Friday, 3 June 2011

What I don’t get about Twitter

I'm still a relative novice at Twitter. I've really only been tweeting for a few months. I probably only tweet a few times a week, but this is mainly because I don't often feel that what I've got to say would be remotely interesting to anyone else!

I've found it useful in lots of ways. I've picked up on some really useful websites and other resources as a result of links in various tweets, such as elearning resources from @gconole. It's also been a good news stream for certain things that I wouldn't normally pick up on via mainstream sources, such as higher education (@timeshighered), construction economics (@brickonomics), and even a journalist's perspective on the goings on at Loftus Road (@davidmcintyre76).

However, whilst I'm glad I'm on Twitter, and I do value it, there are certain aspects of it which remain a bit of mystery to me. So, here are the top five things I just don't get about Twitter. 
1. Meaningless hashtags

I understand the principle of hashtags and I think it's one of the things that makes Twitter a potentially really useful tool. Adding a relevant hashtag means that users with common interests or a shared group can easily locate tweets which are relevant to them. Hence, I make use of #H807 for my Open University studies (because H807 is the module number) and #QPR to locate tweets about, yes, you've got it - QPR.

But could somebody please explain the point of hashtags like #wornoutbeforeistart #needsomesleep #lookingforwardtotheweekend ? What purpose do they serve? I just find them really annoying.

    2. Follow Friday

I thought "Follow Friday" (#FF) was supposed to be used to recommend people you follow to others. I also thought that you were supposed to state why you are recommending them. So why does every Friday produce a deluge of tweets that contain "#FF" followed by a whole string of Twitter names with no reason to follow them?

3. Being followed by random people 
Why would someone who has no connection with me whatsoever want to follow me? I could understand if we had something in common, but there doesn't seem to be any reason at all for some people to follow me. Strange.

4. Banal tweets
I must confess that I've tweeted occasionally about something that just happens and you feel the need to tell someone. But really .... am I seriously interested in the fact that you are wondering what to have for dinner this evening or that you're on a coffee break. Why do people think that anyone would want to know that?

5. Retweeting everything 
Like hashtags, retweeting is a really useful tool. If I see a tweet from someone that I follow which contains a link to a useful resource, then the obvious thing to do is retweet it. But some people's tweets seem to only consist of retweets. If all they do is retweet other people's tweets then maybe they've missed the point of Twitter in the first place.


So there you are. As useful as Twitter is, I think these points will continue to bug me. Having said that - I'm still discovering new ways of using Twitter, and I'm keen to experiment with using it in connection with my teaching.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

H807: Week 17 – Activity 2 – Supporting your elearners

In this activity we are asked to reflect on a paper by Dearnley (2003) which discusses student support in the context of mature learners who were practicing nurses and were studying through open learning. Dearnley identifies three types of network which provide support:

  • Social (typically family and friends)
  • Professional (typically work colleagues)
  • Academic (fellow students and personal tutors)

We are asked to consider the following questions:

  1. Focus on your prospective learners: will they have any of the same issues as the students in Dearnley's paper?
  2. Which social, academic and professional frameworks do you access as a student – for example, in your study of H807? I'm not assuming that everyone will use all three or will have access to all of them, a point that Dearnley also makes.


Question 1

Undoubtedly, some of the learners in the group on which I will base my activity will experience many of the same issues as those in Dearnley's paper. Our courses attract significant numbers of part time (day release) students who often have demanding professional jobs. Furthermore we tend to have substantial numbers of mature students who may have family responsibilities to balance alongside their studies. In fact, even many of our younger, school leaving entrants also have to contend with part time employment and family commitments. It is therefore highly likely that the majority of our students will benefit from all three types of support network.

Question 2

From a personal perspective, I would say that I benefit from primarily from the social and academic networks. My family and friends provide the emotional support that is often essential when the demands of part time study get on top of me. They also keep me grounded when I am perhaps getting things out of proportion. My fellow students on the course are also a valuable source of support. It is always helpful when one is really struggling with workloads, or with understanding a concept, to know that others in the group are going through similar difficulties, or indeed having to cope with much more difficult circumstances than me. I feel that I get the least support from my colleagues at work and there is virtually no allowance made for my studies. This may be my own fault in that I have never really sought support.


Dearnley, C. (2003) 'Student support in open learning: sustaining the process', International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning [online] (Accessed 29 May 2011)

Sunday, 22 May 2011


When I resurrected my blog earlier this year I decided that I wanted to make it a bit more wide ranging than just my Open University studies. In the heading to the blog I actually mention that I will include posts about construction education and about the frustrations and joys of supporting QPR. I've managed to include several posts about the former, but so far not one single post about the latter. The reason for that is simple: I didn't want to tempt fate! The season which has just ended has been the best season in a generation for QPR fans but I thought if I wrote anything in my blog about this it would simply tempt fate. However, now the season is over I thought it was only right that I finally included something about QPR being champions and promoted to the Premier League.

People who don't follow football find it difficult to appreciate the highs and lows which fans go through. I took my son to his first QPR game when he was five years old in 2002. At the time we were in the third tier (what is now League One) and the club was struggling. For years he has had to put up with the jibes and taunts from his friends who support Chelsea or Arsenal or Manchester United. Throughout that time I used to tell him to simply ask those so-called fans how many times they had actually been to see their team play. In most cases this was once or twice a season whilst, as season ticket holders, we have hardly missed a home game at QPR in that time. He has stuck with the team through thick and thin, and let's be honest – it has mostly been thin! It has been difficult at times over the years to maintain the enthusiasm for QPR as performances on the pitch have often been mediocre at best, and the club became a laughing stock off the pitch due to bizarre boardroom activities and the rate at which managers were hired and fired.

All that changed last year. In the second half of the 2009/10 season the board finally appointed a proven manager – Neil Warnock – and allowed him to get on with running the team. I have to confess we were less than enthusiastic at the appointment, having seen the style of football adopted by Warnock at previous clubs, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United. Well – our doubts were unfounded because Neil Warnock had an immediate impact last season, stabilising the club and avoiding relegation. In the close-season he made several signings, most of which were greeted with scepticism to say the least. And yet on the opening day of the 2010/11 season we beat Barnsley 4-0 at home and went top of the league on goal difference. Amazingly (and I still have to pinch myself when I say this) we stayed top for virtually the whole season apart from a couple of weeks.

