Friday, 27 December 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 26 - Wrapping Up

This was the final instalment of the Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers year of posts. Thank you to the organisers for a really interesting and useful year. Next year I would like to put into practice some of the concepts explored in more depth.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 25 - Sources Revealed

The 25th blog post in the Productivity series looks at useful sources on productivity techniques. I don't think I can do better than simply link to the post, as it's fantastically useful.

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 24 - Characteristics of a Vibrant Personal Learning Network

Session 24 of the Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers programme looks at learning communities. It suggests choosing an online community and actively participating, discussing topics and sharing links. It's good advice and something I intend to try.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 23 - Productive Meetings

Session 23 looks at meetings. I actually like the way meetings are done at my workplace - at least as far as my own role in them is concerned (the meetings that management have do not look like fun!). My biggest tip for an effective meeting is: have an agenda and know exactly what you are going to talk about. This way you don't get bogged down in unnecessary discussion.

For longer meetings, tea and biscuits/cake are also very good for morale!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 22 - Revisiting PLNs

Session 22 is about revisiting PLNs. I seem to have got rather behind on this, so I will keep this brief. I have really neglected Twitter of late so I will make an effort to get more involved once again. It was the main method by which I learned of and discussed interesting things, and I do miss it.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 21 - Blogs – Their Care and Feeding

Productivity session 21 looks at blogs. I have followed a number of blogs since before starting my own a few years ago. I've got to know several other librarians via their Twitter feeds and their blogs, and blogs offer opportunities for extended writing and exploration of ideas that Twitter doesn't.

I don't know if my blog network has changed all that much over the last couple of years. Which is a sign, perhaps, that I should look into expanding it a little.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 20 - Following Our Digital Footprints

Session 20 looks at digital footprints. Way back when I was doing the 23 Things programme I looked at this in more depth and edited my LinkedIn profile, blog page and anything else within my power. Googling myself, it seems my singing Sheffield-based namesake is still going and with her dominating Google searches, I'm safe until page 15. Despite this, I think it's definitely time to make some changes - I've been thinking about updating this blog for a while, and I suppose I should edit my LinkedIn profile too...

Monday, 23 September 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 19 - Which Social Media Tool is Right for You?

Session 19 looks at social media and I found it interesting to explore the ways in which students and researchers can make use of Facebook and Twitter. Personally I've found Twitter extremely valuable in engaging with other librarians and information workers, and I think it's worthwhile to think about how social media networks can be utilised by library users.

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 18 - What is a learning network?

Session 18 of Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers looks at learning networks. The PLN Starter Kit seems like a really handy resource, so I've bookmarked it for the future.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 17 - Cloud Storage

Session 17 (which I've come to a little late as I've been on holiday) looks at cloud storage. I use Dropbox and I love it, but I also have an external hard drive which I use for larger multimedia files such as my music collection (though I've also recently added this to Google Play). For everyday word processing and similar files, though, Dropbox is great - free, easy to use and reliable (or so I've found, anyway).

Friday, 9 August 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 16 - Mindmapping Revisited

I'm not really a fan of mind maps; I'm not sure my brain works that way. However, I enjoyed reading this week's piece, and loved looking at the beautiful artistic mind maps on Mind Map Art. I also bookmarked the Five Best Mind Mapping Tools site for future reference.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

London Blackboard User Group Meeting 26/07/2013

On the afternoon of Friday 26th July I attended the London Blackboard User Group meeting (with the brilliant hashtag #LondonBUG) at Regent’s University London. Though I’ve been in my current role, which is primarily concerned with the use of Blackboard, for over two years, this was the first User Group meeting I had attended, and I was looking forward to it.

The theme of the meeting was Using Video in Blackboard. I wasn’t sure if it would be directly relevant to me or my job, as where I work there is a multimedia department responsible for creating and hosting videos. However, I hoped that I would pick up some tips and get to know other Blackboard users in London and around. After an introduction and welcome by Bryony Bramer of Regent’s University, the course proper began. The lectures covered different topics, including the integration of a streaming video server with Blackboard, the rollout of lecture capture, and flipped classrooms. The most interesting to me was the presentation on training videos, which looked at the use of Twitter’s new Vine app for creating short videos telling users how to do particular things on Blackboard. This looks like a brilliant use of the service and it’s definitely something I’d like to take a closer look at.

Thanks to everyone at the BUG for a great session – not to mention the amazing cake!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 15 - Feed Readers

This Productivity session looks at feed readers - ironically appropriate given the recent demise of Google Reader. I can't be the only one who panicked when I found out it was going to be shut down, and I migrated my feed first to the Old Reader, then, when I found out that it too was going to be shut for public users, to Feedly. I haven't had a chance to investigate its functionality properly, but the fact that there is a mobile app available and it is compatible with IFTTT is promising.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

ALISS Visit to the Library, Archives and Museum of the Order of St. John

Gate, Museum of the Order of St John

Last week I took part in an ALISS (Association of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Social Sciences) visit to the Library, Archives and Museum of the Order of St John. The Order is best known for its work on first aid (St John's Ambulance) but has a long and rich history. It began nearly a thousand years ago as a group of monks caring for sick pilgrims in Jerusalem, and was given the name 'Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem' when its members began to take on more of a military role. After moving to Cyprus, followed by Rhodes, the Order ended up in Malta for over two hundred years.

