On Wednesday I attended a CoFHE event at the Open University in Milton Keynes.

The event was titled “The Terrible 2.0s? Web 2.0 without tears” and covered a variety of Web 2.0 topics such as podcasting, blogging, wikis and social software in general.

The keynote speaker was Peter Godwin, who started the event with a talk on Information Literacy and the Google Generation. Peter’s presentation was very interesting with lots of thought-provoking points made about today’s students (like those made in the CIBER report earlier this year). The main theme emerging from the talk was how today’s students are visual learners who like to learn in small chunks. Like Peter admitted though, doesn’t that describe a lot of us? Definitely something to think about when I’m next preparing material on “boring” (Peter’s words not mine!) topics such as Information Literacy though! He also included one of me favourite YouTube videos, A Vision of Students Today, which it was great to see again. Here it is for anyone that hasn’t yet seen it, really made me think when I first saw it:

I’ve previously written about Peter’s book which he co-edited with Jo Parker, Information Literacy Meets Library 2.0, but just to highlight it again, it really is a very interesting read for anyone involved in teaching information literacy skills.

The next talk was by Jane Knight and Steve Burholt from Oxford Brookes. They shared their experiences of podcasting for libraries from both a librarian and a techy point of view. I found this approach very interesting, it was good to hear about the practical experience for the librarian but was very refreshing to also hear from the techy side. I think it made a lot of us in the room (including myself) realise how much effort is needed to successfully implement a regular podcast for the library. The enthusiasm of the group from Oxford Brookes is certainly to be commended! You can view a copy of the slides for the presentation here.

We then had a break for lunch, which was a great opportunity for networking. I had a number of interesting conversations with other people at the event, mainly discussing new technologies and examples of good practice, as well as the inevitable hurdles people are encountering when trying to implement these new Web 2.0 technologies.

After lunch we had a session on social software by Christian Cooper, a lecturer from Thames Valley University who favours a social constructivist approach to teaching and learning. He discussed educational uses of social software including group critiques (particularly useful for Art and Design students), reflective journals and collaborative learning. The main content of his presentation concentrated on the use of blogging as a tool for learning by encouraging students to use it as a reflective journal of their learning experiences. You can view a copy of the presentation here.

Following a short CoFHE AGM, we then had the opportunity to have a guided tour of the Open University library, and explore the DigiLab, a room within the library for all OU staff and researchers to use to encourage them to explore new technologies and think about how they can apply these technologies to learning.

The DigiLab visit was my personal highlight of the day. Keren Mills, Digital Services Development Officer, gave us a brief introduction to the room and the main purposes of it before taking us to have a look. The room contains different areas of new technologies – it has an area for gaming (including a Wii, Xbox and Playstation2 amongst others), a PC area (for both gaming and advanced software packages), a Mac area (for podcasting, video editing etc.), and a mobile learning area (with PDAs and Smartphones). There are also a number of publications for general interest (I’d be in heaven in there with all the geeky magazines!), as well as copies of reports demonstrating how the technologies can be used (e.g. there was a report on mobile learning and some factsheets for anyone who is new to the area). The room is designed to be a creative space and is very informal in nature, it has comfy chairs and even Lego, plasticine and pipe cleaners to encourage creativity! What I particularly liked about the space was that it is open whenever the library is open and anyone is free to use the facilities whenever they want to. When we first went into the room, there was a group gathered around the Macs and PCs discussing their project on Second Life and it was great to see academics and researchers really embracing the new technologies and thinking about ways to use them to improve learning. The room is still in its infancy and Keren says there are still some concerns from staff that trying these new gadgets is just playing rather than working. I think for the majority of people that have visited the lab though, it is clear that it is an educational space and I hope more academics will take the opportunity to visit it and use the technologies. OU is a pioneer in this sort of thing, but I really hope we see similar schemes being set up in other Universities.

At the end of the day I had a brief tour of the Open University library, which I hadn’t realised had only quite recently been opened for students and the general public (when I say recent, I’m talking years not months, but I’d always naively assumed that all academic libraries were mainly used by students). I was surprised at how relatively small the stock area of the library is, but I hadn’t realised that OU don’t offer a postal lending scheme so the stock they have is only really for academic staff and local students. I can see why they don’t have a postal loan scheme as I’m sure it would be a logistical nightmare, as well as very expensive. Aberystwyth currently offer this for their distance learning students (I’ve never used it though to be perfectly honest!) but then they don’t have anywhere near the student numbers of the OU studying from a distance. It really highlights the importance of schemes such as the SCONUL Access scheme to allow students to borrow or at least use the material at their local libraries, and also the importance of providing access to e-books and e-journals so that OU students can access material from home. The OU Information Helpdesk is in the staff office too, as all their enquiries are taken by phone, e-mail or online chat. It was very interesting to see an academic library which supports a totally different user base to the traditional academic library. I think we were all a little bit envious of not having to deal with group study room bookings and various other annoying things, but I’m sure there are the fair share of problems working with student from such a distance!

All in all it was a very enjoyable day with a good mix of sessions and great networking opportunities. I also happened to meet fellow blogger Clari who works at the Open University, it was nice to meet her in real life. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • Lyndsey

    It’s great that the OU are embracing new technologies in this way. I sometimes think that our University doesn’t realise the potential of all these new and emerging technologies and how they can enhance the user experience. A lot of our students find the student portal, intranet and email system confusing, yet they are adept at Facebook and using their hotmail! If libraries lead the way in embracing Web 2.0 and highlighting the services it can provide, I think our students would find finding information a lot easier. The only trouble is that the people in charge of Library systems and services are afraid that using Web 2.0 will undermine the integrity of our services. I think they’d have a fit if we suggested using some of the technologies you’ve highlighted here in your blog!

  • I completely agree Lyndsey, I know some of our students are already choosing to use Facebook or MSN rather our VLE/e-mail to communicate as it’s the technology they’re familiar with.

    We are gradually starting to introduce new technologies but there is a lot of work to be done and I know many of the students are far ahead of us. I hope we can start to utilise some of the technologies in an educational setting such as in our VLEs and OPACs.

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