UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for March, 2009

We Need More Critical Friends!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 March 2009

My First Encounter With The Term ‘Critical Friend’

I first came across the term ‘critical friend’ when it was used to describe my colleague Paul Walk when he was interviewed at the JISC-funded Dev8D event. Shortly after the event I noticed the term being tweeted by a number of participants at an e-learning event.

The Critical Friend Network

On further investigation I found the Critical Friends Network which quotes Professor John MacBeath, Professor of Education Leadership, University of Cambridge:

The Critical Friend is a powerful idea, perhaps because it contains an inherent tension. Friends bring a high degree of unconditional positive regard. Critics are, at first sight at least, conditional, negative and intolerant of failure.

Perhaps the critical friend comes closest to what might be regarded as ‘true friendship’ – a successful marrying of unconditional support and unconditional critique.

The Critical Friend’s Network has been funded by the JISC Users and Innovation (U&I) Benefits Realisation programme and aims to build a community of shared effective practice for current and future JISC Programme Critical Friends. Membership of the CF Network is open to Critical Friends, JISC Programme Management and project teams as well as the HE/FE sector as a whole.

Critical Friends I’ve Encountered

The term ‘critical friends’ would seem to be self-explanatory. And I find it a valuable concept to describe, for example, the approaches myself, David Sloan and a number of other accessibility researchers and practitioners have been taking over the past four years in our criticisms of the approaches taken by WAI in the developments of guidelines to enhance the accessibility of Web resources.

Peter Murray-Rust is applying similar critical thinking in a series of blog posts on “Libraries of the Future” which will inform his talk at the ‘Libraries of the Future’ debate to be held at the Bodleian Library on 2 April 2009.

We Need More Critical Friends!

I feel we need more critical friends, especially at a time in which organisations will find funding increasingly difficult to obtain. We can see the need for such critical thinking by looking at recent history, such as the rise and fall of the UK eUniversity, from the HEFCE Press Release published in 2002 described the appointment of the senior management team for the “government-backed initiative to provide online delivery of UK higher education courses to students worldwide and to give improved access to higher education for under-represented groups of students in the UK” through to the The Real Story Behind the Failure of U.K. eUniversity (PDF) which described how “The picture behind the public failure of the UKeU is more complex, interesting and salutary than many reports would suggest“.

Frankie Roberto demonstrated how the role of a critical friend need not be resource intensive when he initiated a discussion on the MCG (Museums Computer Group) JISCMail list with the one-word question “Why?” about the launch of the Creative Spaces service by a group of museums. In the email messages  about this newly launched service, questions were raised as to whether the debate was really needed with the complexities of, for example, copyright issues being suggested as a reason why discussions on an open mailing list where not helpful. Paul Walk responded to this by saying:

So, this thread was started by Frankie Roberto asking the question, “Why?”. His approach, a simple one-word question, was criticised – unfairly I think. Implicit in Frankie’s question is a challenge – it invites someone to explain, very succinctly and convincingly what it is that that Creative Spaces (in its guise as a user-facing application) is for. I think this challenge is well made, and deserves to be answered.

Well-said Paul.  And if the general public can listen to, read about and , if they so desire, engage in discussions about complex issues such as sub-prime markets and global warming professionals in the sector should also be not allowed but encouraged to contribute to the discussions about the networked services we are seeking to develop.

Posted in General | 12 Comments »

Pupils to Study Twitter and Blogs in Primary Shake-up

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 March 2009

Guardian front page (25 March 2009)It was announced in the lead article in yesterday’s Guardian “Pupils to Study Twitter and Blogs in Primary Shake-up” (and note this was the main section of the paper, and not the education supplement).

There have already been a number of blog posts about this headline, ranging from the sceptical (“It’s already bad enough having students checking their mobile phones for text messages every five minutes. Soon they’ll all be Twittering as well!) to the neutral. But in my initial skim though the search results I couldn’t find any positive responses. So I’ll position myself in this space.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers was quoted in the article saying “It [the report] seems to jump on the latest trends such as Wikipedia and Twitter“. So once again, it would seem, defenders of the status quo are dismissive of innovation as being merely trends (the term ‘fads’ is sometimes used in this context) with the implication that is detracts from traditional areas of study.