In England, the headquarters of the Order was set up on this site in Clerkenwell in the 1140s. After the Dissolution, its lands and wealth were seized and despite a brief revival by Queen Mary, the buildings were put to different uses - in the sixteenth century Elizabeth I's Master of the Revels had an office here and later on Richard Hogarth, father of the artist William, ran a coffee house. Later, the Gate was used as a pub where writers such as Charles Dickens used to meet, until the Order was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1888. The Order has been known for public First Aid ever since.

Our visit began with a trip to the Priory Church of the Order across the road. This was originally part of the same complex, but the site was bisected by a main road last century. The church was bombed during World War II and rebuilt afterwards; the modern complex includes a quiet garden for contemplation. Underneath, the 12th-century crypt is a beautiful example of Norman and, later, Gothic architecture; it contains several impressive tombs.

Following this we were shown the Library and Archive. This has a wide selection of books, journals and other documentation relating to the Order, and suffers from the common problem of too little space. Many of the archives are boxed and numbered, but not fully catalogued. Maps and prints are also part of the archive, as are some beautiful models of the church in Jerusalem, ornate furniture from Malta, and papier mache models - some of the more unusual items I have come across in special collections. We were shown some particularly interesting and unusual rare books, many with impressive woodcuts.

Afterwards we were given some time to look around the museum, which focuses on the history of the Order. I found the visit really interesting, and enjoyed gaining an insight into such a unique library.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 14 - Research Management

Just a quick post this week - the Research Management session cites this Wikipedia article on Comparison of reference management software, which I have bookmarked for easy future reference.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 13 - Annotation Software

Reading this session's blog post on annotation software, I was struck by how much things
have changed since I was a student doing research. Even as a postgraduate three years ago, I was still making notes by hand, a laborious process but one which I was used to.

I've come across resources like EndNote before but Qiqqa is something I'd not heard of. Having looked through the manual I am very impressed and it's something I will keep in mind if I need to do research in the future.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 12 - Choosing Software for Academic Workflow

Session 12 of the Productivity programme looks at software for academic workflow. The websites and links given looked really handy, and I bookmarked them to check them out in more detail later.

I took a closer look at the writing and transcription services on the Bamboo DiRT website. These in particular seem particularly useful for researchers and writers, and I made a note of some. I also found the data conversion section particularly interesting, notably the PDF to Word converter which I think could come in very handy!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 11 - Academic Workflow

Session 11 of the Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers course dealt with academic workflow. I'm not currently an academic librarian as such, and I don't need to do a great deal of research in my job or life in general. However, I read through the resources listed and made a note of them for the future.

Workflow is important in my current role as I need to perform a number of tasks and keep on top of everything. All I do is, like the work of the rest of my team, recorded in process documents that are updated regularly as a record of what has been, and what needs to be, done.

I recently wrote an article and found Evernote very useful for recording my research and saving links. If I was to pursue any in-depth study in the future, I would probably use a specialist referencing app such as Zotero.

Monday, 3 June 2013

CILIP CDG Visit to the London Transport Museum Library

Since moving to London over two years ago I’ve developed something of an obsession with the Tube. In fact one of my more geeky pursuits involves trying to visit every single station on the Underground network. Therefore, when an opportunity arose to organise a trip to the London Transport Museum Library for the Career Development Group London and South East, I jumped at the chance.

We visited the Library in the afternoon on the 22nd of May, meeting in the Museum’s foyer and admiring the eclectic range of transport-inspired gifts in the process. Librarian Caroline Warhurst met us at the entrance and took us to up to the Library, a pleasant space at the back of the building.

The Library is primarily used by museum staff and Transport for London staff, but external enquiries come from students and researchers as well as the media and the general public. External users need to make an appointment, because of the size of the library and staffing levels. Enquiries have seen a boost this year because of the 150th anniversary London Underground celebrations.

Like many specialist libraries, the LTM collection has been catalogued using a unique classification system and has items covering public transport in general, though the bulk of the collection relates to transport in London. As the responsibilities of Transport for London (and its preceding bodies) have changed, so has the nature of the collection: it now holds material on taxis, river taxis and even the new cable car (the Emirates Air Line).

Caroline kindly got out a number of fascinating and often unique items to show us. As well as specialist transport-related periodicals (some of which I wouldn’t be surprised to see on Have I Got News for You one of these days), there were train timetables, staff registers and photographs of stations and vehicles. One of my favourite items was the personal scrapbook of Frank Pick, one of the most important individuals in the history of the London Underground, which showed him to have extremely eclectic interests.

After the visit I had a look round the museum, which has been refurbished since I last visited as a child. I found it really interesting and it was good to know that the Library’s collections have helped staff to research the exhibitions.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 10 - Task Automation

This week’s Year for Productivity post was on task automation. I signed up to IFTTT ages ago but never really used it as I couldn’t work out anything I particularly needed it for. Despite watching all the tutorials, I’m still not convinced that this is an essential service for me at the moment, even though I think it’s very clever and I can understand why some people love it.

I’ve decided to make a bit more of an effort with it, however, and spent some time looking around the site searching for inspiration. I activated a couple of recipes and created one too – perhaps if I spend some time on it, I’ll learn some useful tips.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 9 - Security In the Cloud

Session 9 of the Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers programme looked at Internet security in the cloud. I enjoyed reading the blog post: I had been vaguely aware of the risks of open WiFi and cloud computing, but never really thought much about it. Though I use both Dropbox and Google Drive frequently, I don’t keep sensitive documents there, so if someone DID get their hands on them, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

I looked for my workplace’s IT policy but could only find a fairly basic one. I wouldn’t use cloud computing via Dropbox for work purposes in any case, as I could access my work filestore by setting up my computer to do so. In practice, however, I’ve never needed to access work files outside of work.