But QPR don't do things the easy way. In March the FA announced that QPR had been charged with seven offences relating to third-party ownership of players. There was immediate speculation that, if proven, the charges could result in a significant points deduction. So, the best season ever was about to be ruined by matters which had nothing to do with performances on the pitch. This cloud remained hanging over us for the remainder of the season. It clearly affected the players who struggled to maintain their form. However, the important thing was that they didn't lose too many matches. They drew quite a few but they managed to keep accumulating enough points to keep them top. The FA's hearing took place during the week before the final day of the season. A decision was due on Friday 7th May but no decision was forthcoming.

On Saturday 8th May QPR played their final match of the season at home to Leeds United. Regardless of the result QPR would still be top of the league, but no one knew whether the FA would deduct points and strip us of the title. My son and I followed our usual matchday ritual of driving out to South Ruislip station to get on the Central Line to White City. There were loads of Rs fans on the train and at each station more and more got on. Everyone was excited but also really anxious. Then, somewhere between Perivale and Hanger Lane, I received a text message. It was an official announcement from the club:

"Official QPR: WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! The FA have announced there will be no points deduction. WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE!"

I couldn't believe what I was reading. I had to read it again but once I realised it was genuine I just shouted it out. It seems I was the first one on the train to get the message because it went up and down the train like wildfire. Suddenly everyone's phones were going and people were cheering and shouting. We got off the train at White City to walk to the ground and there was unbridled jubilation everywhere. Grown men were in tears. It really was memorable. We just stood outside the stadium for a while to soak it all in.

As I said, people who don't follow football find this difficult to understand, but when you have invested so much time and emotion (and money!) in following a team, when something like this happens it really is special. We lost to Leeds on the day, but it didn't actually matter. QPR were presented with the Championship trophy on the pitch at Loftus Road after the match and the celebrations continued well into the night.
It was a fantastic day which I think I will remember for ever. It was great for my son too, who finally gets to see his team compete at the top level after years of putting up with so much stick.

U RRRRRRssss!!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Fragmentation, Silos and the Impact on Built Environment Education

I gave a presentation at a symposium on Friday 20 May at the University of Westminster. The symposium was for the launch of a new research centre called ProBE: the Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment. It's a joint initiative between the School of Architecture and the Built Environment and Westminster Business School. 

The symposium included a range of presentations by guests from around the world, including Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Sri Lanka, as well as the UK. 

To me, the most striking thing about the international presentations was how much more integrated and coherent the education frameworks for the built environment professions seemed to be in other countries. My presentation focussed on the fragmentation which exists amongst the built environment professions in the UK, and the impact this has on education. Here's the presentation:

More information about ProBE

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Tuition fees, a revolution in higher education, and another four day weekend!

A few days off work for me at the moment, which has coincided with a break in the H807 course. I suppose I should be forcing myself to stay away from all things digital and have a proper break, but I think I've reached a stage where I start to get a bit twitchy if I haven't been online for a few hours! That might sound a bit sad, but believe it or not I still find the whole internet and social network world quite exciting and, given the ease of access via laptop, iPad or smartphone, I guess I'm genuinely hooked.

A couple of things have got me thinking this week which at first didn't seem particularly related to each other, but the more I thought about them I realised they were actually very closely related indeed.

Firstly, my daughter's sixth form college held an evening for parents to explain the ins and outs of applying for higher education. I managed to wheedle my way out of attending, but my wife went and, aside from all the usual information about choosing the right subject, and the right university, and filling out the UCAS application, she was quite shocked about the potential impact of the new tuition fee arrangements. Our daughter is currently in the first year of sixth form college, so if she wants to go to university then she would be entering in 2012. She will therefore be part of the first intake affected by the new fees. Given that I work in higher education I am reasonably well informed about the new fee arrangements, but I have to confess that it really starts to hit home when I consider the issue in the context of my own family. I've been following the issue quite closely on Twitter (@timeshighered) and it is clear that the majority of universities expect to charge the maximum £9000 per annum for their courses. If a student also borrows £4000 per annum for living costs, then by the time they graduate they will have accumulated a debt of £39,000. What shocked my wife was a point made by my daughter's college that it is quite possible that the total cost of repaying that loan could be over £80,000. In other words, graduates may end up paying back more than double what they borrowed. In effect, graduates will have the equivalent of a small mortgage at the age of 21, assuming they enter a graduate level job.

Now of course we don't yet know what the final arrangements will be, as the government doesn't even expect to publish its white paper on the matter until June, so inevitably there is a lot of speculation and misinformation out there. Nevertheless, it does seem clear that this is will have an impact on applications to universities. My daughter is not even sure that she wants to go to university, irrespective of the fees, but in the past young people in her position would probably have gone anyway. Surely they will now think twice if it means saddling themselves with a massive debt for the next 30 years. Some people will say that this is a good thing if it means that that people entering university are genuinely committed to it. However, this has to be considered against the fact that the whole thrust of government policy on higher education over the past twenty years has been to increase participation rates. Universities have therefore adapted to cope with larger numbers of students. It is highly likely, in my view, that there will now be a significant decline in applications to universities. I've made the point before that I think many people in higher education are simply ignoring the potential threats brought about by the new fees. They seem to believe that "we'll be alright as long as we keep doing what we're doing".

This brings me to the second interesting point that has arisen this week: an article in the Times Higher which I picked up on via Twitter. The article, by Cathy Davidson of Duke University in North Carolina, maintains that our higher education system was developed over 100 years ago to meet the needs of the industrial age. In the early twentieth century the response of universities to the industrial world's emphasis on efficiency, standardisation, specialisation and hierarchical management structures was to reorganise into faculties and schools, and to have specialist degrees and disciplines:

"The history of 20th-century higher education has been the history of assessing individual achievement, measuring, certifying and quantifying outcomes and outputs."

Davidson suggests that the structure of higher education is no longer suited to the modern world of high speed communication and knowledge transfer, and she claims that the time is now right for a new revolution in higher education. In particular, she suggests that graduates nowadays need to be equipped with new skills:

" sorting and attentional skills, collaborative skills, judgement and logical skills, synthesising and analytical abilities, critical and creative skills, qualitative and quantitative skills, all together, with few lines between them. These are sometimes called "21st-century literacies", a range of new interpersonal, synthesising, organising and communication skills that companies insist today's graduates lack."

