My Ideas for work (a small essay).

I’m in quite a ideas filled place at the moment; so I’m just going to spew a couple of them out, not least to clear my head and stop boring Ruth with them, who to be fair is incredibly patient with me when I get in to this place. (If you work in JMU I think you should try and read this post, because I think if they ever happened it would make life more fun. if you’re don’t care about computers then skip the first two and just read about how people could tell each other what they do all day)

“Pinky,Are you pondering what i’m pondering?”


Blackboard is the software the university uses for it’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), that’s just a fancy way of saying a web site with all the course content on. Now originally I was against the purchase of blackboard, I felt it didn’t deliver what we wanted, and we could do it better internally. I still think that’s true, except now we have blackboard the product has matured a bit and I have come to the realisation that as a department we couldn’t Manage I development project of the scale required (that is we have the skilled people, we just couldn’t manage them), So you have to embrace what you’ve got, to that end we should extend it where it doesn’t meet our requirements..

Open Discussion

The ideal many people see in blackboard is this big online one stop shop for the students, where they can get there course content, and join the virtual community that surrounds there modules. That’s the vision; in reality I think it falls far short of that in our institution, mainly because people want to keep tight control.

To that end the discussion and feedback opportunities for students are quite stringently controlled, and where and what they can talk about is limited. In my opinion that’s not a community, I think a community would thrive in a much more organic style setting. I understand the need for structure around the modules (it would make no sense to just scatter gun the content) but I feel that once the content is there we could open up more.

I see the answer as a sort of controlled wiki (best know being Wikipidia). A wiki is a free for all content management system, where anybody can edit anything with very little or no control over what they can’t do. Now obviously we can’t have students randomly changing course content, but what we could have is content feedback. I see this taking the form much more of the beeb’s Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy system (H2G2) we’re people can post content, and then others can form a discussion around the content (as a random example from h2g2 shows).

My idea is to put this into blackboard, essentially develop a building block (an plug in) to allow discussion on any piece of content, on the page of the content. so students and lectures could discuss the content in the logic place. where it lives. An immediate benefit would be the replacement of students asking questions individually of the content. to asking it in an open forum where the answers could be seen.

Along with at the content forums this data could also be aggregated into student pages (blogs for want of a better word) and course pages, and program pages, and school pages. all in all I think a much more active discussion.

Opposition, and my answers:

now, I think this idea rocks, but I can see what people will say:

“students will abuse the system, I (a lecturer) don’t want to spend all day, policing fights about pet dogs.” well don’t just let it go, an abuse feedback system would be included, as in where posts are self moderated, and abuse is reported up (one system would be to have the abuse go to a small team (say four people centrally) if three of the team ‘voted’ (via a webform, so no actual talking or debating all the time) then the post would be struck off)

“Students will criticize the course” what are you afraid of? this surely is a fantastic way to get feedback, if the students don’t like it. then maybe there is something wrong.


RSS will work better for us in blackboard if it flows the other way, out

Still on blackboard, I’ve pointed this out but no one believes me (yet) RSS is arriving (yes it has arrived, in nerd world, but the mainstream is waking up), and when IE7 comes around it’s going to explode. blackboard can consume RSS, so wow we can put the BBC news headlines into blackboard, if a student wants to read the news, will they a) click on a link on cwis, type in there username and password, then click on a link on a tab, then read short headlines, and click on the link to the bbc news site. b) type ‘bbc news’ in to Google? or c) type into the address bar? (which one do you do?)

RSS will work better for us in blackboard if it flows the other way, out. I should, as a student be able to subscribe to my course or modules’ feed and have changes delivered to my nearest RSS agrigator (yes currently RSS aggregators are the domain of nerds, but when your web browser or email client is offering all this won’t you want all your information in one place?)

JMU Staff, and the communities they work in

I’m in quite a community place, and this idea follows on from the blackboard on really, except it has very little to do with IT.

I think the department (CIS) should hold a ‘conference’, nothing huge and lengthy, just maybe a one day event full of little (10 – 15 minute) presentations on what we do.

At first I thought this could be something we offer to the rest of the university, and get the people we deal with on a day to day basis (I.e. libraries, finance, personnel, Maths) to come along and see what else we do other than the bit they deal with. That way we could let finance, who know all about the finance servers, have an insight into the other things we do like DES, Terminal Services, CRM, or networks.

Then I thought, nah; no one would turn up, so then I thought maybe this should be done on wider scale. A while back we (the systems group) got a talk by someone (quite high up in finance) on how university finance worked, it was interesting, so maybe departments could all contribute to a university wide (look at what other people do) event.

Then I thought. there is no way we could organise that (I could always drop it into the suggestion sceme for a laugh and a free pen). Then I remembered, once a year (although we missed it this year) Jim troupe us all off to the holiday inn, for a CIS day, where basically Jim, Norman, Kevin and Johnny boy tell us all about what ‘we’ are doing. Now no offence but these talks are dull; how about we replace that with a serf led, mini-conference with loads of little 10-15 minute this is my job type things, you could group them in to broad themes or even clump together totally difference themes. I think the key to it all would be not forcing every one to listen to everyone else, if you had two rooms you could hold different ‘streams’ so people could pop in and out of things and listen to what they thought sounded interesting. then at the end our ‘keynote’ speaker (Jim) would give us the moral boosting talk.

The ten minute presentation is also Key, keeping it short and simple and concise (just like this post :o) ) for a nerdy example of this (I am thinking our talks would be a lot less nerdy!) look at GrokTalks. where Microsoft got a load of Regional Directors to give short 10 minute talks. they are snappy and you can quickly see if it’s interesting (and if it’s not it’s only 10minutes), and yes we to could video them!.

there endeth the rant (so far…)

Kevin is a senior systems programmer in the Systems group of Computing and Information Services, Liverpool JMU, he’s not sure if it’s his job to tell the university how to do it’s business, but it does say something in his contract about staying abreast of technological developments, and that would be a silly thing to do, if you then weren’t allowed to use that knowledge.