I read Emma Byrne’s three-part series about cloud computing in Forbes, and while a lot of it went over my head, I got the impression that cloud computing can be as safe or safer than other storage methods if it is managed in the right way. This seems fair enough, particularly given the number of news stories (at least in Britain) about USB sticks containing sensitive data being left on public transport. Whatever method of data storage you use, it needs to be researched and managed properly.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 8 - Habit Forming

The eighth session of the Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers programme is about habits. I found the blog post useful in getting me to question how and why habits form and how they can be made or broken. I have mixed experience with this. Some habits I attempt to form are successful, others not. Sometimes, simply forcing myself to repeat something until it becomes more of an effort to stop doing it than to carry on is enough to make a habit stick. At other times, despite my good intentions, I fail within a few days.

It helps if I can see a benefit to continuing the habit. I developed the habit of going to the gym a few years ago, and managed to stick to it for several years because I could really feel the benefit. Sadly through lack of time I've stopped going recently but I definitely intend to start again!

I've recently resolved to eat more healthily which will involve a lot of determination and concentration! I've made a good start by being organised and making lots of lists so I have time to shop for the right ingredients and cook well-balanced meals. Let’s see how that goes!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 7 - Notebook Software

Notebook software is the topic for Session 7 of the Year of Productivity programme. I'm a big fan of Evernote and use it constantly for so many things: rough notes, more detailed notes, conference notes, Christmas card and present lists, recipes, clipped web pages, lists... I wouldn't want to be without it. I have the desktop version on my laptop and netbook, the app for my phone and use the web version at work.

I wasn't able to read the article1 as I don't have access to the relevant databases, but I looked through the abstract. I read some of the other articles and blog posts and found several useful, particularly the post about using Evernote for genealogical research. I also looked at the Secret Weapon site and found some tips. I'd never thought of using Evernote to store emails: this looks like it could be a useful way of organising them.

1 Axford, M., & Renfro, C. (2012). Noteworthy Productivity Tools for Personal Knowledge Management. Online, 36(3), 33-36.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 6 - Calendars

Session 6 of the Year of Productivity programme looks at calendars. Personally, I love calendars. I use my Google calendar religiously, usually for personal appointments and plans – I go to the theatre a lot and I’d probably end up double-booking myself if I didn’t write down every booking I make. I have an Android phone so I can access my calendar anywhere. I mark off my annual leave on my calendar, as well as anything unusual – such as if I am going to be out of the office – but I tend to use my Groupwise work calendar for work-related stuff, only adding personal appointments to this if they impact on work time – such as a doctor’s appointment that infringes on work hours. I find my work calendar very useful: my manager uses it to schedule team meetings and one-to-ones, and if I need to get hold of someone in a different department or Centre I can check their calendar to see where they are and when they are free. I think Doodle is brilliant too – it is currently being used to plan one of my best friends’ hen dos and although it’s still a nightmare trying to get everyone together, I suspect it would be even more of a nightmare if Doodle didn’t exist.

I tried the ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ technique, printing out a booklet of calendars from the handy paper resources section on the blog a couple of weeks ago. I used it to assist my language learning, as I think the ‘little and often’ approach is particularly well-suited to this kind of task. I find marking off the days as I go very satisfying, and it gives me a sense of achievement to see the chain grow longer and longer, so I think I will carry on with this.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

CILIP in London Meeting: Swimming in Data: Records Research in the Digital Age

On Tuesday I attended another CILIP in London meeting at The Square Wine Bar, Tolmers Square, near Euston. Called Swimming in Data: Records Research in the Digital AgeCaroline Kimbell, Head of Licensing at The National Archives in Kew, gave a talk on how the digitisation of Kew's archives is changing the ways in which history is studied.

Caroline explained that there are around 180km of archives at Kew, most of which are handwritten. Only around 7% of these records have been digitised so far, and while some of this has been pushed forward in line with Government policy, much of it is commercially driven.

Caroline explained some of the ways in which digitisation has assisted with research in new and unexpected ways. Digital records enable teams to work more collaboratively in the search for information, and means that collections which previously lay dormant have been 'woken up'. For instance, medical historians can use records kept by ships' surgeons to find out more about disease, while historians and scientists can use logs from whaling ships to map the extent of the Arctic ice shelf at various points in the past. Royal Navy log books from the 1690s onwards are assisting climatologists, allowing them to study the recorded weather readings and map them on a scale impossible before digitisation.

Digitisation can help make documents accessible again. Damaged census returns from Manchester, which had become unreadable owing to exposure to damp, have been made visible thanks to UV and infrared light techniques.

In literature, digitisation means that writing can be studied in different and more scientific ways. For instance, it has become possible to search text for particular words and phrases to get a more general idea about writing in the past. Tags and keywords can be added to digital documents to assist future researchers.

This system is not, however, without its flaws. The tags and keywords added now reflect our own cultural priorities and may not be what future generations need or want to study. Caroline mentioned the example of law archives: records of past cases survive because those in power at the time felt that they were important.