I think there has been a lot of emphasis in recent years on the role of universities in producing graduates who are ready for the workplace. In my own work I lead a programme of degree courses which are highly vocational and are designed to prepare graduates for entry to specific professional disciplines. We attract students partly because they know that when they graduate they have a direct route into a career. I had assumed that this would continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, notwithstanding the current recession in the construction industry. However, it seems to me that the universities which will be successful in the future will be those which produce graduates with the attributes to enable them to adapt to a fast-changing environment. In the era of high tuition fees universities will have little choice but to respond. Prospective applicants will quickly become proficient in identifying the universities which are capable of providing the types of courses suited to the modern world. At the moment I don't even know what those courses might look like, but I do realise that if we simply carry on doing things as we have done for the past twenty years we will very soon find ourselves obsolete.

Anyway, it's probably best not to let that spoil another four day weekend. Personally, as an avid republican, I can't stand the whole royal wedding thing, but I'm very glad of the day off because the wedding happens to coincide with my best friend's 50th birthday. I'll be doing plenty of celebrating on Friday, and if QPR can beat Watford on Saturday then the celebrations will continue!!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Killing two birds with one stone

I'm being a bit cheeky here, or looking at it another way, I'm just being sensible. In any event, I'm basically trying to kill two birds with one stone. In H807 this week we have been asked to evaluate the usability of a technology or web-based resource. At the same time, I am currently involved in a JISC sponsored programme to produce Open Resources for Built Environment Education (ORBEE). My involvement is to produce three learning packages in the field of Building Adaptation and Conservation, which is one of my specialist areas.

For the ORBEE project I would like to incorporate some screencasts in the online resources so I have been experimenting with free online screencast services. In an earlier blog I had a go with screenr which was quite successful, but the screencast length is limited to 5 minutes. One of my fellow students on H807 (thanks, Karl) drew my attention to Screencast-o-matic. Despite the awful name it's actually a very useful, free service which allows users to produce instant screencasts of up to 15 minutes' duration.

It took me three attempts to get this right and it's still fairly crude, but I have to admit that it's a really easy tool to use. All I've done is to use PowerPoint with a voiceover to describe an animated graph. To anyone not interested in the subject I have no doubt that it will be incredibly boring, but it does relate directly to the work I've been preparing for the ORBEE project so, from a purely personal point of view, it's been helpful.

Screencasts can be uploaded directly to YouTube, and then embedded in a website or blog as I've done here. There is no need to download any software, and you can start recording your screencast within seconds of opening the webpage. You don't even need to log in or sign up for anything.

Anyway, here's the screencast, though I won't expect many people to be actually interested in it:

I won't include my notes about the usability of the technology here, as we've asked to post them directly on the H807 tutor group forum.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Education or qualification?

The other day a colleague was bemoaning the fact that students weren't turning up for lectures. To anyone teaching in higher education this is a familiar scenario: the end of term is approaching, there are lots of coursework submission deadlines, the content which relates to the coursework has all been covered already, etc. etc. All of these factors often lead to one thing: half empty lecture rooms. My response to my colleague was that a lot of our students are what I call 'strategic' learners. This is particularly the case with part time students who only attend university on one day per week and may have demanding employment alongside their studies. These students tend to focus on activities which contribute to assessment. If this means that certain aspects of the course are treated rather superficially, or even ignored, then so be it. Passing the course and gaining the qualification is, for many students, more important than the deep learning which we as academics like to promote. In other words, many of our students are more interested in getting a qualification than an education.

A common response to this problem is to use the module assessment regime as a 'stick' to beat students with. The argument runs something like this: if students have to sit an exam at the end of the module then they will be much more likely to attend all the lectures to ensure that they don't miss any of the content and, more importantly, don't miss any hints about what might be in the exam. Or, even better, why not have short, sharp in-class tests at regular intervals throughout the module. Provided the tests contribute to the overall module marks, the students effectively have to turn up to classes.

I was reflecting on this in the light of the work we have been doing in H807 this week. One of the activities this week has involved looking at assessment practices in the context of Web 2.0. Personally, I have serious reservations about the value of exams and tests as a means of assessing learning. I can empathise very strongly with the view put forward by Elliot (2008) in his paper about assessment in the age of Web 2.0:

"Some educationalists claim that the current assessment system encourages surface learning and "teaching to the test". Instead of instilling genuine problem solving skills, it fosters memorisation. Examination papers that appear to pose 'deep' questions are answered by rote memory – memories that are acquired by students under pressure from parents who want to see their children gain qualifications, and drilled by teachers who are seeking to meet targets." (Elliot, 2008)
I have no doubt that greater use of exams and tests would ensure that lectures were better attended. But isn't this missing the point somewhat? If students are not turning up to our lectures, doesn't this mean that they either don't want to, perhaps because the lectures are boring, or they don't need to, because the lectures don't give them anything that they can't get somewhere else? If it's the former, then we as academic staff have to take some responsibility for this. Are our lectures engaging enough? If it's the latter, then maybe it raises the question of whether traditional lectures are simply obsolete as a means of conveying information, especially when students can access information in so many different ways.

So – what is the point of using exams and tests as a way of forcing students to attend lectures, if the lectures themselves are actually not providing much of an educational experience? I think that well designed assessment should actually be integral to the learning which takes place in a module. The assessment can actually provide the vehicle for students to put in to practice the application of the concepts and principles which form the content of a module. Rather than seeing assessment as something which is tacked on to a module simply as a means of determining whether the learning outcomes have been achieved, the assessment activities can be the means by which the learning outcomes are achieved.

Undoubtedly, Web 2.0 technologies can make a significant contribution to effective assessment. Referring again to Elliot (2008), he suggests that the type of assessment activity best suited to the contemporary learner would exhibit some or all of the following characteristics.

  • Authentic: involving real-world knowledge and skills.
  • Personalised: tailored to the knowledge, skills and interests of each student.
  • Negotiated: agreed between the learner and the teacher.
  • Engaging: involving the personal interests of the student.
  • Recognise existing skills: willing to accredit the student's existing work.
  • Deep: assessing deep knowledge – not memorisation.
  • Problem oriented: original tasks requiring genuine problem solving skills.
  • Collaboratively produced: produced in partnership with fellow students.
  • Peer and self assessed: involving self reflection and peer review.
  • Tool supported: encouraging the use of ICT
With the fantastic potential offered by Web 2.0 technologies should we really be looking to Victorian assessment methods simply to ensure that students turn up for lectures that probably aren't particularly useful in the first place. Let's focus on the positive aspects which can be derived from Web 2.0 rather than worry about minor disadvantages. Let's use Web 2.0 to ensure that assessment actually encourages our students to get an education rather than just a qualification.



