Online identity, work spaces and folios – a celebration of awareness

 This week Leigh Blackall, Educational Designer from the Digital Learning Team in the College of Design and Social Context writes about the issue of online identity and continuity

 

leigh 1

This sign welcomes visitors to the main building of the Googleplex (Google’s company headquarters) at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, California. Source: Coolcaesar on Wikimedia Commons

Who are you?

Cover of International Multimedia School Magazine "trait d'union" n° 03-2003. Topic: "our identity. Creator of the mask: Antonia Lent, German School of Toulouse (2003). Photographer: Lothar Thiel. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Cover of International Multimedia School Magazine “trait d’union” n° 03-2003. Topic: “our identity. Creator of the mask: Antonia Lent, German School of Toulouse (2003). Photographer: Lothar Thiel. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Shall we start with a quick Google search on your name? Web, image, video, news, and scholar.

I do it as a matter of course when considering new people to work with, or in preparation for applying for work. I want to know what a person looks like; to gain some insight into how they work online (or not); to get an overview on the sorts of things they have done in the past; and to get a sense for what their identity is, online. There is a significance to me, in what is revealed in such a search and what is not.

Is it too simple to say that an online folio is a search result for a person’s or project’s name, and an online workspace is the Internet as a whole? This online workspace is not a single publishing platform or content management system – the Internet is the platform. Some of us might be a bit stuck on this, but this perspective becoming mainstream is probably inevitable if it’s not already a reality.

Most people who do a search on their name come to realise that the search result is essentially the first page of their online identity – their folio. It could be personal, it could be professional, often it’s both. Their next realisation might be that the way they work online, the processes, platforms, linkages and associations in the data that they generate, all has an impact on their portfolio-as-a-search-result. Their search terms and saved bookmarks, the media they upload and download, their playlists, click-through history, viewing times, purchase history, GPS location, and strength of linkage to other people, collaborators and projects. All this data is built up around us as we work online, and can be used to create, shape and grow a personalised and professional workspace. It can be harnessed to improve the quality and efficiency of our work. Our search results on topics of inquiry can become more targeted, or recommendations and linkages can be made more relevant. This includes advertisers and surveillance agencies of course, which at this point in time at least, we might consider as our symbiotic relationship.

 

You’re a machine

In 2004, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson created a video about this future that we now live in. They called it the Evolving Personalised Information Construct (EPIC2014). Their video starts in black, with a flickering light in the distance. A narrator reads, “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times…”

In 2007 Dr Michael Wesch expanded on this topic and published the incredibly popular video, The Machine is Using Us, now at nearly one million seven hundred thousand views. This video explained an EPIC hypertext reality, 7 years before Sloan and Thompson thought it would come to pass.

While we’re talking about Michael, check out his online folio. As you do that, it’s worth considering how the strength of Michael’s online identity impacts on those that link to him, such as his students at Kansas State University.

 

leigh3

Goshen College Choir 1958-1974 Source: Mennonite Church USA Archives on WIkimedia Commons

 

A cog in a wheel

In the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, a range of educational development projects are interested in this line of inquiry, and in the kinds of operating principles that might inform the design of learning activities and assessment tasks. Tasks that ask people to manage their online workspaces, professional identities and portfolios.

At RMIT though, like many other universities, a specified workspace is provided that impacts on this conception of a professional identity, precisely because it has become a central and major entity of the Internet – Google.

To some, Google is a good platform choice. It is a very relevant and effective toolset in a university that needs to show ‘industry relevance’, productivity gains and expenditure savings. To some others though, they think that RMIT should be more concerned about data sovereignty and maintaining local IT skills. They would ask, “should an offshore advertising company with questionable links to surveillance agencies be getting intimate access to data about a large population base, especially a university one?”

 

Who are you tomorrow?

As we ask people to use the Internet in their work, and in RMIT’s case – Google in particular, we’re asking people to shape their online workspace into a personalised space with professional relevance. Their connection to us is recorded, their connection to each other is recorded, what they do with their online identity all combines to teach “The Machine” to use them, and be used by them.

What happens to these online identities when the people leave though? Their accounts are disabled! They’re effectively deleted, or held in limbo until that person comes back into the organisation.

What about people who have already built themselves an online workspace, a professional identity and folio? Should they stop with that and rebuild another one? Won’t they dilute their online identities, especially students, casuals, contractors and other transients?

Additionally, if RMIT continues to limit the functionality of an RMIT/Google account by not enabling Youtube accounts, Maps, Classroom or the use of Addons for instance, what impact is that decision having on the account holder’s development of a professional workspace and online folio?

All this seems at considerable odds with RMIT’s graduate capabilities around Lifelong Learning.