I really enjoyed Caroline's talk, and am particularly glad that she mentioned the Old Weather project - this allows the public to help transcribe the weather reports mentioned earlier, and looks like a great deal of fun too.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 5 - Paper Productivity Tools and the Pomodoro Technique

Session 5 of the Year of Productivity, and I think I need to work on my productivity, as I’ve come to it pretty late! Anyway, I was definitely impressed with the different paper productivity tools available. I love my electronic tools like Google Calendar and Evernote but I still have a soft spot for paper – after all, the battery doesn’t run out and it doesn’t crash. I am definitely going to check out the printable paper productivity tools in the LifeHacker post.

  1. Chapter 4 of The Sketchnote Handbook is available for preview. Go to the author’s blog to download the sample chapter. You can also view three short podcasts by the author at his site.
Not being a lover of podcasts, I gave those a miss but I read through the chapter. I can see why Sketchnote appeals to people but I don’t know if it’s for me – I don’t really like expressing ideas in this way, I’d rather just write them down. However, there were some good tips in the chapter such as preparing a title page for your notes, scanning them once they are completed and correcting any errors afterwards – however I find it hard enough to write legibly when note-taking, let alone draw legibly.

  1. Having read Chapter 4 in Exercise #1, try practicing the method while listening to a pre-recorded webinar.  If you don’t have one already waiting in your to-do queue that you need to view, you could watch the video of David Allen presenting his Getting Things Done method that Mary introduced in Session 4.
I gave this a go but ended up writing notes in the usual way! I do use bullet points and abbreviations in my notes anyway, but I don’t know if even more complicated note taking the way to go for me.

  1. The Moleskine company has collaborated with the Evernote folks and created a special Evernote Smart Notebook.  Take a few minutes now and check it out here at the Getting Started Guide.  How might this tool help your workflow and productivity?  Could you combine it with the Sketchnote method?
I use Evernote a lot so this could work really well. I prefer to use a combination of paper and electronic methods to create notes so this is definitely something I’d like to look into. It could definitely work with the Sketchnote method, for instance if you’re in a meeting and want to make notes by hand then add them to Evernote later.

  1. Review the Pomodoro Technique.  Try to apply the method on a project you need to start today.  How often did you have to keep yourself from straying from the task?  How much did you accomplish during the session?
I tried this, but I found that as soon as I wasn’t allowed to check my emails or distract myself in any other way, I immediately wanted to even more. Also, I found myself spending twice as long mentally ‘preparing’ myself for the 25-minute stretch of work knowing that in theory, at least, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I think I’m going to need more practice…

Monday, 25 February 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 4 - Getting Things Done

Session 4 of the Year of Productivity programme, and Getting Things Done gets a mention. I’d heard of the GTD system before, but had been put off trying it – it seemed like so much work and that’s before you even start on your actual tasks.

However, thinking about it, a lot of it actually makes sense. David Allen, who came up with GTD, argues that you can’t be productive if your brain is buzzing with all the things you need to remember to do. I remember when I was studying for my GCSEs, and I couldn't sleep for thinking about everything I had to do – I would get up and make a list of all the projects, pieces of coursework and other random bits of work I had to complete, and found that simply writing it down helped, because I knew I didn't have to remember it all – everything was written down. Even now, one of the first things I do when I feel overwhelmed or stressed is to make a list – this is true for both my personal and professional life. I am a seriously compulsive list maker.

It does seem that there is more to GTD than to-do lists, and I actually ended up ordering the book to explore it in more detail. While I wait for it to arrive, I will begin to implement some of the principles.

This session’s tasks included doing the ‘data dump’ and sorting it into projects, actions and categories. I had fun doing this and decided to sign up for along the way. I tried out Remember the Milk (another list-making app) for a couple of weeks, and while it is straightforward and easy to use, it is comparatively basic in its functionality. is an obsessive list-maker’s dream, with its different categories and filters, and the ability to nest tasks. You can sort tasks into different Projects, which makes it ideal for GTD. There is a ‘Today’ button you can click to find out what is due today, and I like the ‘Next’ filter, which shows you tasks with the soonest deadlines from all categories.

I read an interesting blog post by Bethan Ruddock recently, which points out how much more difficult it is to change small everyday habits than big ones, as we don’t see them as so important. With this in mind, I’m going to try extra hard to stay focused on maintaining and reviewing my lists.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

E-Learning and Digital Cultures (#edcmooc) - Digital Artefact (Final Assignment)

As the final part of the E-learning and Digital Cultures course, I've created a digital artefact which forms the final assignment for the course. I had a number of platforms to choose from, but opted for Thinglink, which helps you create interactive images - you select an image and add links to videos, images, articles, and anything else you like.

I found this task rather difficult: I am used to writing essays and even giving presentations, but something like this is highly unusual for me. I enjoyed the challenge but I'm not entirely happy with the result. I hope I will receive some useful feedback.

Here is my artefact:

A Technological Revolution?
(Original image courtesy of

I'd really appreciate any comments or suggestions.

Friday, 22 February 2013

E-Learning and Digital Cultures (#edcmooc) - Being Human, Week 4: Redefining the Human

The fourth and final week of the E-learning and Digital Cultures course looked, like Week 3, at the concept of ‘being human’ – but from the perspective of how technology works to redefine our notions of humanity. The videos provided an interesting introduction to the topic, particularly ‘Robbie’ which imagined a robot with which what many would describe as ‘human’ attributes, floating around in space at the end of his ‘life’. I found this moving and quite sad – but I’m not convinced that artificial intelligences with ‘human-like’ thoughts and feelings are the future. Maybe we are imposing our own ideas and values onto these?