Elliott, B. (2008) Assessment 2.0: Modernising Assessment in the Age of Web 2.0 [online], Scottish Qualifications Authority; available from (Accessed 8th April 2011).

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Never mind the quality, feel the width!

I haven't had a lot of time in the past couple of weeks to think about blogging, and indeed I haven't devoted as much time as I should have to my H807 studies. The main reason has been that I am currently leading a complete review of our undergraduate programme. This process has to take place every five or six years as part of the University's quality assurance procedures. On the one hand it is a great opportunity to reflect on what we are doing and review everything to make sure it is up to date and meets the needs of today's students and that we have courses which are capable of producing graduates with the right skills and knowledge. However, on the other hand, it's such a laborious process. It started in earnest last June, and the reviewed courses won't be implemented until the coming September. That's fifteen months, during which time I have produced a mountain of documents and had more sleepless nights than can possibly be healthy!

The process has involved (and still involves) a programme team of twenty staff, a panel of four academics from other schools in the university, a panel secretary from the Quality and Standards Office, and two external advisors to the panel – one from industry and one from another university. It began with a workshop for the whole team and progressed through numerous team meetings, some of which involved fairly frank and forthright exchanges of views!! I have personally written tens of thousands of words in the form of a critical review, a new programme handbook, programme specifications and various appendices and supporting documents. The process has not exactly enhanced my personal wellbeing and I have to confess to periods of extremely poor humour in the past couple of months.

The documents are now all with the panel and the final review meeting takes place next week. There's not much we can do now other than try to prepare for the panel meeting. Once the review meeting is over (and assuming it is all approved) then the work begins on implementing the new programme.

Why am I writing about this? Well, there are several issues which emerge from the process which I think are relevant:

  1. Is this really the most effective way of ensuring that courses are reviewed and that quality is maintained? It just seems such a bureaucratic process. I can't help thinking that in the coming years this sort of approach simply isn't sustainable. Universities are going to have to be much more responsive in the future as we face up to the twin challenges of financial restrictions and ever more demanding customers.
  2. The timescales involved in the current QA process will not be appropriate in the new world. If universities are going to be genuinely responsive then the procedures for reviewing courses and developing new courses will have to be much more streamlined.
  3. Does a system such as this really promote innovation? When students are paying £6000 to £9000 per year they will be expecting courses which are bang up-to-date and delivered in ways to suit them. In my view that means courses which are innovative. The innovation could relate to the learning and teaching methods, or to the structure of the courses, or to the use of the latest technology. Innovation will distinguish the courses which thrive from those which fall by the wayside. Universities will be ruthless in axing courses which don't attract and retain students, and out the door with the courses will go the staff who deliver them. Despite this the whole bureaucratic infrastructure of many universities is geared towards maintaining the status quo.
  4. Do academic staff really appreciate the scale of the challenges which higher education will face in the next few years? I would say that a significant proportion certainly do not. We are blessed with some fantastic staff who are great teachers and genuinely want to provide a top class higher education experience for our students. However, I can't help thinking that some staff seem to believe that we can carry on doing things as we always have done and everything will be alright. What will make them realise that irreversible changes are about to happen and the old ways of working are simply not going to be appropriate. We might not like it (and there's lots I don't like) but I don't think we can resist it. What we can do is gear ourselves up to cope with a new environment, and that means thinking differently.
So – we have a rather bloated and time-consuming quality assurance process which is not conducive to innovation. Alongside that we have some staff who, for whatever reason, may be reluctant to face up to the reality of the new higher education system. We've got to think more widely than just delivering our courses in the same old ways.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

H807: Week 5 Reflections

Responses to questions posed about communication technology for Week 5:

Are such technologies finding new ways of conducting behaviours that were already in operation, or are they promoting new types of behaviour?

My view is that initially, technologies provided more convenient ways of conducting behaviours that were already in operation. This is particularly the case with communication technologies, as mobile phones made it easier to contact others and be contacted, emails provided an instantaneous replacement for letters, and so on. However, over time this has evolved, particularly with the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, which have facilitated networked communications. Consequently, individuals and organisations are adjusting the ways in which they connect with others as a direct result of the technologies available.

Are the technologies used uniformly, or do different communities use the same technology in different ways?

I don't think the technologies are used uniformly across different communities. The term 'different communities' here could refer to different generations, different localities, different cultures, different organisations and so on. The technologies are used for different purposes and in different ways. Facebook and Twitter might be used by one 'community' for fun and entertainment, by another for educational purposes and by another as a business tool.

Are internet technologies different in any respects from other technologies?

As mentioned above, the big difference with the internet (particularly since Web 2.0) is the almost unlimited potential for networks. This means that communication is not dependent on time or location, and the exchange of information is subject to virtually no boundaries.

Can you think of an example when a technology has changed your behaviour?

For many years I persevered with a paper diary, even long after I had access to a digital diary in packages such as Microsoft Outlook. I always wanted the security of having my appointments written down in a single place. This all changed when the University introduced a Microsoft Exchange server and I bought a smartphone capable of synchronising with the server. Overnight my paper diary was ditched and all my appointments were transferred to Outlook, but the great thing is that I have access to my diary wherever I am, via my phone. I can also add appointments on my phone and I think it is a genuinely beneficial technology.

Affordances, Wikipedia and heavy metal!

What on earth have these three things got in common? Well, this week in H807 we have been grappling with a diverse range of issues. A key theme has been the concept of affordances, which I must confess I have found rather difficult to grasp. Wikipedia defines an affordance as: "a quality of an object, or an environment, that allows an individual to perform an action". New technologies, and in particular Web 2.0, provide many affordances in the field of education, but in examining the concept I was tending to simply think in terms of advantages and disadvantages. Hammond (2010) provides a better explanation:

"The essence of an affordance is that it 'points both ways' to the object and to the organism. An affordance is an emergent property of an object. The affordance is there, it has always been there, but it needs to be perceived to be realised. A subsidiary idea is that affordances provide both opportunity and constraint. These are not opposites rather they are complementary, so, for example, a sledgehammer affords the breaking of rocks but the user is constrained by its weight - the very thing that provides the opportunity for rock breaking."

