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#EdTech: 9 useful online tools to share with the academic community

A while back I blogged about a session I'd run for academics on the academic skills and digital literacy we teach at York. The point of blogging was to say that what the academics were really interested in was not what we taught the students, but how they themselves could become digitally literate. With that in mind I decided to put on a session for academics on exactly that. It was to be a taster menu on 9 different EdTech tools that they might find useful in the Higher Education environment, for engaging students, boosting reputation, and their own research.

Importantly it wasn't to be a library session - I wanted people to actually show up, after all... I asked the central Learning & Teaching Forum if I could deliver it as part of their workshop schedule - it just happened to be delivered by a librarian. Recent experiences suggested York was completely ready for this sort of thing (and indeed we had to move the room to a bigger venue as nearly 60 academics signed up for the session) - if you don't read any more of this post my message would be, if you think you could run a Web 2.0 type session for lecturers and / or researchers, do it! They're really enthusiastic about it - it's no longer seen as a fad or a waste of time.

Anyhow, here's the presentation I used:

For anyone really enthusiastic, the full hour and a half session was recorded too; here's where you can watch the presentation and hear my talk at the same time.

So, how did it go? The answer is really well - the group were very enthusiastic, and the feedback forms were extremely positive with only one exception. One lecturer I really like actually left the room almost in a daze, backing away saying 'Ned, I think you've solved something I've been trying to sort for ages, one of these tools is what we need...' and ran off to investigate there and then! :)

What worked

  • The focus was on tools that helped solve existing problems - some Web 2.0 stuff seems to create its own problems which it then solves... This was based on tools that already fitted into the fabric of academic life
  • It wasn't a hands-on session but I encouraged as much discussion as possible, questions and sharing of experiences, so that it wasn't just me banging on about stuff at the front
  • The What, Why, How, Tips type format I use in a lot of my training also worked well here - it's really important to tell people why they'd find a tool useful BEFORE you tell them how to use it
  • It was the right thing at the right time - lots of the feedback comments were things like 'This is exactly what I wanted!' - had I tried to do this when I first got to York 2 years ago, for example, I'm not sure that would have been the case
  • It was matter of fact and practical. One academic said they'd been attracted by the lack of 'platitudes and concepts' which he said dominated most courses and workshops they were offered... The whole point of the session was to give people things they could DO right away which helped them in their actual real lives .

What didn't

  • I think 9 was probably too many tools for the time. I should have done 7 perhaps - I felt like I was really galloping through everything. It was meant to be a taster-menu, but still
  • As with every training session ever, a couple of people found some of it too simplistic and a couple of other people found some of it too complicated - I'm not sure there's a silver bullet for this issue, really, I'd love to know if anyone's cracked it
  • A couple of people commented that they found Part 2 more useful than Part 1, but Part 1 was the more substantial section. If I run it again (and I probably will) I'll try and put greater emphasis on the teaching tools rather than the social media side of things
  • I should have used more academic examples. (I told myself I'd be using loads of examples in the Becoming a Networked Researcher hands-on workshops I'm running at the moment - but much of the audience is different for these, so it's really not relevant to tell myself that!) .

Incidentally, there was a really interesting conversation (which I didn't feel qualified to contribute much to) about the nonsense female academics have to put up with online; or indeed any prominent females have to endure. It seems that as soon as your level of exposure reaches a certain point - my unscientific guess is, when you've been on TV just once - there will be some idiots who will take advantage of the net's relative anonymity to say unpleasant or creepy things. If this is a subject you're interested in, I'd highly recommend reading about Sara Perry's Gender and Digital Culture project, which is looking to tackle the issue.

So as you can probably guess by now, I'm really pleased that we've reached a tipping point and there's enthusiasm in the academic community for the potential applications of Web 2.0 tools. This is an area lots of librarians are interested in, so I really think it's a great time to offer up your knowledge and expertise to a grateful audience in HE. There are a few institutions doing this, and it seems to be working for all of us.