The readings, which looked at the concept of transhumanism, were eye-opening. Despite claims of a utopian future characterised by individual autonomy and a projected end of death and suffering, I felt deeply distrustful of the idea that perfection could be achieved. When reading Nick Bostrom’s piece on transhumanist values1, I found it hard to believe it was sincere – it seemed like a spoof. As Hayles2 points out, it focuses on individual choice and autonomy without acknowledging the wider implications of society, and doesn’t look at what will happen in terms of population increase if people are able to live longer.

Despite claims to the contrary, the concept of transhumanism has echoes of Nazi-esque eugenics and cult religion. Many of the ideas seem far-fetched, and I think they are unlikely to be realised in the near future, if at all. The idea that human limitations can be transcended and the ‘evil’ of death destroyed I found alternately silly and terrifying.

The articles exploring educational perspectives were much more palatable and relevant to the online learning context. The EPSRC document on technology enhanced learning3 argues that learning needs to exploit the potential of technology the way other areas of life and work have been doing for years. Broadly speaking I agree with this idea, although I took issue with some of the generalisations made, such as that “almost everyone in the UK has a powerful computer in their pocket” – really? This report, like so many readings from the course, barely acknowledges the digital divide between those who have, enjoy and are competent at using technology and the huge numbers who have difficulty affording and using such equipment.

Carr’s piece4 explores the sobering idea that modern use of technology, particularly the Internet, is changing the way we learn and think. In particular he focuses on a growing inability to concentrate on deep, close reading of longer texts in the face of the mass of information available at our fingertips, which we tend to click through and skim-read. This isn’t necessarily a completely bad thing but it serves as a reminder of the impact technology has on our learning.

Having finished the reading for this course, my next task is to complete the assignment, which involves creating a digital artefact relating to one or more of the topics covered. After that I’d like to have a proper think about what I’ve got out of this course and examine my views on MOOCs as a whole.

1Bostrom, N. (2005). Transhumanist values, Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 4. [Accessed 21 February 2013].

2Hayles, N. K. (2011). Wrestling with transhumanism. Metanexus. h-wrestling-transhumanism. [Accessed 21 February 2013].

3EPSRC (2012). System upgrade: realising the vision for UK education, EPSRC Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme. [Accessed 21 February 2013].

4Carr, M. (2008). Is Google making us stupid? The Atlantic. [Accessed 21 February 2013].

Monday, 18 February 2013

E-Learning and Digital Cultures (#edcmooc) - Being Human, Week 3: Reasserting the Human

This week I moved on to the second part of the E-learning and Digital Cultures course, which focuses on the concept of being human. In particular it looks at the implications for education of the meaning of humanity within an increasingly digital culture, and how this will pan out in the future.

The first part of ‘Being Human’ is about the supposed threat to ‘the human’ and how to reassert the essential nature of humanity – if indeed there is such a thing. I found the videos for this week quite interesting in this respect. I didn’t like the computer-generated nature of the Toyota advert and it reminded me of the new Andrex puppy ad – the animated puppy being infinitely inferior to the original, real puppy. The BT advert was more interesting from a ‘being human’ perspective, seemingly claiming that speaking on the phone is somehow more ‘human’ than texting, emailing or computer messaging. Personally I absolutely detest speaking on the phone and will use pretty much any other communication method in preference: emailing, texting, letter-writing, meeting up in person… while I can understand the advantage of telephone conversations in the sense that you can hear the other person’s voice, I don’t think that they are necessarily any more ‘human’ than other forms of communication. I think a well-written email or even a traditional letter can convey much more personality and emotion.

Many of this week’s texts were philosophical in nature and I found them quite thought-provoking. Steve Fuller’s talk on defining humanity1 provided a useful overview of the issues raised; this and Neil Badmington’s discussion of posthumanism2 made me question what I thought about humanity. The articles looking at the ‘human’ element in the context of education were the most fascinating, contrasting Kolowich’s piece on developing video and audio as ways to deliver learning online with Monke’s piece lamenting the use of computers as educational tools for young children. This latter piece reminded me of the ‘World Made of Glass’ video from last week, in which children seemed rather detached from the natural world. Kolowich’s piece in some ways reminded me of the BT advert, claiming that some forms of communication are better or more worthwhile than others. Are video and audio more ‘human’ than written text?

This week raised some interesting questions which I am still thinking about, and I look forward to the final week which explores the other side of the ‘being human’ question.

1Fuller, Steve. Humanity 2.0: defining humanity – Steve Fuller’s TEDx Warwick talk (24:08), [Accessed 18 February 2013].

2Badmington, Neil (2000). Introduction: approaching posthumanism. Posthumanism. Houndmills; New York: Palgrave. [Accessed 18 February 2013].

3Kolowich, S (2010). The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed. [Accessed 18 February 2013].

4Monke, L. (2004).The Human Touch, EducationNext [Accessed 18 February 2013].

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 3 - Email

Session 3 of the Year of Productivity programme looks at email, and the different ways this can be managed. Like many people I get quite a lot of emails every day and it becomes important to manage them so that they don’t take over my life.