I find it useful to think of affordances as providing both opportunity and constraint. I was also grateful to one of my fellow students, Chris Moreton, who provided some useful supplementary information on the tutor group forum. Chris said that he thought of an affordance "as a cue, or an encouragement, to behave in a particular way". He referred to McCloughlin & Lee (2007) who explain the difference between "enablers" and "affordances" by making specific reference to blogging:

"blogging entails typing and editing, which are not affordances in themselves, but rather enablers of affordances which include idea sharing and interaction".

If I'm being really honest the concept is still a little vague for me. I keep thinking I've got it, but then if I was asked to explain it in detail I would really struggle.


On to other matters which I can understand much more easily but I never thought I'd be writing about on Masters degree! Another aspect of this week's work involved analysing wikis. We were asked to view a screencast by John Udell which describes the evolution of a Wikipedia article about the use of the umlaut in the names of heavy metal bands. This is the last thing I thought would be interesting, not least because I really don't like most heavy metal music, but also because I didn't think that the evolution of a Wikipedia article would be particularly enlightening. How wrong I was. Despite the subject matter (which the author freely admits is not a typical subject for an academic treatise), the animation is fascinating. By examining the log of edits to the Wikipedia article the author shows how the piece evolves from a single line in 2003 to a comprehensive article in 2005. It involved contributions from dozens of different people around the world, and was edited and re-edited many times, with the addition of images, hyperlinks and a table of contents. The log shows that on some days edits took place every few minutes. This in itself is interesting – to think that there is a global community of people who care enough about a subject to ensure that the information on the wiki was correct.

There are also two specific incidents which provide evidence of the way in which wikis can be self-regulating and culturally sensitive. Firstly, the screencast refers to an incident of vandalism in which a contributor simply filled the article with offensive language. Within minutes of the language appearing someone else had edited it to remove it. The offensive language appeared three or four times subsequently but each time it was removed very quickly. The second incident concerned a contribution which referred to the umlaut's German origins and seemed to imply that style of lettering used in heavy metal had associations with Hitler and Nazism. Again, the tone of the article was edited over time so that the German origins were still referred to, but the references to Nazism were removed.

These incidents suggest that the majority of people who contribute to Wikipedia do so responsibly and indeed are committed to ensuring that the information uploaded is both accurate and sensitive to cultural values. The open technology of Wikipedia can result in the validity of some articles being questionable, but at the same time a self-regulating and self-correcting culture seems to have grown up around Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is widely dismissed, particularly by academics, as being an unreliable source which students should not use for their research. Whilst I accept that the dynamic nature of a resource such as Wikipedia demands a degree of caution, I think it is wrong to dismiss it out of hand. Some people view Wikipedia as simply providing a forum for cranks and mischief-makers, and undoubtedly there are many examples of this but, as the screencast shows, over time the socially responsible members of the community will promote the veracity of the content.


Hammond, M (2010) "What is an affordance and can it help us understand the use of ICT in education?" in Education & Information Technologies; Sep2010, Vol. 15 Issue 3, p205-217

McCloughlin, C. and Lee, M. (2007) 'Social software and participatory learning: Pedagogical choices with technology affordances in the Web 2.0 era', in Proceedings ASCILITE Singapore 2007, p.664–675.


Thursday, 3 March 2011

My first screencast

This week in H807 we have been examining podcasts and associated technologies such as RSS feeds. We have been encouraged to create our own podcast, and I was racking my brain trying think of something remotely interesting to talk about. I then remembered an online resource which was brought to my attention by one of my fellow students on H800 last year. It's called screenr and it's a free online facility for creating screencasts. A screencast is essentially a digital recording of your computer screen output. It will record whatever is visible on your screen, and you can add a voiceover or commentary to accompany it simply by speaking into the computer's microphone as you move around the screen.

I thought I would be much more likely to use this than a straightforward audio podcast. Having never actually produced either a podcast or a screencast before I thought this exercise would provide me with the impetus to give it a go. Once I got to the screenr website I was creating my first screencast within minutes. I must confess that I messed up my first attempt because I hadn't prepared anything, but ten minutes later I had a second attempt and produced this four minute screencast. It demonstrates to students how to access a particularly useful resource, and I thought it would be the type of thing that would be helpful for new first year students:

NB: If you happen to be viewing this blog on an iPad then the embedded screencast probably won't appear. If you want to see the screencast, try this direct link

The screencasts are limited to five minutes, but that's plenty of time for a simple task like this. Once you have completed your screencast you can review it and decide whether to publish it or delete it. Screenr links directly to Twitter, and if you decide to publish your screencast you do so initially through a tweet. It takes a few minutes to process the screencast but that's no big deal. Subsequently you have the option to share it with others or embed it in a blog or a webpage.

I was quite surprised at how simple it was and I think I'll definitely be making use of use of it again.


Saturday, 26 February 2011

What have I learnt this week?

In H807 this week the concept of innovation in e-learning has continued to be the main theme.

Applying Rogers' ideal types

We examined Rogers' (2003) model which puts forward five categories to represent the speed with which people take up an innovation. Rogers describes people as 'innovators', 'early adopters', 'early majority', 'late majority' and 'laggards'.  Contributions to the tutor group forum on this topic were really interesting, and people related a range of experiences from their personal and professional lives to illustrate points. Most contributors could recognise some or all of Rogers' categories in themselves or in people they worked with.

A couple of really relevant points emerged for me from the discussions on the forum. Firstly, on reflection, I had perhaps been a little quick to criticise 'laggards' who are reluctant to adopt new technologies. Of course there are often very good reasons why people don't embrace new technologies, so it is important to acknowledge people's circumstances and to recognise that their point of view may be perfectly valid. However, this leads on to my second point, which is that the extent to which one is 'obliged' to adopt a particular innovation must vary depending on whether the decision is a purely personal one or one which is based on the collective decision of a team. At a personal level for example, one can decide whether or not to use Facebook to interact with friends and family. If I decide not to use it, I don't think that makes me a laggard. If I don't personally see any value to be gained from using Facebook then that is my choice. However, in professional situations, decisions are often taken collectively. A course team may decide that a particular technology is to be used to support the delivery of a course. Once that decision is made then there is an implied responsibility on the members of that team to adopt the technology. Obviously, if team members need support then support must be provided, but in my view it will undermine the potential success of an innovation if team members behave as laggards.

