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Photograph of office buildings at Holborn Circus

Holborn Circus – I was struck by the different angles of the buildings

Themes

For me two big themes came to mind after this year’s Future of Technology in Education Conference (FOTE). Firstly, around creativity, innovation and co-creation; and secondly about how fundamental data and analytics is becoming.

Creativity, innovation and co-creation

Several of the speakers talked about innovation and creativity.  Dave Coplin talked of the value of Minecraft and Project Spark and the need to create space for creativity, while Bethany Koby showed us examples of some of the maker kits ‘Technology Will Save Us’ are creating.

Others talked of ‘flipping the classroom’ and learning from students as well as co-creation and it was interesting in the Tech start-up pitchfest that a lot of the ideas were student-created tools, some working in the area of collaborative learning.

Data and analytics

The second big trend for me was about analytics and data.  I was particularly interested to see how many of the tools and apps being pitched at the conference had an underlying layer of analytics.  Evaloop which was working in the area of student feedback, Knodium – a space for student collaboration, Reframed.tv – offering interaction and sharing tools for video content, Unitu – an issues tracking tool and MyCQs – a learning tool, all seemed to make extensive use of data and analytics, while Fluency included teaching analytics skills.  It is interesting to see how many app developers have learnt the lessons of Amazon and Google of the value of the underlying data.

Final thoughts and what didn’t come up at the conference

I didn’t hear the acronymn MOOC at all – slightly surprising as it was certainly a big theme of last year’s conference.  Has the MOOC bubble passed? or is it just embedded into the mainstream of education?  Similarly Learning Analytics (as a specific theme).  Certainly analytics and data was mentioned (as I’ve noted above) but of Learning Analytics – not a mention, maybe it’s embedded into HE practice now?

Final thoughts on FOTE.  A different focus to previous years but still with some really good sessions and the usual parallel social media back-channels full of interesting conversations. Given that most people arrived with at least one mobile device, power sockets to recharge them were in rather short supply.

Friday in early October, so it must be time for ULCCs Future of Technology in Education at Senate House in London. I’ve been fortunate to be able to go several times, but it is always a scramble to get one of the scarce tickets when they are released on Eventbrite during August. They often seem to get released when I am away on holiday so I’ve sat in a variety of places and booked a ticket for FOTE.

The conference usually gives a good insight into the preoccupations of educational technologists at a particular time. In some ways I know I tend to use it as a bit of a checklist as much as being a conference that surfaces completely new things. So it is a case of looking at the trends and thinking about how that is relevant to us, what are we doing in that area, are there other things we need to be thinking about.

Current preoccupations in this area are certainly around practicalities, ethics etc of learning analytics. Interesting to see that Arkivum are here with a stand, that recognises a current preoccupation around Research Data Management.

I know I haven’t been blogging much since the Summer, mainly due to too many other things going on, a new library management system and discovery system implementation primarily. So I want to find a bit of time to reflect on FOTE and our new LMS.

IMG_0024.JPG

FOTE 2012 app screenshot“When did someone from Amazon last come round to your door and say sorry, we’ve changed the interface, would you like some training?” (Dave Coplin from Bing, at FOTE 2012).

I’ve blogged before about the idea that you shouldn’t have to give your users training for them to be able to use your website, so it was quite interesting to hear someone from a large IT company like Bing say pretty much the same thing at FOTE the other week.  And Dave Coplin’s presentation is worth catching up with on the FOTE mediasite (link at the bottom of this blog post).

It was my second time at FOTE and last time one of my reflections was on the amount of effort they had put into getting android and iOS apps for the conference.  So there was a similar set of apps this year, in green rather than yellow and it was certainly good to have everything together in a nice neat app.  One thing though I did notice was that the attendance list in the app was a bit sparse with names.  Not quite sure why but presumably people had to opt-in to have their names included.  In some ways that was a shame as it made it difficult to find out who was there – I only realised that someone who works in the same building as me was at the conference when they asked a question from the audience.  Although a lot of the networking at conferences these days takes place on social networks, mainly twitter and Google Plus, while the conference is taking place, it’s still good to have access to a list of delegates.