 

A temporary role

I’ve raised these RMIT/Google account issues with anyone willing to talk about them, on behalf of the projects I’m assisting with, in the hope of better understanding RMIT’s position and conceiving a workable solution. I’ve had a few things pointed out to me so far:

  1. Perhaps managing multiple online identities is a critical literacy, and a student account is a ‘practice’ space before developing their real workspace. Related to this is the reality that industry workspaces are also going to prescribe an account that contributes to the complexity around a person’s online identity and workspace.
  2. RMIT is a large and international organisation and needs to implement a system that can work consistently across that organisation. Our partners in Vietnam for example, have not agreed to the full use of a product like Google, citing performance and other issues.
  3. An account with @rmit.edu.au is branded RMIT, and what a person does with that account impacts the RMIT brand and RMIT’s liability.
  4. There are legal implications for RMIT accounts using Youtube channels or Addons, relating to Intellectual Property.

 

Practically though, when a staff member or a student needs or wants a Youtube account, or to turn on an Addon, or to Create a Map, they simply work around the limitations and use their own Google accounts. I’ve been advised that there is no policy or procedure in RMIT that would regulate or prevent such practice.

Youtube for instance, the third or fourth most used website by Australians, and not just for watching funny cat videos either, has long been sociologically important*, a media phenomenon over the past 10 years with significant cultural impact*. RMIT’s teachers, researchers, students and administrators should have by-now developed deep critical awareness around this. But they have not on the whole, not while their RMIT accounts can’t engage it. RMIT remains technically disengaged.

leigh4

Mummified Nile catfish (Middle Kingdom) placed in a tomb for the deceased to eat in the afterlife on display at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. RC 2182. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Retain something of yourself

With all these realities, issues and workarounds in mind, we might then consider the idea of advising people to primarily use their own accounts over their RMIT provided ones, because the development of online workspaces and folios are long term projects starting now, and continuing well beyond their life as students and staff members.

To most, this suggestion will appear too subversive, “taking a long walk off the reservation”, as a good colleague puts it. But in another light it might only be a minor conceptual shift. It is certainly inline with the practical realities at universities that are not deploying Google accounts. The staff and students at those universities simply use Google like any other external web service when required. One that is not limited by the University-wide settings or legalities over an account that in reality is on loan to them and never really ‘owned’ by the user who’s identity it actually is!

A BYO account has longer term benefits for transient people in the university, such as students, casual and part time staff – which I hear is most of us now.

leigh5

“There’s nothing casual about casual employment. The working conditions experienced by tens of thousands of casual academics in Australia’s public and private universities demonstrate that casualisation, as an employment strategy, is both widespread and systemic.” Source: NTEU Website

 

Celebrate the awareness

To conclude this never ending libertarian dilemma then, if it is deemed inappropriate that an offshore advertising corporation with links to foreign surveillance agencies has deep ties to the research data and communications within a university; and if the university that is using that service does not enable the full features of that service anyway – thereby impacting on the productivity, professional identity and portfolio of its staff and graduates, it might be better to do away with the limited service and make arrangements for services that do better in terms of data sovereignty and personal responsibility and control (if that exists, look to the open source, open data and hacker communities for committed innovation in this space).

So, the university drops Google so that we can use Google. Better still, the university seeks out a partnership and invests in communication and documentation services that genuinely give us some options outside the profit and surveillance driven motives. In the meantime, we might make it our responsibility to raise awareness around all of this. We’ll design learning activities and assessment tasks that help people manage their online identities and establish life-long learning efficacy. And we’ll celebrate the readiness of our staff and graduates by citing the confidence of their online work practices and the self evident strength of their portfolios…

 

*Note: “An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube” by Michael Wesch may not be currently available due to copyright challenges in your country.

 


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RMIT Learning & Teaching for Sustainability Teaching Fellowships – a celebration, and tips for applicants

This week Thembi Mason, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, in the College of Design and Social Context, and Dr. Jude Westrup,  Senior Advisor, Strategic Initiatives, Learning and Teaching from the Office of Dean, Learning and Teaching, at RMIT University, interview two academics on their “RMIT Learning & Teaching for Sustainability Teaching Fellowships” (Pilot) 2014 project.
 
Two RMIT Learning and Teaching for Sustainability (LTfS) Teaching Fellowships were awarded in 2014, one to Dr Yoko Akama (School of Media and Communications – DSC) and the other to Dr James Wong (School of Property Construction & Project Management – DSC). Yoko and James kindly agreed to share their experiences in winning the award, what their proposals were about, what they learned and what tips they would give to others considering applying for a Fellowship. In 2015 there will be funding available for three Learning & Teaching for Sustainability Teaching Fellowships – one for each Academic College. 
 