Will an innovation fly?

For the H807 course material Pettit (2011) adapted Rogers model to an alternative framework which set out five criteria for assessing e-learning innovations. The five criteria were relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. We were asked to briefly consider these criteria in the context of a personal experience with a technology. I chose my experience of trying to set up discussion forums in connection with my own modules.

Following my experience on H800 in 2010 I was enthusiastic about the use of discussion forums. I felt that there could be genuine advantages for my own students to use discussion boards, in particular to provide a means by which the experience of part time students could be shared by full time students. (Relative advantage). I had observed the benefits through my own experience. (Observability). I didn't think the use of the technology was particularly difficult, since most students were familiar with various forms of online messaging. (Complexity). However, the initiative wasa complete flop, and I wonder whether students simply didn't feel that idea was compatible with their own expectations of the course (Compatibility). If they signed up for a face-to-face course, then maybe they simply didn't see the value of the forums. Perhaps I should have experimented with a small scale trial before introducing it fully. (Trialability).

Early adopters or early majority – who is the key?

This section considered the so-called 'chasm theory' developed by Geoffrey Moore. This theory suggests that there is a chasm between the initial adoption of an innovation and its widespread adoption in the mainstream market. If this chasm is not bridged then the innovation is destined to remain stuck in a small-scale market. (Tanahashi, 2005).

When I read Rodgers' theory I initially felt that he had it about right, with the gradual progression from early adopters to early majority. However, having thought about Moore's Chasm theory, I do think he makes a valid point. I think there is a significant gap between an innovation being taken up by a few dedicated enthusiasts and its wider adoption by the early majority. At my own university, whenever an innovation or a new e-learning initiative is being promoted, there will tend to be a seminar or a presentation specifically for a small number of key people in each school. Similarly, when views are being sought about possible future directions it will generally be the same people who are consulted. I think this is akin to Rogers' idea that marketing needs to focus on the early adopters. Rogers maintained that the early adopters would act as local missionaries to speed the diffusion process. However, the reality is that there is a huge step from getting those early adopters on board to getting more widespread adoption amongst the early majority.

What counts as innovation?

For the final activity of the week we were required to consider a set of criteria developed by Kaye & Hawkridge (2003) to decide on which case studies to include in a book about innovations in business education. In the tutor group forum we were asked to indicate the criteria which we thought were appropriate for selecting e-learning projects. The key thing which emerged for me was the wide range of perspectives from which people approach an exercise like this. I think this is a reflection of the fantastic diversity of professional backgrounds and experiences which students bring to the the H807 course. Rather than analyse the responses in detail, I thought it would be fun to take the key words from each of the contributions and put them into a word cloud. Here's the result:

Wordle: Criteria for assessing innovations

Putting all this in the context of my week at work

Alongside my studies on H807 it has been a really busy week at work. We are currently undertaking a five-yearly review of the Construction Studies Undergraduate Programme, which requires some pretty difficult decisions to be taken about whether to retain certain courses, and how to design the structure and content of the programme to respond to the current context. This week I have been working on one of the key documents in this process – the critical review document. This is supposed to identify the key issues which will need to be addressed in the review. After hours of discussions amongst the team over the past few months this week was all about getting it into the document in and clearly highlighting the relevant issues and supporting evidence. I've worked pretty much all day, every day on it and have ended up with a bit of a monster – over 21,000 words in 60 pages, plus seven appendices!

Ironically, a lot of the agonising which has taken place in the discussions about the review have concerned new ways of working – in other words, innovations. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that higher education faces an incredibly challenging environment over the next few years. I think we are going to have to be much more responsive in our attitudes to students and in the way we deliver our courses. Not everybody is going to be happy with the new ways of working, and some of the ideas we have are potentially risky, but I really feel that we are going to have to be proactive if our courses are to survive.


Kaye, R. and Hawkridge, D. (eds) (2003) Learning and Teaching for Business: Case Studies of Successful Innovation, London and Sterling, Kogan Page.

Pettit, J., (2011) "Activity 2 – Will an innovation 'fly'?" in H807: Week 3: Who innovates, who follows? [Online course materials] Available from (Accessed 26th February 2011)

Rogers, E.M. (2003) Diffusion of Innovations (5th edn), New York, Simon and Schuster.

Tanahashi, H. (2005) The Innovator Theory [online], Tokyo, Mitsue-Links

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Innovative practice with elearning (Part 2)

SHEFFIELD HALLAM UNIVERSITY: Use of e-portfolios in Social Sciences

This case study described the introduction of an e-portfolio system to support personal development planning (PDP) on a social sciences course. The e-portfolios were introduced in the first year of the course in a module which was primarily concerned with core skills. The e-porfolios were to replace a paper-based approach to PDP which was recognised as being of limited value to students. Most students appeared to approach PDP in a very superficial way. There was a desire to promote PDP as a means by which students could reflect more deeply on their learning and to foster a community of practice.

A commercial e-portfolio tool (PebblePad) was selected and this operated separately from the university's VLE. PebblePad enabled students to prepare webfolios containing evidence in a range of media, including text, audio, video and web-based materials. It also facilitated group work, sharing work in progress, and feedback. PebblePad was considered to be visually attractive, with a simple interface.

The initiative was successful in that students seemed to be motivated to engage with it far more actively than had been the case with the previous system. Students also welcomed the ease of use and the ability to collaborate and receive feedback. The team believes that PebblePad has moved from a 'bolt-on' to an embedded aspect of the course.