My view is that there is a need to engage young people from a early age in understanding communications technologies, especially those they are likely to be using before they become adults. And understanding how micro-blogging tools such as Twitter and Yammer (and related technologies such as SMS messages) work, their subtle differences and the ways in which they can be misused is a new media literacy skill which young people need to develop.

Now Andy Powell pointed out that the “twitter terms of service prevent use by primary age children“. But for me this is not a show-stopper: terms of conditions can change and the term “Twitter” may be being used to describes a range of micro-blogging applications and not just the Twitter services itself.

I would expect many in the higher and further education sectors to particularly welcome this news, as ensuring that student arriving at college or university will several years of experience of such technologies should help to ensure that they can make use of such communications and collaborative tools more effectively when begin their studies.

And I find this announcement particularly interesting coming as it does that day after Ewan McIntosh, in the closing plenary talk at the recent JISC09 conference, praised the Twitterers in the audience who were engaging in active learning and discussions during his talk, whilst others were being passive consumers – which is particularly ironic as JISC and many learning developers are actively seeking ways in which innovation can enrich learning experiences. Perhaps in a few year’s time those senior managers will be seeking help from their children – or possibly grand-children – on how to make effective use of such micro-blogging services.

Posted in Blog, Twitter | 6 Comments »

UKOLN and the FE Sector

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 March 2009

A number of years ago, following the announcement that the LSC (Learning and Skills Council) was to be a co-funder of JISC along with the various funding councils the various JISC-funded organisations set about extending their remit to provide support for Further Education (FE) colleges. I was involved, for example, in running several workshops which were organising in conjunction with JISC Regional Support Centres). However following subsequent changes in funding it was suggested to us that we need not be pro-active in engaging with the FE sector.

But recently we have been asked to provide evidence of ways in which we have engaged with the FE sector. Now although some people are uncomfortable with the notion of metrics and impact measures, I am happy to go along with this New Labour phenomenum, as am aware that the people requesting such information have no say over the policy decisions. The question for me is how to gather such evidence, especially as we had felt that there was no need to record such information.

At the recent JISC09 conference I was told that this blog is read by practitioners in the FE sector and it was suggested that the blog may also be embedded in FE college Web sites – who may read the blog without being aware of its provenance.

So if you are in the FE sector and are a regular reader of this blog , have attended any of our talks or workshops, have made use of our QA Focus or Cultural Heritagebriefing documents or have benefitted from UKOLN’s work in other ways (perhaps being influenced by our work in the area of Web accessibility, for example) then please let me know, either by leaving a comment on this post or sending an email message to b.kelly@ukoln.ac.uk.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Blessed Are The Software Developers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 March 2009

I have to admit that at one point I had somewhat of a downer on software developers. I felt that there was a tendency for many in the development community to be driven by ideology rather than than supporting user-needs.  I encountered this amongst the Web community where there was a tendency to be dismissive of software which wasn’t open source, even if it would provide benefits to the users. And similarly open source software was often given an uncritical support, even if it was difficult for typical users to use.

In many respects things have progressed. Open source software is now being evaluated alongside  proprietary solutions and the failings of poor quality open source software  will be acknowledged. And many developers will themselves make use of proprietary software if it provides benefits over closed solutions – look at the popularity of the iPhone, Skype, etc. for example.

I now feel that we should acknowledge the ways in which software developers are making today’s Web environment, in particular, a much richer and easy-to-use environment. But there are still  ideological positions which are being held – in particular the view that light-weight development is to be preferred to ‘enterprise’ solutions and that tangible user benefits can be delivered quickly without the need for large-scale budgets.

The good news is that such views are being supported by the JISC in its Grant Funding Call 03/09: Rapid Innovation Grants. Under this call funding is available for technical rapid innovation projects, lasting up to 6 months. Grants of £15,000 to £40,000 are available for individual projects. The call states, for example, that “Any outputs (prototypes, services and/or code) should strive to maintain a lightweight architecture. Using, for example, ReST, XML over HTTP, Cool URIs, JSON, etc, other machine interfaces such as SOAP will need to be justified in terms of their ease in reuse“.