The primary focus of the LTfS Teaching Fellowships is on developing strategic, high-quality curriculum resources and learning activities, created in collaborative and innovative ways with industry-focuses. They not only advance LTfS in the curriculum across RMIT, within their specific discipline, but also within their industry or profession and across the global tertiary sector. In addition, they enhance the student learning experiences and outcomes in relation to sustainability and graduate employment outcomes.
Designing future designers: Pedagogy of building capacity in designing for complex social and environmental issues Implementing lessons learned from the development and delivery of a blended course on ‘Sustainability in the Built Environment’ at broader program level
 Yoko_smlDr Yoko Akama (top left) with Communication Design students) The TeamDr James Wong (right) with research assistant, Linnea Eriksson
What was your proposal?

My proposal built on a course we piloted with final year Communication Design students in 1st semester 2014. Developed in partnership with Oxfam’s Design for Change program, students designed communication strategies to engage Australian youth on climate change and food security. The teaching integrated my research expertise and introduced human-centred design methods to assist students’ learning of design’s role in addressing complex issues.Consolidating its fruitful outcome and Oxfam’s enthusiasm to continue the successful partnership, I evaluated the pilot program through feedback from students and Oxfam staff. This was then strengthened further with a literature review to integrate social and sustainable principles into the curricula. I undertook several workshops with various stakeholders to call upon a range of expertise in Oxfam, RMIT and beyond to ensure evaluation and critical input to deliver internationally relevant curricula.

How did you feel, when you found out that you’d won the fellowship?Very pleased and grateful – the timing was perfect! It also meant that the program we could develop with Oxfam would be stronger and they were really thrilled with the news as well.

What was your experience of the process for submitting for a sustainability fellowship?

The time when the call came through the e-mail to when the application was due was very short. I had to pull all stops, work evenings and weekends to get the application done, but it was worth it. I’m used to pressured deadlines ;-p

What would you recommend to others who might be considering applying?

I would recommend people to play to their strengths, build on their current research and teaching practice.

What did you learn through the fellowship project you proposed?

It was great to have consolidated time to thoroughly examine sustainability and social innovation in design from literature, case studies and experiences of those who are teaching it now. This was a great learning experience.

What would you do differently next time?

If I could do it differently next time, I would like to involve more people, through discursive and generative workshops. We only ran three workshop sessions in the end, and each one felt like there was more that could’ve been shared and iterated.

What does winning the fellowship means to you?

Winning the Fellowship meant that I could explore and deepen my approach and knowledge on how sustainability can be taught in design. It felt like a philosophical quest, actually, and very rewarding too.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank the Learning and Teaching for Sustainability project (Office of Dean, Learning & Teaching) and RMIT’s Sustainability Committee for this initiative, and I hope it continues from strength to strength into the future.

What was your proposal?

The aim of the project was to implement lessons learned from the development and delivering of the ‘Sustainability in the Built Environment’ course into the Master of Energy Efficient and Sustainable Building which will be offered in 2015 within the Construction Management Program. This course will be delivered in conjunction with the Master program.The project explored the viability of the delivery mode of the course in implementing it to other courses in the Masters program; exploring ways and methods in enhancing student learning for online course through implementing virtual collaborate problem-based workshop; and to explore possibilities in implementing online real-time case studies with building industries.

How did you feel, when you found out that you’d won the fellowship?I was really excited and encouraged by the fact that important issues for sustainability in teaching and learning have been acknowledged.

What was your experience of the process for submitting for a sustainability fellowship?It has been a challenging experience but the process has been a pleasant one with the encouragement, support and advises from the school.

What would you recommend to others who might be considering applying?Prepare early, consult relevant people in your school and excited about sustainability in tertiary education.

What did you learn through the fellowship project you proposed?

The project has helped to extend my knowledge and understanding in developing and delivering online courses in construction management programs.

What would you do differently next time?Prepare proposal with industry inputs/advise.

What does winning the fellowship means to you?It has encouraged me to plan for submitting proposals to relevant external research funding.

If you are interested in applying for a Learning and Teaching for Sustainability (LTfS) Teaching Fellowship details will be made available in January 2015. For more information email the L&T Sustainability Group

However, here are some planning points you may like to consider:

Does the project proposal:
  Address at least one priority area derived from the RMIT Strategic Plan and Sustainability Action Plan?
  Show that there is support by the school or college?
  Have a budget compliant with accounting standards and which uses current salary scales?
  Show evidence of consultation with relevant stakeholders including the ODLT including LTfS Project Manager where relevant?
You will need to demonstrate:
a. Demonstration of clear potential to improve student learning experiences, outcomes and employment opportunities in relation to LTfS
b. Evidence of a clear return on investment, by demonstrating the potential for application in areas of the university beyond their immediate context
c. Demonstration of the ability to deliver project outcomes within approved timeframes and with requested resources (table format)
d. Demonstration of the need for the project, including reference to previous relevant projects, published literature and LTfS context
e. Demonstration of sound project design and methodology
f. Demonstration of how the impact of the project will be evaluated (e.g. by improved data in PARS or by improved CES or other LTfS metrics or indicators)
g. Demonstration of how knowledge and best practice from the LTfS Fellowship project will be shared and disseminated

