An inspiring week at the #studentideas design sprint

Sometimes my job genuinely makes me want to cry.

I’ve been working in Birmingham all week with students going through a design sprint to launch potential new tech products. It’s been both tiring and rewarding as we’ve covered so much over such a short time. What has really been inspiring has been to see their ideas evolve and take shape. Continue reading

How long does it take?

I’m on holiday in Rhodes at the moment and I love how there’s little notion of time in Greece. Today I decided to get the bus into Rhodes town. It’s about 50km or so from the fishing village of Pefkos where I’m staying.
Rhodes town
I headed down to the local bus stop in the village. There wasn’t a timetable so I waited not knowing when (or indeed if) a bus would turn up.
After half an hour or so a bus pulled up.
“Where are you going?” asked the Greek bus driver.
“Rhodes town.” I replied.
“Get in.”
“How long does it take?” I enquired.
He shrugged and looked at me as if I’d asked him to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity – through the medium of modern dance.
I got on the bus and persevered: “An hour? Roughly how long?”
Again, he looked at me with a mixture of pity and humour – the kind of look he probably reserves for tourists.
“I’ll shout you when we get there.” He offered, trying to be helpful.

Charming anecdote Scott, but what does any of this have to do with using technology in teaching and learning? You may well ask.
Well, nothing really, except it reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a friend at work about timed activities. Whether it’s for a short group discussion or something else we often say to learners “I’m going to give you ten minutes to do X, Y or Z” and probably use nothing more than the clock on the wall or our watch to time it.
And that’s perfectly fine, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. However, if you want to add a sense of fun you might want to vary it now and then by using sites like the online bomb stopwatch or the theme music from the popular TV show Countdown to add a sense of drama.
Right, back to the sunbed!

Emojis – good (👍) or bad (👎)?

Last week Apple proposed a suite of new “accessibility emojis” to the Unicode Consortium, which sparked a water cooler chat in our team.


(Image available on Pixabay under a CC0 licence).

According to Apple, the new emojis are not intended to be a comprehensive reflection of all possible depictions of disabilities, but are intended more as a starting point. The new emojis include a guide dog, prosthetic limbs, a hearing aid and people using canes and various wheelchairs.

Perceptions on the uses of emojis vary enormously and as with anything new, our water cooler chat threw up more questions than answers.

Here are some of those questions:-

Are emojis a language subculture used as signifiers to identify membership (and non-membership) of an exclusive club?

As well as being inclusive and reflecting the diversity of society there is a counter-argument that asserts that emojis are sometimes used to identify membership of an exclusive club. History and popular culture is peppered with such examples, right from the divine symbols that represent the cults of ancient Greek gods to simple badges and logos on football shirts to name but a couple.

Some people feel disenfranchised or detached from using emojis, because of their perceived association with certain subcultures. Often this is generational, and (understandably) middle-aged folk like myself don’t want to be seen as trying to be “down with the kids” in a futile attempt to look cool.

I get that, I really do, but take it to the other extreme, take someone who refuses to use emojis at all in any context – does that not equally convey a message of rigidity and dryness?

Do emojis contribute to or distract from Plain English practices online?

This can be a very divisive question.

In an article in The Guardian called ‘Adults who use emoji should grow up’ David Webster clearly makes the case against emojis. In the article Webster bemoans the fact that emoji can cause confusion and are often a sign of “linguistic incompetence.” These are fair points, but doesn’t the richness of the English language often cause confusion  and belie someone’s “linguistic incompetence” too?

Webster gives a begrudging acknowledgement to some of the advantages of emoji, such as brevity and humour, but ultimately concludes that they are fairly useless:

“It’s not an objection to brevity or humour, and no sensible person really sees a new range of possible emoji as a sign of the eschaton. It’s that they aren’t much use.”

If emojis are the language of a subculture used as signifiers to represent the membership of exclusive clubs (and I think they are in some instances) I think the same argument could also be levelled against Webster and his use of English. Does anyone really use words like ‘eschaton’ other than the intellectual elites who read the Guardian? It’s this kind of pomposity that turns me off…

I can’t help but feel that Webster has not really taken into account the range of contexts in which emojis are used.

For example, often the platform can dictate the language used. Take something like Twitter, where brevity is key, emojis have a distinct practical advantage. Likewise, if someone wants a quick temperature check during a workshop, I’ve often seen the smiley face and sad face emojis employed on feedback cards to great effect. Like many others, I also use a range of apps on my phone to keep in touch with people on the go – conversely, in many mobile exchanges it would often be alien to respond to friends in prose rather than emojis!

Do you have to be completely on one side or the other?

Do emojis add an element of light-hearted fun to written communications or do they just trivialise the content?

I think they can do both – depending on context.

Yes, of course you will often get people using emojis in a trivial fashion (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in moderation). Yes, you will also get people using them to undermine and exclude others, just as language has always done. However, does that mean we should all stop using emoji?

Perhaps a better question to ask is Why are you using emojis? Personally, I like emojis (I feel I should use a ‘👍’ here) and if they help to better reflect the diversity of our society, then that has to be a good thing. If there is a practical use for you, is right for the context or helps to create a positive sense of community, then why not?

If you’d like to find out more about the richness of online language and its broader applications, my colleague, Dr Esther Barrett, has written a series of excellent posts on the Inspiring Learning blog.


Automated tweets that “Prepare you for OBLIVION!”

One of my pet hates are automated tweets.

They dehumanise Twitter. When I interact with someone on Twitter I want to know there’s an authentic human voice at the other end of the conversation. Not a bot that is responding with pre-programmed tweets that have about as much interest for me as whether or not the UK will win the next Eurovision Song contest (spoiler alert – we won’t…). Continue reading

A closer look at Screencast-O-Matic

As free screencasting tools go, Screencast-O-Matic is my favourite. It features as number 27 in the Top 100 Tools for Learning poll of 2015 and is an easy way to create fairly short screencasts (15 minutes or less) to help reinforce key topics with learners. If you haven’t done one before a screencast is typically a video recording of all, or part, of your screen that’s accompanied by an audio or video narration. It’s ideal for demonstrating what you are doing on your computer, such as a software demo or web search, a presentation run-through or is even being used by some organisations as a means of providing formative and summative feedback to learners. Continue reading

Amplifying events through social media

How can social media be put to good effect to amplify events?

This year Jisc held its annual Digifest in Birmingham (#Digifest17) and the Subject Specialist team were working hard behind the scenes to ensure the event trended on social media and reached out to those ‘attending’ the event virtually, as well as complementing the activities for those physically present over the two days. Continue reading