At a time of an economic recession I am pleased that the JISc is encouraged such initiatives. We still need to recognise, however, that not everthing can be solved in this fashion – there will still be a need for heavy-weight enterprise solutions in certain areas. But I do wonder whether those who many be critical of small levels of funding for IT development work may be those who have vested interests in maintaining power bases and hoping that large-scale investment in funding will tide them over until the econonmy recovers. But am I just being paranoid about this?

Posted in Web2.0 | 4 Comments »

Metrics For Measuring The Impact Of Blogs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 March 2009

I have an interest in approaches to measuring the impact of Web 2.0 services such as blogs – and this is an area of work which is being discussed with our funders, JISC and MLA.

The conventional approach when engaged in such activities could be to carry out a  literature search (which of course these days tends to mean Google, especially for Web-related areas of work).

Sometimes, however, rather than having to search for information, the information comes to you. What do I mean by this? On this blog’s admin page I recently noticed a referrer link from a post on the Intelligent Measurement blog which provided details of the Eleven Evaluation Blogs. This contained a link to a list of 11 blogs that focus on evaluation published by the American Evaluation Association (which included the Intelligent Measurement blog).

Incoming links are normally from pages which have a author-created reference to a post on the blog. However last year WordPress announced a new feature on blogs hosted in WordPress.com which “show[s] posts related to yours a little section at the end [of the post]“.

So resource discovery doesn’t have to mean going to a search engine – instead blog posts of interest to you can arrive in your blog based on the title of and content of your blog posts. So if I write a blog post entitled “Metrics For Measuring The Impact Of Blogs” I might discover incoming links for possibly related posts automatically embedded at the bottom of this post.

It will be interesting to see how well this works.  And will we be able to say that “blessed are the blog authors for they shall find what they seek”?

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »

Attention – Services Unavailable!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 March 2009

Background

Bath University Computing Services (BUCS) is planning engineering work from 4:30 pm on Friday 27 March until 9:00 am on Monday 30th March 2009. This means that no UKOLN Web sites or services will be available for that period. Further information is available on the BUCS Web site.

Dissemination

As a variety of UKOLN services will be unavailable over the period (which is the weekend after next) we will need to ensure that our key stakeholders are informed (including our funders, JISC and MLA) and take steps to ensure that we alert anyone who may be making use of such services over this period – and possibly afterwards, if any unexpected problems are encountered.

Before alerting the key stakeholders we needed to identify affected services. As well as the obvious Web sites on a .ukoln.ac.uk domain there are also the Web sites, such as Exploit Interactive (http://www.exploit-lib.org/) and Cultivate Interactive (http://www.cultivate-int.org/)  which, although they are hosted locally, do not have an obvious dependency on UKOLN servers.

There was also a need to identify other network services besides Web sites. Being unable to send email messages or receive incoming email may be obvious, but do we have any services which rely on automated processing of emails (such as various Listserv mailing lists we host?)  Similarly what about other networked services besides Web and email – what about any LDAP services, streaming video services, Z39.50 services, etc. , etc.? And what about the services outside of Bath which may make use of our services? Will they degrade gracefully if our servers are unavailable over the weekend or mwill such services (which are not only external to us, but we may not even know they exist) fail or timeout as they await a response from our servers?

Having (we hope!) identified the key services we need to disseminate the news of the unavailability of our services and the possible implications for other service providers who have dependencies on our services and the end user communities we need to make use of the various dissemination challenges in order to alert the various affected communities.

Clearly email has an important role to play in communication with the key stakeholders.  And we have provided an alert on UKOLN’s news service, which is also available via RSS. These are the obvious dissemination channels, but what else can we use?

In this blog post about the associated issues (which I’ll expand on in the following section) I’m also alerting readers of this blog (who may also be users of UKOLN – and Bath – services) of the scheduled downtime. And I will also use Twitter to send out an announcement about this post which will be followed by another tweet shortly before the services are brought down.

I’ve also updated the RSS feed for the QA Focus Web site and will do something similar shortly for the Exploit Interactive and Cultivate Interactive news feeds.

