My #iwmw11 Takeaway

I thought it would be interesting and fun to make my plenary session at IWMW11 a bit more interactive than simply me standing up and waffling in front of a bunch of slides. Here's a few words about what I did and how I did it, plus some feedback from the interactive parts of the talk, and a few observations about this year's IWMW event.

What's with those slides?

In the interest of open standards and interoperability I'll also just take the opportunity to note that my slides are an HTML5 document. This works very nicely in Chrome, Safari and Firefox but has problems with Internet Explorer. In fact, on the lectern PC at IWMW (running IE7) it rendered as a blank screen... I would have expected IE9 to work OK, and this leads me to suspect that my HTML is a bit, well, suspect.

I've found that my presentation style has increasingly been shifting from tools like PowerPoint (and Prezi) to showcasing web material. The upshot of this has been that a typical presentation from me has often consisted of me running through a series of browser tabs to illustrate some general point or demonstrate some new facility. Like many of you reading this I came across the site (now part of Google's Web Fundamentals Program), and thought "hey, this could be quite a nice way of adding a bit of structure". It also has the added attraction of packaging up my collection of hyperlinks into a vaguely coherent whole.

If the idea of writing your presentation in HTML makes you think back to the likes of LaTeX (or even SliTeX), then don't despair - it's not that hard. For example, here is some HTML:

And here is the end result:

If you want to dig a bit deeper, has a nice HTML cheatsheet that shows you how all of those DIVs, IMGs and so on actually work.

I have to apologise in advance for my choice of styles etc - deep down inside I'm a Web 1.0 kind of guy. It's actually over 18 years since I put up my first web server, which is in some ways quite an alarming thought.

Interaction via Twitter

When you are speaking in front of a group of 168 people as at IWMW, it's difficult to have a dialogue. This is something I do occasionally when speaking at conferences and workshops, and I have a great deal of sympathy for University lecturers trying to work with groups of as many as 250 students on a routine basis.

Like many people, at Loughborough we have been experimenting with technology like the excellent voting handsets from Turning Point. Whilst the voting handsets are pretty neat, I suspect that the most tractable approach to engaging with large groups is through the technology that everyone already carries around with them, smartphones in particular.

In the IWMW context it was clear that the vast majority of delegates were using Twitter already. Delegates typically had one or two Internet capable devices on their persons - in some cases significantly more! So, I thought it would be interesting to experiment with a polling approach with results embedded live on my slides, and using Twitter to share the URL of the poll site. Several such services exist, and TwtPoll seemed particularly well suited for my purposes.

To ensure that there would be something for people to see when I initially ran through my slides (and to avoid the embarrassment of a poll with no responses) I publicised the polls before the day of the talk. As Twitter aficionados will know, a carefully chosen hash tag can be helpful to stimulate a dialgue both before and after an event, and this was invaluable for the "amplified" event I organized earlier this year, the Google Apps for Education UK User Group (guug11).

So here's the result of my first TwtPoll. This asked people whether their organization had a Web 2.0 policy:

In the IWMW context it was particularly interesting to me that some attendees didn't know the answer to this question, and some were "rigorously enforcing" theirs. I followed this up, only to discover that rigorous enforcement in practice meant sitting down for a cup of tea with the person who had transgressed - not quite the Spanish Inquisition that I had pictured.

Should I be disappointed that only 28 out of 168 delegates (17%) bothered to vote? I don't think so - that's a whole lot more engagement than we would have had otherwise, and the nuanced results would be difficult to gauge from a simple show of hands. More importantly, it also stimulated some discussion and broke up what might otherwise have been a much duller presentation!

I also asked people who curated their institutional presence on Twitter, Facebook etc - and in particular what would happen if someone replied to an institutional Tweet. Here are the results from that poll:

Again I was particularly interested in the outlying cases, although it was notable that all the respondents indicated that they had some form of institutional presence on Twitter. In the current climate of "downsizing" and in some cases redundancies, I wondered how many institutions had a single person in the invidious position of having to handle any queries that might come in from parents, prospective students, and so on. It's easy to see how this could cause problems (holidays, sick leave etc), and that "me" could quickly turn into "nobody".

Leading by Example

In my IWMW talk I presented some examples of areas where we have working to gather examples of good/best practice of Web 2.0 at Loughborough. This will include a range of services, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. My aim is that this work will also take in institutional use, use by departments and research groups, and personal use - e.g. by academics to promote their research and teaching activities.

We are hoping to capture both examples of tricks and techniques that have worked for people, and the lessons that they have learned from the experience. I expect that there will be a mixture of positive and negative feedback. Here are a few indicative examples, some more prosaic than others:
  • Don't make "friends" with all your students on Facebook!
  • Remember that Twitter replies are public!
  • Decide whether you are using the service in a personal capacity (e.g. my blog at or an institutional capacity - very relevant now that we have institutional Live@edu and Google Apps accounts
  • Know where you stand regarding Intellectual Property rights to any material that you would like to share openly on the Internet
  • Be sure to check the provenance of any Internet sourced material that you would like to use in your teaching - e.g. Creative Commons licensed content and Open Educational Resources from JorumOpen and Xpert are of particular interest here
  • Budget for "freemium" type services, and anticipate future expenditure - e.g. Ning subscription model
  • Have an exit strategy in the event that the site or service you plan to use ceases to trade, e.g. downloading SCORM objects from myUdutu
As we trial Google Apps for staff at Loughborough, the distinction between personal use of the service and an institutionally supported version of the service is very interesting to me. Picking up the earlier example, our staff users are now able to use all 60-odd "consumer" Google services including Blogger and Picasa with their institutional identities. This is exceedingly convenient, however an individual (say) blogging in a personal capacity might well prefer to use a service that wasn't too closely tied to any one institution.