These Teaching Fellowships are an integral component of a LTfS project that is reinvigorating and creating new curriculum resources, professional development (PD) and interactive LTfS experiential learning resources in alignment with RMIT’s Sustainability Policy and action items from the RMIT Sustainability Action Plan (to 2020)  and our Graduate Attributes

 


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Openness in Dunedin

This week Howard Errey, Educational Developer in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, shares his thoughts on the upcoming Ascilite conference in Dunedin.

 I am looking forward to attending the Ascilite conference (Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education)  for the first time, at the end of November in Dunedin, New Zealand. I will be presenting a sharing practice session on The LMS and the alternatives, mainly telling stories we have collected  through the year-long project and hopefully opening discussions around similar experiences.

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station – Photo Credit, n0cturbulous @ flickr

Dunedin seems like a small town a long way away from anywhere. Why get excited about a conference there?

For me Dunedin is an important place in the history of online learning and in particular the history of open courseware. It was way back in 2008 that Otago Polytechnic with the involvement of Leigh Blackall signed up to make all their learning content creative commons. From my point of view at the time working in a TAFE in Australia that held a very closed and proprietary view of its content, this seemed like a revolutionary step. It certainly put Otago Polytechnic and therefore for me, Dunedin, on the map.

I am curious about my own organisation, RMIT University’s approach to open resources. While it is on the Ed technology ‘roadmap’ I don’t see a lot of activity in using open source content. For example I am yet to see courses from the National VET Content Repository sitting in one of our courses. I may well be looking in the wrong places. The importing or exporting of learning objects is not part of the formal LMS training here. Certainly good numbers from RMIT have attended the Converge conference where the national repository is heavily promoted.

Part of the issue may be the nature of ‘share alike’ licencing. Once an organisation uses creative commons object there is some obligation to share modified content back into the system with open source licencing. For some staff it is probably ends up coming down to a decision that it is easier not to go there.

One useful work-around I have heard about is an Australian university that encourages adjuncts to place their learning content in Wikiversity where content is open. Content is then visible via a wireframe in Moodle, thus circumventing copyright restrictions of building content in the university LMS. Adjuncts often consider themselves as consultants to the university rather than employees and this is a great way to let them know their knowledge is valued, without it being locked down as university owned copyright.

In the mean time I have raised the possibility of teaching about learning objects and SCORM with our LMS trainer Michael Fedyk. As it happens Michael’s favourite place is Dunedin. He tells me there are lots of good reasons to go there, particularly Speight’s brewery. Michael is also a Flickr enthusiast and tells me that the Dunedin Railway Station is the second most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere, after the Sydney Opera House. Thanks to Michael for making his photo of the station available with Creative Commons Share Alike licence!


You can read about Otago Polytechnic’s approach to copyright here.

 


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RMIT’s 2014 Learning and Teaching Expo

Posted by: Meaghan Botterill,  Senior Coordinator, Educational Technology Integration, e-Learning Strategy and Innovation Group, RMIT University.

Click on the image to register for the event.

Click on the image to register for the event.

RMIT’s annual Learning and Teaching Expo is on 2-3 September, 2014. This is a great opportunity to catch up on what is happening both nationally and locally in learning and teaching. Last year the Expo was a great success, so come and join colleagues from across the university to discuss and explore innovative practices that enhance student learning outcomes.

This year’s theme, Designing Teaching, Creating Learning, explores how good teaching design and pedagogical practices create and enhance student learning opportunities and outcomes. There will be an extensive range of speakers, presentations and workshops from across RMIT and the program features the following guests:

  • Professor James Arvanitakis from the University of Western Sydney who was the 2012 Prime Minister’s Teacher of the Year award winner. James’ passion and enthusiasm for teaching is apparent to any of you who have ever seen him present before. He is continually looking for ways to make connections with his students and to make learning relevant, accessible and exciting.
  • Professor Ruth Wallace is the Director of the Northern Institute, at Charles Darwin University. Her particular interests are related to undertaking engaged research that improves outcomes for stakeholders in regional and remote Australia. Ruth has extensive experience in innovative delivery of compulsory, post-school and VE programs in regional and remote areas across Northern Australia.
  • Associate Professor Nicolette Lee is from Victoria University and she is a 2013 OLT National Senior Teaching Fellow. Her project, Capstone curriculum across disciplines, synthesises theory, practice and policy to provide practical tools for curriculum design. It builds on previous and current work in the sector to identify capstone innovations and models-in-use, how standards might be demonstrated through a range of approaches, and providing publicly available and comprehensive practical tools for staff.
  • Associate Professor John Munro is from the University of Melbourne. John’s research, teaching and publications are in the fields of literacy and mathematics learning, and learning difficulties, learning internationally, gifted learning, professional learning and school improvement. His focus on neurology and the brain form the basis of designing explicit teaching strategies to create learning in diverse student cohorts.
This is a great opportunity to learn more about learning and teaching and what we as educators can do to design teaching to create learning and thus enhance student learning outcomes. Registration is essential. The full program and registration form are available here.