Learning Analytics
The first presentation by Cailean Hargrave from IBM talked largely about their work in the area of Learning Analytics, using an example from FE. It was really interesting to see a fully worked through example of the power and reach of learning analytics.  To see the tool being used to drive a portal for staff, students and employers, throughout the student journey was fascinating.  To see examples of how it could be used to make suggestions to students on what they might do to improve their grades I think was really eye-opening and really touched on some of the potentially scary elements of Learning Analytics.  It goes a long way beyond recommendations into areas where you are trying to shape particular behaviours and touches on some of the ethical issues that have been raised about learning analytics.

Research Data
I was also really interested to hear about Figshare a cloud-based respository for researchers data, that plays into the whole open research data agenda, mentioning the recent Royal Society ‘Science as an open enterprise‘ paper and the push by funders towards open access of research data.  The model for the system seems to be supported through a tie-up with an academic publisher and it will be really interesting to see whether this is a sustainable model.  It’s certainly another alternative for researchers and at a time when many institutions are still gearing themselves up to deliver research data management systems is an interesting alternative solution.

FOTE
For a short one-day conference FOTE packed in a wide range of content, from ipads in learning, through game-based learning, to ebooks and a debate on the hot topic of ‘MOOCs’ Massively Open Online Courses.  Some good things to take away from the day.

Presentations from FOTE are all available from:

http://events.mediasite.com/Mediasite/Catalog/Full/9186666a02e542ea9d840c37bfaa19e321

I’ve seen quite a few new ebook developments over the past few days that have caught my attention and look like they will have some form of impact on the personal ebook market that has come to be dominated by the likes of Amazon Kindle.

txtrbeagle
Strange name but a really interesting development in ebook devices.  txtrbeagle has a 5″ e-ink display and is powered by battery.   Ebooks are added to the device through bluetooth, so the device essentially works with an app on your phone.  An android app is available with an iphone app to follow.  The app allows you to transfer ebooks from your mobile to the reader and looks to be positioned as a mobile add-on that offers a more comfortable reading experience than trying to read material on a small phone screen.  Although the storage space is quoted as 4gb that is only sufficient to store 5 books at a time, which seems to imply some form of transformation of the ebook format onto the device if 5 books take up so much space.

What is really interesting about the device is the price.  $13 or 10 Euros.  Almost a giveaway price.  But it opens the world of ebook readers to potentially a wider audience who wouldn’t want to pay $100, have already got a phone, but wouldn’t want to read a book on their phone.  Or lets you, say, control what your children can read on an ebook reader that it so cheap that you are happy for your four-year old to play around with it.

BookShout
Bookshout is a book importer tool that lets you import your books directly from your Amazon or Barnes and Noble account into a single platform.  In itself that’s a great idea, as although tools like calibre can help with managing ebook content from multiple formats, DRM is often a restriction on being able to use the content on different platforms.  But there’s also another layer on top of that idea, which is to add sharing and social features into the tool, with Google+-like circles and the ability to share notes on the book you are reading, which look great for book groups.

The tool seems to have also thought about the perspective of authors and publishers, offering ways for authors to interact with readers and for it to act as a sales and marketing channel.  It’s an intriguing idea and even without the social dimension, offers a potentially useful tool to pull your ebooks into a single bookshelf.

wikipedia and ebooks
Wikipedia have recently announced a feature to allow users to export wikipedia content in an epub ebook format. http://blog.wikimedia.org/2012/09/17/new-e-book-export-feature-enabled-on-wikipedia/  Called the Book creator, the tool lets you select pages or categories of material from wikipedia.  Once you’ve slected your content you can download into a small number of formats including pdf or epub or even order a print-on demand copy.  It’s a useful tool to quickly extract some content for wikipedia that you want to read offline.  The formatting from the epub version I tried was a little messy but all the content was extracted neatly and you end up with something that will work on your ebook reader or Adobe digital editions quite well.

At a presentation at FOTE last week about ebooks it started to become obvious that the idea of offering a feature to allow people to export content from your website in a ebook format, especially epub, is a really sensible idea and something that has interesting applications for repositories and digital libraries.  Packaging the content into a neat and easily consumable package is a really good idea for websites and something that projects like anthologizr are already working on with their eprints ebook work.

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