General Issues

Twitter posts about ArchivesHub downtimeFor this scheduled downtime we have had time to discuss the implications and make plans for informing our users. And we’ve had useful discussions with other affected parties in the University, including the e-learning unit.  But what about the wider issues such as whether a weekend of service down-time should be regarded as acceptable, whether we should provide mechanisms for prov9ding backup services which aren’t dependent on the local network or even looking to migrate our services to external providers?

We, of course, aren’t alone in having to consider such issues. Last week there were a number of Twitter posts about service problems with a number of MIMAS services including COPAC and the Archives Hub. And although  a MIMAS news item was published when the service was restored I felt that the various tweets which were published when the services first became at risk demonstrated how Twitted can be useful in immediate feedback and also a mechanism for feedback.

Back in January 2008 I wrote a post entitled When Web Sites Go Down which was concerned with the announcement by the University of Southampton that its Web site was down for scheduled maintenance from 2-4th January 2008. In light of the service unavailable of well-established services hosted by prestigious institutions such as the universities of Bath, Manchester and Southampton it might be timely to ask ourselves whether educational institutions need still to be involved in the hosting of widely used services? Wouldn’t it be better, we may ask, to leave hosting to the global organisations such as Google and Yahoo? But if that’s your view, reflect on a recent email sent out by Yahoo to users of the Yahoo Mail service:

From: “Yahoo! Mail” <noreply@email.yahoo-inc.com>
Date: 10 March 2009 23:50:43 GMT
To: Subject: Scheduled Maintenance
We are undertaking some essential, but extensive, maintenance to improve Yahoo! Mail this weekend. The maintenance is part of our ongoing efforts to give you the best Mail service we can.

Beginning the evening of Friday March 13th (PDT) you may experience problems accessing your Yahoo! Mail account. If your account is affected, it should be available again by midday on Saturday March 14th (PDT).

We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience.

Best regards,

The Yahoo! Mail team

I think we do need to keep asking such questions. But we also need to remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. And I hope the email send by Yahoo’s support team on the 10 March about the downtime on 13-14 March wasn’t the only notification which Yahoo Mail users received!

But as well as asking ourselves the longer term question about how our services should be hosted, we still need to address the issues of service downtime (whether scheduled or not) and how we alert our users and other service providers who may be affected. Any thoughts?

Posted in General | 7 Comments »

Guerilla Accessibility Researchers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 March 2009

The recent Dev8D Developer Happiness Days provided an environment for developers in the JISC development community (and more widely) to engage in rapid software development. As the “Dev8D produces rapid results” post described “Day three of Developer Happiness Days is only just beginning but two ideas have already been made real by the keen coders here“.

As I attended only for parts of the first two days of the event I’ll not blog about the event – if you’d like to hear more about what happened I suggest you look at some of the search results for the ‘dev8d’ tag. However the enthusiasm I came across from developers who could see tangible outputs being produced over a period of a few days (although the more significant outputs will probably have been finalised over the following week) I’ve recently seen echoed in another context.

David Sloan, a researcher based at the University of Dundee (and co-author of several of our joint papers on Web accessibility)  recently announced, on Twitter, the launch of his blog. And in a post entitled “Sad Professors” David described his frustration with “the slow process of peer reviewing” and went on to add that “If I find accessing the research I need can be challenging what about the people who are making day to day decisions that might affect the accessibility of the resources they produce, and who could benefit from the results of research?” This is a heart-felt plea from someone who sees clearly the tangible benefits that his accessibility research can have for people with disabilities.

Coincidentally a few days after reading David’s blog post in which he criticised slow peer-reviewing processes, I received an email saying that  a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility” authored by myself, David and several others had been published in the Journal of Access Services, Vol.6 Issues 1 & 2, 2009, pp. 265-294. That was the good news – the bad news was that the deadline for submissions was 30 September 2007:-(

However rather than simply complaining about the seemingly glacial processes of engaging in publishing research findings in peer-reviewed publications David has decided to engage in  guerilla accessibility research. This is “work typically done in a short period of time, to answer a very specific question, or target a very particular group of web users and published online in a (usually) easy to find place, such as a blog“.