Learning and Teaching Expo 

Date: Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 September
Time: 9am to 4.30pm
Venue: Storey Hall, Building 16, City campus
Cost: Free

Registration: Essential
Registrations close Wednesday, 27 August 2014.
Register here now.

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Social networks at work

Sian Dart, Coordinator, Learning Repository, University Library, RMIT University
Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching, College of Design & Social Context, RMIT University &
Howard Errey, Educational Developer, College of Design & Social Context, 
RMIT University.

yam·mer

verb (used without object)

Watercooler close-up

Are services like Yammer the water coolers of the modern workplace?

1. to whine or complain.
2. to make an outcry or clamour.
3. to talk loudly and persistently.
yammer. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged.

This week’s post is structured a little differently from most tomtom posts…

Sian had already sketched-out her thoughts on Yammer but we also posted a question (on Yammer) to our institution (‘What is Yammer good for?’) and we received over a dozen replies that shaped this post: if you’re in a rush just read the Yammer screen-grabs!

Jon: I was expecting the definition of ‘yammer’ to be much more neutral (meaningless chat?) — surprised that it has this element of complaint.

Sian: Aren’t all social networks used to whine and complain? It’s appropriate! However, I think the most accurate is probably number three, at least for RMIT’s implementation. The small quantity of posters contrasted with a larger number of ‘lurkers’ means that those of us who do post are quite loud and influential on the network, I think.

Howard: It’s not exactly a friendly origin (interesting that it’s related to the German for ‘lamentation’) although perhaps that doesn’t matter — it’s a memorable brand.
What is Yammer? 
For a few years now, Yammer’s been in use at our institution and while it’s the platform that we’ll be talking about in this post, there are many other enterprise-based social platforms that might be in use at your institution or workplace. These include SocialcastSocialtext and Corus — some of these are niche products and they’ll use different organising principles but here’s a quick definition from one of the players in this space, Igloo:
It’s like having your own secure, private version of Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox designed for your business – without the oversharing.
Yammer uses a time-stamped discussion board interface and allows you to broadcast to the entire Catherine and SimonYammer group or to sets of people. You can also follow people which results in their posts being prioritised in your feed. Let’s look at Sian’s thoughts on the platform:
Sian: Here’s my list of ‘Stuff that happens on Yammer’ in no particular order with a quick comment for each.
1. Event promotion
I’m not sure how much take-up arises from these, as opposed to the constant all-staff promotional emails, but it’s good being able to comment on these things instead of just have them broadcast.
2. Self promotion
When staff are getting involved in community events, exhibiting or performing, Yammer is a perfectly valid billboard for potentially interested audiences. The reach is different to putting up a poster in the student union/staffroom, but the intent is the same.
3. Interesting Stuff I Found On the Internet
Like all social media, Yammer is a great place to share, albeit under very obvious filters of ‘safe for work’ and ‘appropriate for work’. (More sensible people than I would point out that all social media should be aimed at that level, for the sake of job safety and future employability!) I encounter a multitude of links every day from my peer learning network, and some of the things I find aren’t necessarily relevant to my work, but I know they’ll be of interest to the RMIT community. And if I know they’re specifically interesting to one person, I can ‘tag’ them and make sure they know about it. Sure, I could just email them the link directly, but who needs more email? And that David and Mattwould stop others serendipitously encountering the article in turn.
4. Private Groups
Yammer provides for private or open groups to be created – for example, we have a Library Staff group, in which we discuss things we think will be of interest mainly to librarians (although it’s astonishing how interested in libraries some of our non-library staff seem to be!).
5. Public Groups
These include the RMIT BUG (Bicycle Users Group) which any Yammer member can join. Joining a group gives you the ability to see the posts from that group and post to it.
6. Help!
Doreen CommentThis is definitely an area where Yammer proves its value. It allows someone to reach out to a community made up of a wide range of staff, and seek expertise, opinion, or understanding of processes within the university. You may not receive an answer, but you might get 10, or you might get the name of someone to contact who could give you an answer — it’s worth a try! I think this service alone, while it does mean you have to admit to potentially all of your colleagues at the entire university that you have a problem, or don’t know something, or need assistance, justifies the staff time spent on Yammer. I love being able to promote a library service, or better yet, the service I run within the library when I have the solution to someone’s specific need. I think it’s way better marketing than a poster or email because it’s direct, targeted and responsive.
7. Networking
I don’t go to too many RMIT events, but every event I’ve been to in the last few years, someone’s introduced themselves and said “I see you on Yammer”. So I guess my name is getting out there after all, it’s a real-name social network – and hopefully it’s mostly good – but each time, I’m reminded that I’ve got more reach than I think I do. (See next: ‘Lurkers’.)
8. Lurking
Well, who knows what these guys get up to. I know they’re there. Every now and again a colleague or a manager will pull me aside and say “Hey, I like what you said there,” or ask me about something I know I’ve only Yammered, despite never seeing them interact with Yammer at all. I guess they must enjoy seeing the discussions, but either kaidaviddon’t have time to interact, don’t have strong opinions, or simply have a fear of putting themselves out there — internet shy!
9. Informal learning and sharing
A lot of useful knowledge is gained via what we learn about each other and what we do in a site like Yammer. By following someone I meet in the Bicycle Users Group I can also get to know about a new part of what happens in the organisation. It’s a bit like walking into the tea room and overhearing or joining in an important work conversation that happens to arise.  Without that informal linking, a lot of useful knowledge remains static.
10. Less email
This has got to be one of the biggest benefits of Yammer. Why send around a bunch of emails when we can all share stuff in a Yammer group? This usage would be particularly helped if line managers used the service effectively. Material is more easily shared into the most appropriate contexts and it also increases transparency.
11. Information filtering
Amy and Sian CommentEver heard the complaint that there is too much information? Yammer-like tools allow us to follow the people who are good at scanning and filtering the information that is most relevant to the organisation. I just need to find and follow some of those useful people rather than try and know everything that is going on myself. Following a few librarians on Yammer can be good for that!
Howard: Agree with the points above and here are two more before we get on to the fine print!
12. Productivity and efficiency
It’s no wonder that Microsoft bought Yammer for $1.2 billion. The primary reason that this type of tools gets adopted in organisations and institutions is the way it improves the bottom line with faster and easier work practices. It probably saves some paper too.