1. The author of the Getting Things Done: My Experiences using GTD” blog has a post entitled “Evolution of my email setup”. Read this article and write a short accounting of how you would describe your email evolution. Are you a slave to your inbox?
My own ‘email evolution’ is fairly similar to the author’s in some ways: I started with just one, rarely-used email account when I was a teenager, and over the years I have ended up with four accounts that are all much more heavily used these days. This is particularly true of my work account: I've never been bombarded with emails in any of my jobs, but I get many more in my current role than I ever used to. I do tend to check my inbox whenever an email comes in: partly out of curiosity and partly in case it is urgent. Twice a week I am on Helpdesk, and I need to keep a close eye on this email account at these times to ensure I keep up with any service requests.

I was surprised to read that the author of the article referenced above prints out emails in order to keep a hard copy and get rid of the electronic mail message. I don’t see the point of this myself, as it strikes me as a waste of paper. The idea of filing and organising emails, and acting on important ones straight away, do however seem like good ideas to me.

2. Investigate the tutorials / help sections for your particular email system. I've provided links to several systems in the Selected Reading section below. Spend a little time and experiment with creating a filter for a category of emails that you want to read but don’t want to interrupt you every day when they arrive. Add an appointment to your calendar to remind you to review that filtered folder at another specified time.
At work I use Groupwise, and though I had a quick look at some help resources I’m not convinced they will help me organise my email. I haven’t signed up to any mailing lists with this account: any emails I receive need to be looked at, if not straight away then fairly soon, and I’d prefer all my emails to go straight into an inbox.

My personal accounts are another matter, but again I don’t like the idea of new emails going anywhere but my inbox. I would rather use folders to store emails I've already looked at and want to keep. I’m the sort of person who can’t stand to have an unread email in their account, so filters would be no good for me!

3. Explore the Inbox Zero resources. Is Merlin Mann’s technique something you would like to try? Think about ways to chunk the initial setup process to make it more doable for you and your email.
I’m not sure if the entire Inbox Zero technique would work for me – partly because downloadable programs won’t work on my work email, and I am too concerned about not leaving any emails unread to be happy about setting up a filter to check once or twice a week. Frankly, I don’t get enough email to need to do this. However, there are some interesting points raised, such as dealing with email as soon as it comes in, unsubscribing from unwanted mailing lists, and using folders in order to find information quickly.

4. Share! What helpful hints, techniques, or articles/blog posts would you like to share with the rest of us?
I’m sure there are advantages to having all your email go to one inbox, but I prefer using several. At work we use Groupwise, and I have three personal email accounts: Gmail for professional and career-related stuff; Hotmail for personal stuff; and Yahoo for mailing lists and sign-ups that I don’t want cluttering up my Hotmail. This system lets me focus on work during work hours and ignore it in my free time, and I can focus on the important personal stuff in Hotmail without bothering with all the newsletters that clog up my Yahoo inbox (but which I don’t want to get rid of completely).

At work, I leave emails in my inbox until I have acted upon them. If my inbox gets too cluttered, that’s a sign I need to focus more on tasks that need completion. Afterwards, if they need to be kept, the emails go into a folder related to their subject. This system works well for me, but it might be too simple for someone who gets a hundred emails a day.

I like the idea of leaving the first hour of the day to work on important tasks, not checking email until after this time is up. I've been trying this for the last week and find I do get more done when I can get in and get straight down to work.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

E-Learning and Digital Cultures (#edcmooc) - Utopias & Dystopias, Week 2: Looking to the Future

The second week in the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course looked at the future – how is technology, particularly in the context of education, predicted to change over the course of the century and beyond? I am interested in this on a personal level, being curious about how technology will develop, as well as in a professional sense: my job and certainly my career are likely to change as a result of future developments.

Participants were initially required to watch several videos, including two adverts from technology companies which presented visions of the future. Here, technology is seamlessly integrated into everyday life, with classroom walls and car dashboards and kitchen work surfaces acting as touch screens, and families and colleagues sharing experiences and ideas in a utopian community.

Apart from wondering how much all of this would cost, I found the visions presented slightly disturbing – new and exciting they might be, but they were also bland and seemed rather detached from the physical world. In particular, the section in which the schoolchildren used glass touchscreens to look at ‘dinosaurs’ in the forest made an impression on me: using technology to explore and learn is not in itself a bad thing, but I thought it was a shame that the children were ignoring the actual world around them – the trees, grass, sky, wildlife – and viewing everything through a pane of glass. On the other hand, the concept of sharing ideas and experiences is a positive one.

The other three videos presented fictional narratives based on future worlds where technological developments have profoundly affected the way we live, but though these were interesting, the overwhelmingly dystopian nature of all of the worlds was rather dramatic.

The core reading for the week1 looked at how the use of metaphors helps us to relate to the internet and reflect cultural values. Johnston looks at the commonly used metaphors of space and speed, destruction and salvation often linked with the web (and ‘web’ itself is a metaphor), which often encompass the same absolute values of utopian and dystopian viewpoints. Another article by Bleecker2 looked at the concept of an ‘Internet of Things’, in which objects blog and in so doing provide valuable information – such as the location of lost luggage in the airport. I must admit that the reference to luggage “that has lost its human” made me think of the Luggage in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, running here and there on its numerous little legs.