David goes on to add that:

As a bonus … research written for the web is generally easier to read than an academic paper, and easy to extract the key points. It will be peer-reviewed, but after publication. If the work is good, people talk about it; if it’s of poor quality, reaction in the blogosphere will be swift. And more and more often, the results of this work are referenced in academic literature, yet I’ll bet is of more direct impact to the people it aims to inform – web designers and developers, assistive technologists, policy makers and anyone else who needs accessibility information quickly.

In David’s first post on his blog he admitted: “I succumbed! After resisting a blog for years, joining Twitter made me realise that I do actually have things to say on a fairly regular basis, things that other people just might be interested in reading” He went on to confess that “Yep, I work in a university, where there is a culture of publishing information at conferences and peer-reviewed journal papers – not always the easiest (or quickest) way to share information. This means we sometimes neglect more direct (and to be honest, probably more effective) routes – such as blogs like this“.

Perhaps we could say, to paraphrase a recent post, that in the research community “slowly, one by one, the lights are switching on“. David’s “The 58 Sound” blog should be a must read for anyone with interests in Web accessibility and usability.

Posted in Accessibility, Blog | Leave a Comment »

From ‘Archivus Coelacanth’ to ‘Archivus Sapiens’

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 March 2009

I’m pleased to report that a proposal for a talk on “A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0” has been accepted for the “Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues between Users and Archivists” conference which will be held in Manchester on 19-20th March 2009.

The risks of Web 2.0 are often mentioned but those who use this as an argument for refusing to engage may miss out on the risks of doing nothing and the missed opportunities. 

It struck me recently that Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhikers Guide series, provided a wonderful historical perspective  on the need to take risks in order to evolve. In the first series “The Book” describedan utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea“.

The book then went on to add: “Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

In homage to Douglas Adams I’d therefore like to describe the evolutionary history of the Archives profession. Feel free to adapt this to other scenarios – I’ve sure we are all familiar with theAcademus Coelancanth and the Librarian Coelancanth (and if I’ve confused Latin and Greek terms I’d welcome more approariate suggestions).

Image of a Coelacanth fish (from Wikipedia)Archivus Coelancanth is rarely spotted in the wild these days, still to be found but can still be spotted in the depths of the archives. This is the species which failed to evolve with the changing environment.  As documented in Wikipediathe coelacanth is almost worthless” although it is worthy of interest to those who have an interest in evolutionary dead ends. 

Image of a Raptor (from Wikipedia)In contrast to Archivus Coelancanth the Archivist Raptor has failed to survive.

This species was terrifying when it ruled, rapidly destroying many of its competitors. However the destruction of the local IT Servitus proved to be its own undoing and the species is now in grave danger of becoming extinct following an inability to respond to the rapidly changing (economic) climate. 

Archivus Sapiens (the wise archivist) is not as intimidating as its predecessor. However it has the agility and mental capacity to respond quickly to the changing environment. A distinctive feature of the Archivus Sapiens is the ‘elbow patches’ on its outer garments which have no practical important but, like the appendix in the related Homo Sapiens is a relic of a previous environment. 

Which species, I wonder, is to be found in your archive?

Posted in Web2.0 | 1 Comment »

The Long Tail of the Topless Swedish Model

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 March 2009

Usage statistics for the Are You Able blog post (for 23 Feb 2009)What is the usage profile like for a typical blog post on this blog? I suspect the statistics for the post on “Are You Able?” is fairly typical (although, as I confessed recently I did pimp up this post on Twitter.

What we can see is the post was viewed by most users on the day it was published, with a steady drop after that, although there was a slight increase in the numbers of viewers on the Monday after the weekend. It was also pleasing to note that most uses have been via the syndicated RSS feed. This is good news and provides evidence that much greater use is being made of RSS readers, by readers of this blog at least.

But let’s look at another blog post to see a very different usage profile. As can be seen we again saw a peak of about 200 views (again mostly views of the syndicated feed) on the day the post was published. But since the post was published there has been a long tail of daily views of the post and with a current total of 1,946 views on 23rd February 2009, most of the views of this post have taken place in the weeks and months after it was published.