13. Modelling Collaborative Learning
In online learning environments we want our students to be work collaboratively — we can better help them do this if we practice what we preach. Yammer provides a powerful reminder of the way that collaboration can be harnessed to improve engagement, learning and enjoyment.

The Disadvantages 
Yammer type tools need support from above to really succeed. This includes both setting the example and leading organisational and cultural change, to adopt whichever social intranet is chosen. Yammer itself is very easy to get started in that it can organically start without any formal adoption or support. This is also problematic in that important information (either for reasons of IP or other legal sensitivities) can end up with Yammer — and it can be costly to get it back out. So collaboration on sensitive issues needs to be considered and it helps if there is a clear usage policy. Yammer can also be expensive compared with the David Ralternatives.

The Alternatives
Tools like SocialcastSocialtext and Corus can work at least as well as Yammer and have the advantage of being completely contained social intranets; they exist only on the company servers, so there is no question of locating the data. The free version we use of Yammer for instance prevents us from one of the collaboration opportunities that might be most fruitful — the use of the system with our colleagues in Vietnam and other RMIT locations around the world. 

Corus has the added advantage of being applicable for education contexts, having been designed with education in mind, and has already been used in a couple of large scale activities with RMIT students.

Jon: Picking up on couple of points from Sian and Howard, a lot of the discussion here seems to run parallel to the problems we have with students’ engagement in Learning Management Systems:
As educators we’d probably like to see students interacting on a discussion board in Blackboard rather than in a Facebook group that we’re not aware of and not invited into…we’d like students who might have accepted an offer but aren’t due to arrive on campus for another couple of months to be able to sign into a social platform and begin building those links, and even to begin learning (or teaching their peers)…we’d like the kind of mentoring opportunities that could happen between years, between programs, between campuses in a system that could hold student work in shareable portfolios…
Because we’re all split between a number of services and workflows, is Yammer (or something like it) the right match for Google’s suite of apps? I’ll continue to use Yammer to promote this blog and upcoming events but I think this is only the beginning of a different style of work that we’re in the middle of. I’ll leave it to Sian to sign off with some concluding thoughts.

Sian: A tentative conclusion…

If your institution has signed up for Yammer, you simply go to yammer.com and sign in — you’ll automatically get to the right network, because you’ll be authorised by the domain on your email address. If your institution isn’t involved yet, anyone can start it up — but getting people to use it can take a bit more work.

