Higher Education Leadership Summit 2010

I am attending the Higher Education Leadership Summit in London tomorrow (11 February 2010) which should be an interesting experience in many ways. Not least because I have been asked to provide some “live blogging” along with 3 other people working across the different strands of the conference. Cloudworks is being used to provide a place for sharing the blogging. So hopefully there will be plenty to see at http://cloudworks.ac.uk/go/hels10

European activity – opense and oer in sweden

I attended a couple of different events in the last few days. I was at a meeting of the OpenSE project in Oxford. Blogged on olnet.org at http://olnet.org/node/252
And I attended an OER in Sweden conference. Blogged on olnet.org at http://olnet.org/node/253
One further comment – I stayed overnight when I went to Oxford (40 miles away) and did there and back to Stockholm in a day (about 900 miles). My daughter kept checking if I had got this the right way around :). She has a point.

Poor neglected blog

Nearly coming up on an anniversary of my last post to this blog has made me reflect on why I seem to have drifted away from the process of getting ideas out through my own blog. Certainly part of it is sheer lack of time (and possibly ideas!) but it also reflects the choice of channel these days. For me the diversions include:

Of these it is cloudworks that has perhaps been the site that has captured most of what would otherwise have ended up in the blog. Cloudworks owes its existence mainly to Grainne Conole at the OU and is a site where you can create various notes (clouds) and link them together. Then others can comment on them. Flexibility to link to twitter and embed other bits of online stuff meant that for me it was a better place when blogging alongside others – especially conferences. And as that was when I posted quite a few of my posts it meant that my own blog has become very neglected.

On the whole I am happier with my notes being alongside those of others but also I feel a bit sad about losing the personal angle and collection. So what I need is a place that brings my contributions back together again! Not sure at the moment what will best provide this – options include adding links into a space I own (e.g. this blog), setting up a personal cloud, tools like netvibes (seems less fasionable than it was), or ??? Any ideas?

Future of homework with Xtranormal

My colleague Martin Weller put a little movie that he made over lunch with Xtranormal on his blog. Martin always picks up on the latest tools and applies them to his work in really interesting an insightful ways. Whereas I delegate! So last night when my daughter for her Year 4 homework had to write a very short mini-play to understand scene-setting and dialogue. I remembered Martin’s demo and logged into Xtranormal on the Asus in our living room. Actually I couldn’t get it to work as it was a bit tricky using the small screen on the Asus – but while I went off to help with getting dinner on the table – my daughter worked it out.

Anyway here is the result of her (and a little bit my) work. (I will embed it when I get that to work – link for now! Proper embedding doesn’t seem to work on WordPress so picture with a link will have to do)

An incredibly easy to use tool with impressive results and ideal for this bit of homework. I am not sure whether it will be like my fling with Animoto where I only think of the occasional thing to do with it. But I have just found myself in a research group meeting proposing it as a way to present/support argumentation develop linked to work on inquiry in school age children, so maybe worth a follow up.

Trying out alternatives

This started as a comment on Martin’s post about problems with Vista but grew a bit too long so I have put it here.

I have too many machines (can you have too many :-)) the one I use most is the MacBook (especially now I have discovered it is Unix really), then the little Linux Asus which is an amazing blend of very easy to use and versatility, last my Vaio with XP (in a cupboard at work for the last month). There are a few applications that are handy for the PC but otherwise somehow it isn’t the best to use. The best free stuff is in the Unix world – Mac and Linux give you access. The advantage of the the PC used to be that you didn’t need to think about how it works – but with online updates and validations then it looks like you do. I am also looking at alternatives for Word at the moment so MS is becoming less important for me – because things do not interoperate fully rather than down on the applications themselves. If Word had an uncluttered export of HTML or XML then I would be happy sticking stuff in it, but it doesn’t so that generates a whole new job of reformatting, cutting and pasting, and general fiddling with documents that should not be there. This really hits me in my role as a journal editor.

So at the moment I feel my world may be in transition and I have been trying out some alternatives – XML editors, LaTeX, Google Docs, etc. I will try to write more later but i am feeling a pull away from the institutional preferences towards alternative application mixes – and just if you are like Martin and your Vista machine refuses to let you do anything!

Drupal on a Mac – not quite as easy as I hoped

For a couple of reasons I decided to install Drupal on my Macbook: it seems to have become the prototyping tool of choice in the OU; I am thinking about using the ejournal module for the journal I edit JIME; and, I had too much real work to do so a distraction was in order. I did succeed in installing it after a couple of days but with some strange problems on the way. As usual Google searches supplied the answer but it took a few places so I thought it worth gathering the information here. To be precise what I did on 1st May 2008 was:

  • On an Intel Macbook (2GHz/1Gb/120Gb) running OS X 10.4.11 Tiger.
  • Using Mac supplied Apache 1.3.33 and PHP 4.4.7
  • Install Drupal 6.2
  • Which needed mysql 5.0.51b
  • And also I need phpMyAdmin 2.11.6

I followed the instructions at MacZealots on Installing Drupal on Tiger which starts by enabling Apache then getting the software, I installed the latest version of Drupal (6.2) and mysql (5.0.51b) rather than the older versions in the tutorial. It went fine upto this line:

/usr/local/mysql/bin/mysql -u root -p drupal </Library/WebServer/Documents/drupal/database/database.mysql

The skeleton database.mysql does not exist – so ignore the error message and carry on with the next part to enable PHP on the Mac.