Usage statistics for post on Swedish Topless Model (on 23 Feb 2009)

What’s the reason for the difference? Although it may be felt that there aren’t significant differences as, over time, the Are You Able post might have a long tail of views. I’ll address that point by concluding this post with the usage statistics for a post published around the same time as the one mentioned above. And the title of that post “Pinky and Perky and Swedish Topless Model Caught in Use as Learning Objects” might give a indication for its popularity.

Yes, you’re right. This post is so popular because of the numbers of people searching for “topless model” and “Swedish topless model“. And I’ve been caught out for the unethical approach of using an inappropriate title with the sole intention of boosting the blog’s usage figures. Well, not (quite) true in my opinion. I did have a legitimate interest in how use of such phrases could effect the amount of traffic. But I also have a need to think of new titles for blog posts (I’ve published over 500 posts, and I can’t call them all stuff I think is interesting about Twitter, Facebook, …). And I’ll continue to think of puns and word plays for the titles of the blog posts – and I know I’m not alone in this. I will, though, try to ensure that the titles are relevant to the post (there was a photograph of a topless Swedish model included in the post) – but a post called “Britney Spears nude” purely to pull in the traffic would be inappropriate (as well as showing that I’m not up-to-date with the latest pop babe).

But what about concerns that although it may help to motivate me as the author to think up interesting titles, this can skew the usage figures which may be requested by funding agencies? My response is that there are many ways to enhance usage statistics – as I illustrated in a post on Lies, Dammed Lies, Blog Statistics and Unexpected Spikes. So for me, if funding bodies wish to request inappropriate metrics, then that is their prerogative. But at least I’ve been open about my awareness that the usage statistics are flawed. And hopefully going public about the dangers of over-simplistic metrics will discourage the civil servants and bean-counters from mandating their use.

Usage statistics for post on Butler Group Report (on 23 Feb 2009)As I mentioned above in order to provide a meaningful comparison a graph of the usage statistics for a post on Butler Group Report on “Enterprise Web 2, published on 11th December 2008, a week after the Swedish model post, is shown. As can be seen, after the first week the number of views dropped off sharply, confirming, I believe, the reasons for the popularity of the Swedish model post.

Now isn’t it strange that the Swedish topless model has the long tail and not Pinky and Perky? I guess she must be a mermaid.

Posted in Blog, General | Leave a Comment »

What Are the #jiscbid Evaluators Thinking?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 March 2009

A few weeks ago Gráinne Conole, a professor of e-learning at the Open University, used Twitter to ask for suggestions on how to go about writing a bid for one of the forthcoming JISC calls. And, as I recently described, many useful suggestions were given – despite that fact that this was a competitive process and the suggestions were being provided in an open space.  A great example of a community working in an open fashion, I feel. And the benefits (better prepared submissions, clearer ideas of approaches to project management and dissemination described, etc.) will be beneficial to many stakeholders, including the JISC programme managers, evaluators of the proposals and, eventually, the users of the project deliverables.

But did this happen? Were the bids well-written and had they followed the guidelines? Or was marking the bids a time-consuming and difficult process for the many evaluators who were involved in marking the bids?

Examples of Twitter posts tagged 'jiscbids'Well we can get an insight into the evaluators though processes by looking at the Twitter stream for tweets tagged with “jiscbids”.  I think this tag was originally developed by an informal process, although at one point Amber Thomas (JISC Programme Manager) did suggest that this should be the tag adopted for sharing thoughts on the evaluation process:

#jiscbids dons [corporate hat] i am assuming all other markers are using this hashtag to offer constructive comments on anonymised bids too

Subsequently Sam Easterby-Smith (CETIS) commented that he was:

Finding the #jiscbids tweet feed rather too fascinating… @briankelly MUST do follow up to his blog post from feb 5th – woo

I’ll not, however, discuss the details of the tweets, other than to say that having the opportunity to observe evaluators’ thoughts on the marking process should provide immensely valuable feedback to those at JISC who are responsible for managing the evaluation process. There have been discussions, for example, on whether bids which were over the maximum number of pages allowed should be automatically discarded (possibly before reaching the markers) or whether such bids should be marked down, but could still be funded it the bid is strong enough.