HowardThe Library holds internal training sessions every now and then on Yammer (What is it? Why should I use it? How do I use it?) and Yammer of course suggests we invite colleagues every time we log in to the website, so I guess it grows virally — but having said that, it’s not for everyone. Some staff remain uncomfortable with aspects of sites like Yammer, just as people have different relationships with services like Facebook and Twitter.

So it is what you make it. Some institutions have very active involvement at the Executive level; it’s a way that they can keep in touch with day to day things happening in the business. And it’s only natural that some groups and users will be more active than others. I’ve talked about the Library group because I can see it, but there’s a lot more going on than what I see.

The main thing is, everyone has a voice. It’s more accessible than the official channels (like email and RMIT Update — though these obviously have their place) and it’s for everyone, regardless of rank or role.

Thanks to Catherine, Simon, David G, David R, Matt, Doreen, Amy & Kai for allowing us to republish their comments from Yammer.

Share your thoughts about Yammer in the comments section! Or on Yammer!


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Publishing your teaching: disseminating practice for continual improvement

Posted by:
Dallas Wingrove, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching & Miranda Francis, Liaison Librarian, School of Property, Construction & Project Management, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Students on campus at RMIT.Once the marking period is over and results are lodged, there is thankfully at least some time to catch your breath and begin to allocate a sustained period of time to your research and publications.

Understandably, teachers and lecturers frequently plan to use the non-teaching period for their research and writing, commonly focused on their discipline. Yet, for a range of reasons, fewer write about their teaching practice.

Whilst many feel confident to research and publish from within their discipline, with the exception of those from within the discipline of Education, writing about your teaching might seem daunting, less familiar and for some, it may not even be on the radar.

So, how can your university support you to engage with the learning and teaching literature?

At RMIT, your Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching (SALT) and Liaison Librarians are publishing within this field and can provide you with practical support and direct you to a suite of useful resources.

Our Library offers a range of practical, up-to-date resources which include two key subject guides: one on publishing your research and the second on resources for Learning and Teaching:

Publishing your ResearchStudents at work at RMIT.
http://rmit.libguides.com/publishingresearch

Online Resources for Learning and Teaching
http://rmit.libguides.com/learningandteaching

Beyond accessing these resources, each School in this university has a Liaison Librarian. Liaison Librarians are subject specialists. They can help you to use these resources to find relevant, accurate information.
http://www.rmit.edu.au/library/librarians

In addition, your Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching can also provide advice on current thinking and research and can also provide feedback to support you to reflect on your teaching practice. SALTs can also guide you through the ethics approval process and may also collaborate with you to co-author a paper.

Research in Learning and Teaching

Research into your teaching practice can include course and program assessment, action research and peer feedback on teaching. Your research can encompass professional development, such as how you can enhance your teaching expertise. It may also encompass the study and implementation of pedagogy such as active learning and problem based learning.

Research methods may include reflection and analysis, interviews with your students and focus groups, questionnaires and surveys, content analysis, observational research and case studies.

Importantly, you can also integrate current and emerging research developments from within your discipline into your teaching practice, such as through assessments, face to face and online teaching. The practice of gathering meaningful student feedback will not only enable you to write up your practice, but also offers a vital data source to inform your review of curriculum for improvement.

Areas to consider writing about based on your teaching include:

  • Reflecting on new ways of working/a  change in practice

  • Reflecting on feedback from your students

  • Reporting and evaluating your assessment design

  • Utilising new learning spaces

  • Offshore teaching

  • Integrating teaching, students’ learning and work

  • Teaching /Research Nexus

  • HDR supervision

  • Peer Partnerships

  • Transition

  • English Language Development

  • Cross Disciplinary Teaching

  • Team Teaching

  • Technologies to enhance learning

  • Teaching-Industry partnerships

Where to next?

For those of you who are contemplating dipping your toe in the water, or for the more experienced researchers  in learning and teaching, we hope you may consider taking the time to review these resources and to share these with your peers.

Each College at RMIT also provides a range of support and professional development activities for staff to research and publish, so check with your Deputy Head Research to find relevant support staff and resources.

Writing about your teaching practice delivers many benefits which can also apply to preparing for a teaching award or for the academic staff promotion process.

As teachers, you bring to the table your practical experience and commitment to quality teaching and learning.

So, why not use your experience and knowledge and write about your practice?

In doing so, you will not only disseminate your work and produce outputs but you will further enhance your teaching practice.

Share your thoughts about writing about your own practice in the comments and remember that you can also follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/teachingtomtom

Procrastination

Posted by: Meredith Seaman, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University. 