However, the introduction of PebblePad was funded through special sources of funding and it was not clear whether funding would continue to be made available. Furthermore, PebblePad was maintained outside the university's VLE and was therefore not integrated into it. An interesting point was also made about the inertia that exists amongst some academic staff towards the introduction of elearning initiatives:

"Whilst course teams are motivated by the pedagogic potential of new technology and, working 'at the chalk face', are acutely aware of the need to motivate students and enrich their learning experiences, the policies and practices of large, bureaucratic institutions are shaped by many other considerations. This disjunction can make pedagogic innovation hazardous. In addition, in a context of increasing staff workloads and pressure, the tendency to inertia is strong: if a pedagogic approach is new and untried, it is a risky and time-consuming business to experiment with it; in contrast, to continue to do what you know has worked reasonably satisfactorily in the past, despite its drawbacks, is the safe option."
Personal commentary

I found this case study interesting because the experience of the team accords precisely with my own experience of PDP. Students do not engage with PDP in the intended manner, and they tend to approach it very superficially. We have introduced an e-portfolio system which has had some success, but this project seems to have successfully embedded the e-portfolio in the course, which I don't think we have quite managed. I think the success of the project may lie in the quality of the e-portfolio product (PebblePad) which is far superior to the integrated facilities available in VLEs such as Blackboard.


SHEFFIELD HALLAM UNIVERSITY: Use of video case studies to highlight issues in Qualitative Research Methods

This case study described an initiative implemented on a postgraduate Qualitative Research Methods module on an MA Social Science Research Methods course. Essentially the project consisted of integrating a series of links to video material within a research methods module. The video material included content from established resources at other universities, as well as material from Goole Video and YouTube. This was supplemented by the author's own material

The video material provided a basis for introducing visual research methods to students, and also provided material which could be used interactively in lectures and workshops.

Personal commentary

I selected this case study because I thought the case study was using video-based material to provide guidance to students in the conduct of research. I obviously misinterpreted it because the video material in question is actually research material itself. Whilst I don't doubt the value of this approach in research methods training, I don't actually see it as being particularly innovative.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Innovative practice with elearning (Part 1)

In Week 2 of H807 we are exploring a series of case studies published by JISC which provide examples of the tangible benefits of elearning. We are required to individually select four of the case studies (from the total of 37) and consider these in some detail. We are then required to publish blog entries detailing our findings.

This posting covers the first two of the case studies I have selected. A second post will cover the other two.

Case Study 1: UNIVERSITY OF EXETER: Online Economics Texts

This case study described a project in which full time undergraduate economics students in their second year of study were provided with access to online resources to support their studies. The resources included case studies, videos, online exercises, multiple choice questions and so on, and were intended to reinforce the material covered in lectures.

The modules had previously been delivered via 2 x 1 hour lectures plus a 1 hour class each week. The online exercises effectively replaced the 1 hour class, whilst the lectures were retained. Students on the modules were required to purchase a set text and in doing so they received access to a publisher's website on which could be found all the online resources. Each lecture was linked to an associated online exercise which students were instructed to carry out. In the case study described there was no compulsion to participate, though it was suggested that in future the online exercises may form part of the assessment for the course.

The benefits cited in the case study did not seem to be very substantial. Pass rates on the modules were said to be "equivalent" to the traditional modules, though it suggested that retention rates were high. (The case study did not make clear whether retention rates had also been high on the old modules). It was suggested that the project enabled staff to get involved in elearning, though this was not really explained, since staff input seems to have been minimal. The most tangible benefits seemed to be the savings in staff time and the space savings achieved by reducing the number of classes.

Personal commentary

I selected this case study because my first impression was that it was going to describe an innovative way of linking online texts to the taught material. Having examined the case study in much more detail, I feel that it is hardly an innovation at all. All the online materials are developed and hosted by a publisher, with no input at all by academic staff at the university. All that has happened is that students are told to buy a set text and this gives them access to a website containing various resources. The face-to-face classes previously provided for students have been replaced by online content which is provided by the publisher. The university has saved considerable staff time and achieved space savings at no cost to itself at all. The case study, in my opinion, does not provide any significant evidence of consideration for the students and their learning in the design of the project. The overwhelming impression I am left with is of a team of academic staff who are too busy with their research to be seriously bothered with teaching undergraduates, and this publisher's resource provided a convenient way of providing resources to students without requiring any input from themselves. Having implemented the project it seems somewhat disingenuous to dress this up as an innovative elearning initiative.


Case Study 2: LEEDS METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY: Use of WebCT in a blended learning approach to multimedia design skills

This case study described an initiative by an enthusiastic and committed member of staff to adopt a truly blended learning approach to the delivery of a module about web authoring. Blended learning is a widely used term which can be applied to any situation in which traditional face-to-face delivery is combined with online support. In some cases this can simply involve the provision of digital copies of learning materials on a VLE to reinforce the content of lectures. However, in this case study the author used the VLE to provide a whole range of online facilities which integrated with the face-to-face sessions. These facilities included online assignment materials, image databases, discussions, quizzes and so on. An interesting aspect of the case study is that the author did not feel that the standard VLE interface (in this case, WebCT) was adequate to satisfactorily integrate the various online components. Consequently he used an HTML authoring tool to change the interface. In doing so he completely altered the user's experience of the VLE by using images of a sailing ship to provide a "metaphor for the delivery of a learning journey".

Although the initiative did not have a significant impact on assessment grades (though there was a marginal improvement in the pass rate), it was evident from student feedback that students clearly valued this innovative approach. The students' interest was maintained, and they appeared to like the practical nature of the module.

The author notes that the initiative was borne out of his own enthusiasm, but that this enthusiasm began to wane when he realised that his university did not appear to willing to invest in the resources required to provide support to other staff who may be interested in adopting a similar approach but do not necessarily have the requisite skills.

Personal commentary

For me there are two aspects to this case study which stand out. Firstly, as is so often the case with this type of innovation, the impetus came from an enthusiastic member of staff who saw an opportunity to improve the learning experience of students. Unlike the previous case study, the member of staff involved was actually prepared to invest considerable time and effort to ensure that the students benefitted from the project. This commitment occurred without any support from the university and it is sad that this lack of support ultimately led to the person involved losing enthusiasm.

