plenty to work with and scope to make some valuable recommendations. The written reports are in, are currently being marked, and should be available to the venues in a week or so.

The Net Works ??? 100% Open


As I’ve always said, this blog is written largely for me. A place to record thoughts, experiences and progress. But it’s also where I keep useful links with a little comment as well: a more engaging Delicious perhaps. So here’s a link, tucked under the image above, to a Roland Harwood (@rolandharwood) post on networks. My comment is to suggest that I read it again the future and if I encourage others to have a look as well that’s all fine by me.

Open innovation.

Inspace, housed within the University of Edinburgh, has hosted a number of events that I’ve enjoyed over the past year – from mushroom-inspired improvised music to film screenings. On Wednesday 23 February I attended an ‘openness’ discussion: open innovation, open data, collaborations, etc. Lead organisations were Amb:IT:ion Scotland and the Festivals Lab. The event was also streamed live online, to people such as David McGillivray who has posted a thorough and thoughtful response on his blog.

Maybe you didn’t have to be there, man.

The venue is a few yards from Appleton Tower, which hosts Fringe Central during August and therefore the Fringe Society’s AGM. There was a tangible shift in attitude towards opening up data between the two events, with lead contributors to the more recent discussion much more enthusiastic. Of course, that also reflects the different relationships that exist between the people concerned and the data at hand: one lot are ready and willing to get stuck into playing with the numbers, locations, bits and bytes; the other have business decisions to make, bills to pay and stakeholders to satisfy.

I left the meet up with optimism that more organisations will take hold of the opportunities that freeing up their data makes available to them, so long as it is managed and controlled to their best advantage. David’s subsequent blog also applies these ideas to the Higher Education sector, including the idea of ‘Learning and Teaching Innovation Labs’ within institutions: I think this is a fantastic idea, but would caution that it may need to have its roots at a very local level, so that academics can see what’s being done by their immediate contemporaries. Nicholas Christakis has taught us of the power of networks, so the best way to do something really innovative and open in education is to seek out those who have already picked up the ball and started running.

Image: ‘The Secret Sounds of Spores Spectacular! – Fri 21 January 2011 -0339’



Tuesday morning: with barely minutes to go, as I sped through the central belt to Glasgow, my Twitter feed told me my meeting had been upgraded to a summit! This was fantastic news – really set the tone for a productive catch up with some other event management/studies academics. The fruits of the meeting will take many months to play out, but a comment on the experience is well worth recording. Maybe it’s because academia has so recently embraced events that there’s an opportunity and a willingness to try new teaching arrangements – there’s lots of talk about using new technologies, working with others and acting for mutual benefit, but I don’t necessarily see too much evidence of it catching on.

Topics included software platforms (Posterous, Twitter, Prezi, etc.); the Quality Assurance requirements/demands of institutions; practical ways of encouraging students to communicate across the vast distances of Scotland; and innovative ways of assessing the fruits of such work. Creative ways of developing modules could be very advantageous for students beyond university: materials produced and consumed using social media could be accessible forever, both to those who created it and those in future cohorts.

…and that would require a shift in attitude for some as well. Embracing a spirit of openness is very fashionable at the moment; I hope it becomes the norm in terms of collaboration, government data and marketing in the arts for example. When you’re asked (nay, required) to comment openly on the work of others it can be a little trickier. This might be the work of your tutor (as embodied in a YouTube clip embedded in a blog perhaps) and it might be the work of your fellow students, who’ll then have a right of reply. The task is set: to establish learning environments in which this is accepted and to manage expectations such that all students can gain the confidence to participate.

My post earlier today featured HEFCE’s Collaborate to compete, which highlights technology and online learning, regardless of whether this comes from on high or is directly developed by academics themselves. Surely it’s a no-brainer? The truth of the matter is that unless universities and enough of their staff take this on board and run with it, they’ll be faced by students who wonder if they’ve stepped back in time in order to gain their qualifications. UCAS applications may be rising still higher, but its a qualitative shift as well: the expectation to keep pace with even the most mainstream new media must be met!

Here’s to future summits and continued experimentation.

This image, appropriate as it is, is tagged with ‘Glasgow’, ‘Tramway’, ‘April’, ‘2008’, ‘Mogwai’ and ‘Triptych’. As such it reminds me of my only other trip to the Tramway: to see the Cinematic Orchestra, also at the Triptych Festival – now sadly lost to Scotland.

Image: ‘Unrealistic’