Having been involved in bid marking in the past it has only just struck me that  in my experience there has been very little discussions on the evaluation process itself, perhaps because once the marks are returned to JISC the programme managers will be busy comparing the responses, making final decisions, suggesting changes to proposals, etc. By the time this is all over, I suspect there will be little energy left for reflecting on the evaluation process.

So I hope that someone will find the time and energy to go through the various tweets made by the evaluators (including those which did not have a #jiscbids tag). But as well as identifying aspects of the reviewing process which can be improved, there will also be a need to consider whether the openness and informality which Twitter has provided could be in conflict with a closed reviewing process. I disagree with Mike Ellis’s view that Twitter “needs an edge, a voice, a riskiness” – in some cases this may be true, but in discussing a bidding process or, as my colleague Marieke Guy has recently commented,  in the context of discussing talks at conferences, we need to establish best practices. But I hope the best practices which emerge acknowledge the benefits which can be gained from using services such as Twitter.

Posted in General, Twitter | 3 Comments »

Rethinking Web Accessibility for E-Learning

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 March 2009

Online College Edu Blogger Scholarship ContestWhy would we want to rethink Web accessibility in an elearning context? Surely application of WAI‘s WCAG guidelines will provide universal accessibility? And the recently released WCAG 2.0 guidelines should improve things further.

As described in a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” the WAI approach is flawed when applied in an elearning context. The WCAG guidelines seek to ensure that information can be processed by people with disabilities using a variety of assistive technologies. But learning isn’t about the simple processing of information (effective learning isn’t provided by encylopedia!).

Figure 1: The Holistic Approach to E-Leaning Accessibility (which emphasises the importance of the learners needs and acknowledges that factors including accessibility, usability, local factors, organisational infrastructure and the learning outcomes all need to be consideredThis was the core of our initial work. Further research described flaws in WAI guidelines and provided evidence that, although a political success, WCAG guidelines aren’t being implemented to any significant extent. The reason for this isn’t that educational institutions aren’t aware of the guidelines or don’t care about enhancing the quality of learning for students with disabilities. And although there are instances in which accessibility could be enhanced relatively simply, there is a need for an alternative approach which recognises the complexities of user needs and requirements, the rapidly changing technical environment, our understandings of what is meant by ‘accessibility’ and ‘disability’ and our ability to implement desirable solutions (and not just policies) within our institutions.

Figure 2: Stakeholder model of accessibilityOur proposed approach (solution would be too bold a term) describes a Web Adaptability framework which builds on our holistic framework and focusses on the accessibility of learning outcomes rather than e-learning resources and the involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders.

And rather than a simplistic legal framework, institutions should deploy such approaches due to peer pressure, involvement of learners with disabilities in the design process, corporate reputation management, peer group pressure and sharing of solutions and failures.

Please join in the debate on how this goal can be realised!


Please note that this post was submitted to the Edu Blogger Scholarship contest and has been shortlisted in the 20 finalists. For details on why I am entering this contest see my previous post.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Entering the Edu Blogger 2009 Awards

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 March 2009

Online College Edu Blogger Scholarship ContestI know from recent discussions that some people don’t like awards being given to bloggers for various reasons (blogging is a personal activity; awards can be divisive; etc.). But although there may be an element of truth in such comments I also feel that there can be benefits providing in entering such competitions.  For me entering a blog post in an international Edu Bloggers scholarship contest allows me to reach a much wider audience and to have the potential that this wider audience can provide feedback on my ideas and also, perhaps, be influenced by the topic of my post. And, to be honest, much of my work is about seeking to influence the educational sector in making effective use of networked technologies.  I may be getting on a bit, but I still feel passionate about such things!

Tomorrow’s post will provide me with the challenge of saying something important and influential in 200-300 words. And that in itself will provide me with a valuable learning opportunity – Twitter has helped me develop skills in writing pithy comments in 140 characters and my peer-reviewed papers are often about 5,00 words long. But how will I do in a middle distance event?

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