But the php does not talk properly to the mysql – this is explained in an Apple support message. But a variant is needed of the steps described there – I did

  1. In Terminal: sudo cp /etc/php.ini.default /etc/php.ini
  2. Open /etc/php.ini in your preferred text editor.
  3. Find the [MySQL] section, and change the mysql.default_socket directive:
         mysql.default_socket = /tmp/mysql.sock

When it came to configuring Drupal though things also went a bit wrong. The manual configuration in the macZealots page seems to have been replaced with configuration via the browser so can be skipped. But accessing drupal as http://localhost/drupal gave some error messages. Most of these refer to permissions which can be fixed by changing permissions on files – page at drupal.org suggested chmod to give access, I preferred chown -R www – but in each case be wary of security issues (minimal on my laptop). I then hit failure with an error message referring to:

ORDER BY fit DESC LIMIT 0, 1′ at line 1 query: SELECT * FROM menu_router

Googling for this phrase took me to this forum discussion at drupal.org which has some good suggestions but did not spell out the solution which for me was to:

  1. stop using Safari and use Firefox instead for the setup (may not be vital but it is what I did)
  2. install phpMyAdmin (note instructions there are a bit vague as well but I managed)
  3. use phpMyAdmin to inspect the drupal database created earlier following the MacZealots instructions
  4. select all tables in this database and drop them
  5. open http://localhost/drupal/install.php to restart the configuration

After that things got better – a few more directories needed permission changed and I haven’t worked out how to enable the GD graphics library but I am now away and happy. Just need to work out what to do with Drupal.

I hope listing this might help someone (or me when I come to do it again). Some bits are from memory so I hope they are right.

Conference blogging

I have spent a couple of days in the OU internal conference Making Connections blogging the sessions that I am in over on my OCHRE blog. My colleague Doug Clow also blogged the same conference and there were several of us also twittering away during the conference. Liam Green-Hughes created an OU aggregator twitter to see what we were all doing, This was all quite good fun and I felt that I got more out of the conference by making the notes, though I did feel a bit like one of the rebels sitting at the back seat – even though I didn’t get told off like Doug.

There are various advice sites about what makes a good conference blog, and I have been a fan since the OpenLearn2007 conference – but I am unsure what the reader gets out of it, and whether the best route it the raw, quick as possible set of notes. Or a shorter summary which has gaps in it. My own posts are probably somewhere imbetween. Tony Hirst (read through Liam’s PlanetOU blog aggreator) has also just pointed out the advantage of using consistent tags to help aggregate the articles – so I had better go off to fix that!

Watch the birdie!

This year we again have a pair of blue tits in a nest box by our house. The nest box has a camera in it hooked up to our TV via a DVD recorder. Blue Tit TV is definitely the best channel we have and the female has just settled down to brood her 10 eggs – laid one a day over the last 10 days, though she wouldn’t start laying unit he proved that he could bring her caterpillars!

Last year we uploaded quite a few videos on my son’s youtube channel. Not sure if we will do so many this year but it is fascinating and definitely educational. Things that I found out: how blue tits sleep, that he finds the nest then gives it up, what an angry blue tit looks like, and more.


Watch with RescueTime

Follow TonyH’s advice received through the wonders of twitter I installed RescueTime as part of my move towards managing time. The result over the first couple of days is shown below.RescueTime plot

I think the plot is interesting but I am not sure how useful. Over these two days my main work tasks were involved in meetings that don’t show up (at least not automatically) so the graphs show how I filled in time imbetween. Looking at the detail it shows my top three as e-mail, word and ThinkingRock, which made me wonder at first that I am spending too long thinking about what to do and not enough time doing it! However on reflection I have decided that it shows the value of having a place to organise thoughts and, for the moment at least, I intend to carry on with ThinkingRock and see it as a good thing rather than a distraction.

For RescueTime itself so far it is “interesting” but not necessarily useful. From the descriptions on the website usefulness will come if I can either turn this into measures of behaviour I want, or if we adopt this across a group. The group model is where RescueTime hope to make money – but not sure I want to know what other people are up to or compare myself to group norms (though if others at the OU want to join in I might consider trying the group mode).

For now I will try setting a few goals to go on with and see how it goes.

RescueTime Goal

Restructuring 2.0

Martin Weller across on his blog has written about how we have just been reviewed where we work at IET. The review has plenty of reasonable anlaysis but ends with a suggestion that IET splits in two and bifurcates – which if it is not handled carefully might lead to chaos, or at least some effort spent in the wrong place.Bifurcation diagram


Martin’s post considers what happens when reorgs strike. I agree with his view that we ought perhaps not be so tied up with how we actually are organised, as Martin puts it 

Actually, I think that with new ways of connecting, it’s not that the reorg should be more prevalent, but rather that organisational structures, which are often physical organisational structures, are increasingly irrelevant.

However I have another reference point for thinking about organisational change and that is the book the Dilbert Principle. I picked this up at the airport a few years back and found it shaped by view of how management works (even though there are several warnings to ignore such books and reminders that you are reading the management advice of someone who draws cartoons for a living). In the book Scott Adams makes some good points against “one off” activities with restructuring as the prime example of such activity. So  I feel very cautious about setting off down that route. However if we can do something more about changes in ways of working, picking up on knowing what we are doing and why, building on the latest tools so that structure and boundaries matter rather less then I think the review and the push for change could do us some good.