The second interesting aspect relates to the use of a standard VLE (in this case WebCT). It was evident that the author did not think that the standard interface of WebCT provided sufficient flexibility to be able to adequately integrate the required content. This strikes a chord with me, and the constant frustration I experience with using Blackboard (another 'off the shelf' VLE). I find the interface on Blackboard to be very limiting and I would love to have the web authoring skills of the lecturer involved in this case study to be able to adapt it.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Exploring the concept of innovation

The first week of H807 has been concerned with the concept of innovation. Some interesting ideas have been put forward on the tutor group forum, and it has occurred to me that the whole concept of innovation is very relevant in my current context. I'll come back to that shortly, but first a summary of the points I have gleaned from the forum, with acknowledgement to the members of my tutor group:

  • Innovation can be interpreted both as the implementation of something completely new and as the application of existing ideas in a new setting.
  • Innovation is, to some extent, context-dependent, i.e. something which is deemed innovative in one setting may be considered standard practice in another.
  • The promotion of elearning as an innovation purely on the grounds of cost effective delivery does not necessarily mean that the innovation is, or will be, successful.
  • The best innovations meet a genuine need – there is little point in innovation if it isn't useful. In an educational context, for example, an innovation might be considered successful if it makes learning more interesting, or more exciting, or more flexible, or more collaborative.
  • Many educational innovations emerge from the 'chalk face', and are reliant on the enthusiasm and imagination of educators who can directly recognise the potential benefits of them.
  • When educational innovations are designed and implemented, the learner's perspective must be at the forefront. This means considering both the direct benefits which the learner will gain from the innovation, and the investment of time and resources required on the part of the learner in order to realise those benefits.
  • As a concept, innovation is generally viewed in positive terms. However, innovation can also be disruptive – it is often associated with change and in many organisations there is an inherent resistance to change.
  • Most large organisations, including universities, are not really conducive to innovation because they are constrained by bureaucracy and regulations, and don't always have the necessary infrastructure. Promoting a culture of innovation requires a commitment on the part of the organisation to invest in the necessary time and resources to achieve it. Some large organisations (such as Google) do actually achieve this.
  • The resistance to change which is inherent in many universities, occurs both on the part of academic staff and on the part of students. Some academic staff, for a variety of reasons (some of which are perfectly understandable) do not recognise the potential benefits which innovative approaches could bring to students' learning experiences. In addition, some students are equally reluctant to adopt new approaches to learning.
  • Innovations often arise out of crises – as the saying goes: "Necessity is the mother of invention".

So – that brings me to my own context at my university. As most people will be aware, the proposed new funding arrangements for higher education are going to create an extremely challenging environment over the next few years, though no one is really sure exactly what the impact will be. In response to this, the Dean of our school instigated a school-wide review exercise over two days last month in which all staff were required to participate. One of the exercises involved being split into groups and asked to come up with new ideas (innovations?) to respond to the challenges we faced. I gave the report-back presentation from our group to the rest of the school and one of the key things which I suggested was that each module should become a self-contained learning package which would continue to be delivered face-to-face but would be supported with greater use of online resources. I wasn't proposing a move towards distance education, but simply the use of technology to provide greater flexibility of access for our students. I argued that the 'learning package' approach would enable prospective students to decide for themselves how many modules they wanted to commit to in any one year, rather than being forced into a rigid programme of study designed to suit the university. Judging by the response I got from some staff, anyone would have thought I was Nick Clegg turning up at a students' rally! I stood and took flak from across the school as I defended the idea and emphasised the potential benefits, but it was clear that there would be major resistance to such a move from a significant proportion of staff within the school.

So will this "innovation" ever see the light of day? I'm not sure. From comments I received afterwards, it is apparent that not all staff are opposed to it. It is possible that when the real implications of the new funding arrangements become apparent maybe colleagues will view things in a different light. As it happens the courses for which I am responsible are currently undergoing their periodic review, so the course team has an opportunity to implement some changes anyway. I think all we can do for the moment is to ensure that our courses are structured in such a way that a move towards a new delivery mode could be implemented with minimum disruption.


Thursday, 3 February 2011

Tips on Social Networking

A really interesting article from the Harvard Business Review about social networking. I picked up on it via a 'tweet' from John Seely Brown, who is one of the few people I currently follow on Twitter and who also happens to be one of the authors. The article presents "five tips for smarter social networking":

I don't really consider myself to be much of a social networker. I've got a Facebook account which I never post to, and a Twitter account which I've only just set up to use in connection with my next module on the OU MA ODE course. Nevertheless, the article struck a chord with me in relation to my experience of blogging. I blogged a fair bit when I did H800 last year, but I often felt quite uncomfortable about doing it. This article has helped me to put things into context, and has perhaps given me a bit more confidence in blogging. Let me explain by referring specifically to each of the five tips:

1. Express more vulnerability. 
I suppose I've always had a perception that we're supposed to present a strong, confident persona to the world, and that it is not really appropriate to display one's shortcomings openly. One of the reasons I've used social networking so little in the past is that I have never felt that I had anything to say which anyone would be interested in. The point here is that, by identifying challenges we are facing we might actually be able to get advice from other people. Even if we don't get advice it doesn't do any harm to articulate the difficulties we are having.

2. Mix professional and personal lives
My natural tendency is to compartmentalise my life into family, study, work, social, etc. I've even thought about running separate Twitter accounts for each aspect. Of course, this would be a nightmare to maintain, so I've gone for a single Twitter account. Similarly with blogging, when I started my blog last year it related only to my studies. This time I'm hoping that I will be able to cover a variety of issues, including my studies, my work, and even a bit of fun stuff. 

3. Provoke. 
I've always been slightly nervous about putting anything vaguely contentious in the public domain, so my blog posts have generally avoided anything controversial. Maybe I need to be a bit more provocative.

4. Promote others
I think this is a good idea. If I see something useful or interesting, then I'm happy to draw it to the attention of others. This seems to me to be exactly how social networks should work.

5. Actively seed, feed and weed.
I also agree with this point. I think social networking needs to be carefully cultivated. I don't see the point of blindly following celebrities on Twitter. We should use them to make connections and contribute to our own understanding of the world.

So - let's see if I can put these tips into practice over the coming months.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Back to blogging

When I started getting interested in blogs in 2010, the one thing I realised was that the best blogs are those which are regularly maintained - not necessarily every day, but at least once or twice a week. So I'm a bit disappointed with myself that having started my own blog to accompany my studies on Module H800 on the MA ODE, I let it lapse once the module was complete.

Well, here I am just about to commence H807, and this seems like just the incentive I need to resurrect the blog and have another go. I'm looking forward to the new module (Innovations in E-Learning) and to collaborating with a new set of learners. I'm going to try to use the blog more widely this time, and to include posts about topics beyond H807. This might include posts related both to my work and to other interests, so it will provide an opportunity to articulate some ideas and maybe just to have a rant!