This is a topic that I'll return to as we gather feedback from staff on their use of Google Apps - check out the Google Apps section of my blog, or come to my talk at ALT-C 2011 to hear more.


I'm also pleased that our student portal site, my.Lboro, has been well received by students, with some 600 users since we soft launched earlier this Summer. my.Lboro aims to pull together a range of information relevant to students in their everyday existence at Loughborough that was previously hard to find or even inaccessible online.

We are starting from something of a "green field" because Loughborough's previous portal work has been quite limited in scale and quite domain focused. As a byproduct, we have been able to take advantage of the best of Web 2.0 technologies. Here's what the my.Lboro site looks like, for anyone who's interested (click to enlarge):

A lot of what we are doing with this site is actually driven by RSS - as we progress in our implementation of the Terminal Four Site Manager CMS, each of the University's departments, research groups, support services etc has the opportunity to curate its own RSS feeds. A few of the existing feeds (including general student notices, Students Union News and Events, Library and IT Services news) are gathered together on the my.Lboro site to form a default set of newsfeeds for students:

I expect that over time we will end up with a range of widgets that display individual RSS feeds in slightly different ways, so that there is some opportunity for differentiation. Here is an early example of another RSS powered widget that we have developed to highlight Professional Development training courses. This one will be particularly relevant as we come to trial my.Lboro with staff later this year:

We have also developed widgets using the APIs provided by third party services including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google - you may have noticed the Google Docs widget on the full size screen dump above. Here's a sample of the sort of output you will see via our Twitter widget:

If this interests you, keep an eye on my blog for further updates on my.Lboro.

"The Takeaway"

So far, so good - but what did I personally take away from IWMW11?

I have a particular interest in digital literacy (and would note in passing that JISC are starting up a major new activity in this area), and I find it interesting to consider the extent to which technologies that technologists take for granted have permeated into institutional culture. As I said at the start of my talk, my intuition is that most institutions are still feeling their way with "Web 2.0", and that this is par for the course for any technology that is only a few years old.

I'm also fascinated to see the extent to which the neophiles and early adopters amongst us take up a new technology. In my talk I quote Bill Gross, one of the Twitterati, noting that in a month he has acquired as many Google+ followers as he did in four years on Twitter. Are these people all early adopters? Would they have jumped onto any new bandwagon?

In the context I asked IWMW delegates about their use of Google+, with the results shown below. As Sid quickly spotted, this emphasis also helped to make my talk seem bang up to date! This poll had the best response rate, with 38 votes out of 168 (23%), and people clearly valued the ability to share in a granular way. Interestingly, when I repeated this poll on Google+ there was a tie between question E (apprecation of sharing granularity) and F ("but I mostly post public stuff anyway"), so we may be deceiving ourselves to an extent.

Where Google+ is concerned, neophytes might not have been aware that "Circles" are for personal use only - i.e. you can't create an "IWMW" Circle which other people are then able to use. I hope that Google's new found emphasis on social features means that they are able to provide enough glue to link Google Groups with Google+ as a sharing destination. We'll see what happens about that...

Alarmingly, my prediction that Google+ Hangouts would turn into ChatRoulette has already been validated by PlusRoulette.

Outside of my own immediate interests I was very taken by Brian Kelly's demonstration of Bambuser as a way of very cheaply amplifying an event by live streaming using ordinary consumer grade mobile phone technology. See below for a demo produced using Brian's Android phone, which we passed around the room as he talked. I particularly liked the way that the Bambuser video was live streamed, but also available to view after the event. Very nice!

At Loughborough we have a full strength lecture capture system ("ReVIEW", based on Echo360), and have also been active participants in the Steeple community, which is working with the Opencast Matterhorn project to develop an open source lecture capture system. I've often thought that it would be interesting to complement this by encouraging students to record their own take on lectures, and Bambuser makes this sort of thing laughably simple. Caveat emptor, though, and do be sure to check out the sound quality on this recording...

If I had to pick one other highlight from a very exciting and diverse programme, it would be the contributions from Chris Gutteridge and Dave Challis on open data. This is of particular interest to me because of our JISC Kit-Catalogue project, which is developing a system that institutions can use to catalogue and provide an open data feed of their equipment and facilities.

Kit-Catalogue is part of the JISC Greening ICT initiative, although something of an unusual project - the more typical activities are around data centre power and cooling, power management in PC labs, and suchlike. There has been quite a bit of interest both nationally and internationally in Kit-Catalogue, and from some of our strategic partners - who we already share facilities and equipment with. It will be very exciting to see the new possibilities that emerge as a byproduct of this awareness raising, and whether we are able to save money by sharing facilities on (say) a local or regional basis.

I have to leave the last word to Chris, though, and his excellent exposition on finding cookies at the University of Southampton via the Grinder software - and note that I'm not talking about the EU Directive on Cookies here!

PS You'll need to skip 35 minutes into the video

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