Academics can sometimes hold very negative perceptions of students as lazy and question their ability to meet deadlines and submit assignments on time. Academics can even be a bit gleeful in their enthusiasm in coming up with rules and penalties for late submission. Reinforcing deadlines is critical if we are trying to teach students about the realities of the workforce, but can’t we all relate to students who struggle with time management or procrastination? If we’re being honest, don’t we all struggle with deadlines and more specifically procrastination on difficult tasks like writing articles? I’ve noticed for myself that writing can prompt anxieties and very similar avoidance strategies that I had sadly practised back as a student. Of course, very real issues including illness, unrealistic goals and workloads get in the way, but we’re also all well aware of a host of procrastination techniques in ourselves and observed in others.

I surveyed colleagues and friends to find out a bit more about how they procrastinate and whether they have any useful (online) tools or strategies that might help them avoid procrastinating. Finally I begin to consider how we might better support students to stop procrastinating and submit on time.

I wonder if procrastination needs much introduction…

I don’t know if there is anyone who doesn’t sometimes procrastinate. For me, when procrastinating, I go to the internet and social media tools. The most mundane of internet games and the worst of television shows all take on new importance. Research has demonstrated that technologies can similarly tempt students to procrastinate and it shouldn’t surprise us that they’ve also demonstrated links between Facebook and procrastination.

Yet it isn’t a new phenomenon

I used to bake cookies before Facebook and iPads, Candy Crush and Pinterest. I have the recipe written down in my recipe book as “procrastination cookies”. So a Facebook restriction will result in other types of procrastination. Cooking, cleaning, sleeping… — Erica

file000184731991

Before the internet, as my friend Erica says, there was cleaning and baking. Tax returns might even get done if avoiding writing or marking papers. If these can be kept in hand, tasks (like setting up a conducive working space) can be appropriate precursor activities before sitting down to get through some marking for instance. Many people have rituals they have to go through before sitting down to work.

In ‘Waiting for the motivation fairy’ Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner (2011) also remind us that procrastination can be ‘far more subtle, and can even be taken for productive work’ such as digging up elusive references, starting new projects or experiments, chasing up elusive but perhaps unnecessary references, checking emails.

Is it necessarily a bad thing?cleaning

We certainly need breaks. Breaks are essential for deep thinking and assimilation of ideas and concepts, critical for creativity, to occur. Walking, gardening or other simple repetitive tasks not taking much concentration can help the creative process. Productive and creative ‘types’ throughout history have often taken dramatic steps to increase their productivity and avoid procrastination, some common elements include daily set periods of work, clear targets of how many words to achieve, but they also had breaks such as time out for day jobs and long walks.

It’s important to think about why you might be procrastinating and not be too judgemental or hard on yourself:

Reward yourself for work done. Punishment never works, it just creates more procrastination. Sometimes laughing helps to, to take the pressure off: I love PhD comics. Oh, and getting to know the difference between avoiding because you’re lazy, and avoiding because you’re actually on the brink of a brainwave… — Lisa

I think the unconscious aspects of self sabotage often need to be addressed carefully rather than becoming stentorian with oneself… — Fiona

Sometimes we may just be stuck on something or need to approach a different way. Other times a task may be overwhelming or crippling, and strategies are needed to address the procrastination.

filing

Are there any solutions?

One colleague successfully uses Pomodoro as her procrastination avoidance tool. In brief, it’s a pre-set strict period of work, using a timer, where interruptions are carefully managed with breaks interspersed. Another finds it really useful to get up very early in the morning at the same time each day to write. The lack of interruptions and being a bit less awake may actually be a benefit to productivity in his case. Some people have joined support networks such as “Shut up and Write” where interested people meet at a cafe and write in short bursts and then have a chat to each other as well.

Kearns and Gardiner identify three techniques which provide a good summary of key practices to hold procrastination at bay:

1) big projects need to be broken down into steps (perhaps even tiny ones)

2) set a time deadline by which to perform that tiny step

3) build in an immediate reward.

Implications for assessment design

If we think about assessment design in the context of the conditions that may contribute to procrastination, then as academics, we would want to avoid setting unclear tasks; tasks without any progress points or milestones and tasks that feel too big and complex to get started. They may all affect student motivation and their ability to make a start. If ‘action leads to motivation, which in turn leads to more action’ (Kearns and Gardiner, 2011) then designing assessment that encourages students to get started makes sense. So think about breaking up some big assessments into smaller components with earlier due dates to get students started and on the right track. Provide them with feedback, early on. Even better: work with your students to help them to break up the assessment tasks. Also, think about rewards versus the perceived ‘threat’ or pressures associated with assessment tasks.

coffeeIf redesigning your assessment for the next semester seems like a big task at the moment, don’t put it off! Break it down, set some dates and reward yourself!

Thanks to Fiona Collins, Lisa Farrance and Erica Walther for their input into this post.

References and more information:

Share your thoughts and strategies in the comments!


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