Two contrasting viewpoints were presented by Clay Shirky3 and Aaron Bady4, the one claiming that MOOCs herald a positive educational revolution, with the other arguing that this is by no means certain and that most MOOC providers are profit-driven businesses. Both have vested interests in their respective positions, but I thought that both made valid points. Personally, I have serious doubts whether MOOCs can or should replace traditional university courses: the free model is not sustainable in the long-term and the large numbers of participants aren’t conducive to in-depth group discussion. Without access to the library resources that traditional universities provide, MOOCs are forced to rely on free online resources that may or may not be reliable. As a history graduate, I am sympathetic to the humanities academics cited in Bady’s article who state that MOOCs cannot replicate the general intangible intellectual atmosphere and discussion found in a traditional university environment. Shirky does make the point that contemporary higher education is now hugely expensive, and some students may see obvious advantages in going down the online route. Neither writer refers to the millions of people around the world who lack the Internet access necessary to take a course online – the very same people who are likely to lack the means to enter a traditional university.

It may be that the MOOC is a fad, and online learning may go down the route of correspondence courses which surged in popularity a century ago before dying out.5 Certainly MOOCs are known to have high dropout rates, and according to a fellow course participant, those with Masters degrees and PhDs are those most likely to stick at them and pass – perhaps suggesting that the self-discipline and study skills needed to successfully learn online are those which can themselves be learned best in more traditional study environments. I think it’s notable that within a very short time of this course starting, there were numerous forum posts arranging real-life meet-ups.

I’m still forming my thoughts on this issue, but I’m not convinced that MOOCs and other kinds of online courses will either save or destroy education. After all, the Open University in Britain did not spell the end for traditional institutions. Unlike the correspondence course, I believe e-learning of one form or another is here to stay – but I don’t think that it can or should replace traditional education. Online courses have huge potential for disseminating high quality learning and information, and for sharing thoughts and ideas around the world; but the benefits of a traditional university campus education are too many to be dismissed.

1Johnston, R (2009). Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4). [Accessed 12 February 2013].

2Bleecker, J. (2006). A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things. [Accessed 12 February 2013].

3Shirky, C. (2012). Napster, Udacity and the academy., 12 November 2012. [Accessed 12 February 2013].

4Bady, A. (2012). Questioning Clay Shirky. Inside Higher Ed, 6 December 2012. [Accessed 12 February 2013].

5Carr, N. (2012). The Crisis in Higher Education. MIT Technology Review, 27 September 2012. [Accessed 12 February 2013].

Monday, 4 February 2013

E-Learning and Digital Cultures (#edcmooc) - Utopias & Dystopias, Week 1: Looking to the Past

Last week I signed up to the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course on Coursera. Run by tutors on the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Digital Education, the course is an example of a MOOC (massive open online course) – a relatively new development in distance education.

As an Information Officer working in the e-learning field, I was keen to participate in the course, not only to learn more about the wider context of the field in which I work but also to experience e-learning from the ‘other side’, which will hopefully help me in assisting the students and staff at my institution with their questions.

The five-week course has been designed to look at two themes, followed by a final assessment. The first theme is Utopias & Dystopias, exploring how and why e-learning and digital culture has been portrayed as both utopian and dystopian in popular culture and academic literature.

Week 1: Looking to the Past

The first week explored past views of utopian and dystopian writing on e-learning. We also had to watch a few short films about technology and its impact on humanity. During this time, we were encouraged to discuss the ideas on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and the course forums, but the course has so many participants that the flood of information rather daunted me – I ended up attending a study group instead, meeting a couple of other London-based participants on Sunday to discuss the ideas raised.

I found the readings and discussion interesting as it made me look at technology and e-learning in a whole new light. Some of the videos related more closely to technology in general, rather than e-learning in particular, but I still found them useful from a theoretical point of view.

The core reading1 was a useful introduction to the topic of technological determinism, the idea of the importance of technology in instigating social change. Further articles explored the concept of e-learning and the role of technology in learning in general, often with very contrasting viewpoints. I couldn’t help feeling that the opposing viewpoints of utopian/dystopian scenarios were rather simplistic – surely the actuality is more complex?

My initial thoughts, as a history graduate, flew to the invention of the printing press which helped to facilitate religious change within Europe, and the Industrial Revolution which changed the fabric of the UK and Europe in later centuries. Of course it is simplistic to state that technology was the only thing that led to this change, but it did play a large part.

Insofar as I ever thought about it, I always subscribed to the idea that technology itself was neutral – that it is what you do with it that counts. On a simplistic level, for example, librarians seek to use technology to help make information more widely available; totalitarian states can use technology to survey and spy on their citizens. One of the ideas explored in the reading and media was that this is not true – that technology can be built for an inherent purpose or can have repercussions beyond what was originally intended – the ‘Frankenstein syndrome’ defined by Neil Postman (1983). In our group discussion on Sunday, we talked about this concept in relation to the guillotine and the atom bomb, among other things. To me, the growth in popularity of tablet computers, produced without a built-in keyboard, suggests the development of a passive mode of consumption different to the communicative nature of the computer keyboard, which lets you record your thoughts and ideas (someone less obsessed with the written word and more highly disposed to telephone or video communication may see this entirely differently!).

Linked to the ‘Frankenstein syndrome’ was the concept of ‘resistentialism’ – this fictional concept was invented by Paul Jennings in 1948, and put forward the idea that the more crucial a piece of technology is at any given moment, the more likely it is that it will refuse to work. I am sure I am not the only one to feel that this has the ring of truth about it! On a more serious note, it is an example of the easy way in which we can invest inanimate technological equipment with human attributes, such as stubbornness, awkwardness and petulance (and that’s just the printer…).

I was intrigued by two pieces, one offering a utopian and the other a largely dystopian view of online education. J. Daniel’s speech for UNESCO2 argues that e-learning can help to solve the problems of quality and cost that currently plague universities, while D. Noble’s article3 claims that online education will lead to a decline in teaching quality and the commercialisation of education. I thought that both had their points, but I still feel that both positions are too simplistic. After all, there is still a divide between those who have access to the Internet and online learning and those who have not, and most if not all universities nowadays have at least some course content online.

Prensky’s famous paper4 espoused the ‘digital natives’ versus ‘digital immigrants’ theory, arguing that older people who did not grow up with technology – the ‘digital immigrants’ – need to learn to adapt to new ways of working in order to keep pace with the younger ‘digital natives’. This theory is very simplistic, and ignores other factors relating to how and when people adopt technology, such as the digital divide, poverty and other reasons why a younger person might not feel comfortable with technology (not to mention older ones who might be completely at home with it). In my own experience, working on a helpdesk dealing with queries about a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), many of the students asking questions – several of whom are in their early twenties – don’t show a high level of technological understanding.

After initially wondering what I had let myself in for, I managed to successfully navigate the first week of the course. For the second week I will try to engage more with some of the other course participants on the forums – I might even dip a toe into Google+…

1Chandler, D. (2002). Technological determinism. Web essay, Media and Communications Studies, University of Aberystwyth. [Accessed 1 February 2013]

2Daniel, J. (2002). Technology is the Answer: What was the Question? Speech from Higher Education in the Middle East and North Africa, Paris, Institut du Monde Arabe, 27-29 May 2002. [Accessed 1 February 2013]

3Noble. D. (1998). Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education. First Monday 3/1. [Accessed 1 February 2013]

4Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9/5.,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf. [Accessed 1 February 2013]

Friday, 25 January 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 2 - Paying Attention

This session's task involved two parts: one instructed to keep a log of activities at work for two days, writing everything down and noting when you have the most (and the least) energy. The second stated to make a list at the beginning of each day for two days, ticking them off as they are completed.

The third task was to compare the four days. I certainly found myself to be more productive and focused when I wrote a list of goals at the beginning of the day. This didn't surprise me. I love lists and have them for absolutely everything: food shopping, presents to buy, places to go, errands to run... I do have a 'To Do' list on the computer at work but I think I need to make greater use of it - spend some time arranging and marking things off each day rather than having it in the background. When I don't have a list, I end up with all the things I need to do echoing around in my head distracting me, so getting everything down in list form certainly helps.

I found I was more productive in the morning, and again, this was no surprise; I always have a mid-afternoon slump at around 2pm, no matter what I eat, how much sleep I've had or what my sugar levels are. Luckily my job allows me to largely schedule my own workload so I tend to complete the most challenging, demanding tasks in the morning and leave the afternoon for more routine, repetitive procedures.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers

Thanks to a tweet by Jo Alcock (@joeyanne), I became aware of a new project called Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers. I followed the blog and thought I would have a go. I am quite an organised person anyway but I’m always looking for ways to be more so; also by learning about Personal Knowledge Management I will hopefully increase my understanding of knowledge management as a whole, and be better able to assist others in my job and my life.

You can read the introductory post here, and the first session post here.

I looked at the selected reading and found it interesting, although it took me a while to get my head around it. The main points I gained from it included the importance of the development of the knowledge economy and the growth of remote working, as well as the trend to describe people as ‘knowledge objects’. I have to say I’m not a fan of describing people as ‘objects’ in any sense but I think I understand the point of this label – that individuals possess their own store of knowledge that is unique to them, and that it is important to make the most of this knowledge.

I thought about the questions in the post:

1.     Brainstorm for a few minutes regarding your work situation.  How do you interact with the various levels of the DIKW Pyramid? What opportunities might there be to offer further value to your faculty, coworkers and students? Are there new classes you could create? Other services you can offer?  What creative things are you already doing in this regard?
I like the concept of the DIKW Pyramid (Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom). As suggested in the post, in my role as an Information Officer working with a VLE I have more to do with the first two labels, data and information. In my role I help to manage the VLE and organise the files contained within it, ensuring it is in the right place, easy to find and well-structured, so that the students can access it without hassle. I have less to do with the latter two labels. The HE institution where I work specialises in law; I don’t have knowledge of this subject area, but I do have knowledge of Blackboard (our VLE) and have undertaken online training instructing staff on how to use it. This year I am due to do some face-to-face training, so hopefully I can impart some useful knowledge to my colleagues and assist in the development of their wisdom!

2      Jason Frand and Carol Hixon’s paper in your selected readings is an often quoted source on PKM.  Frand & Hixon ask a series of questions which are still pertinent over 12 years later:
“If students and teachers continue to approach the educational experience using the same old approaches and techniques, will investing in information technologies make any difference? What, if anything, do faculty and students need to do differently in order to get value from our investment in information technologies “
I think they would need to make the most of technology, perhaps by using online tools to plan and schedule, work collaboratively, access files, and look at more interactive ways of learning. At the same time, I think it’s important not to rely on technology and not use it just for the sake of it.