Posted on May 18th, 2009 5 comments
To date I’ve remained true to the primary focus of this blog and have avoided areas like e-learning and distance/remote learning (mainly because they are big topics and I don’t know where to start!)
However on reading the Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report written by the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) I couldn’t help but consider some of the overlaps.
The report provides a “coherent and accessible account of the potential for Web 2.0 technologies in higher education” and makes for a very good read.
One incite that struck me was something that Andy Powell also pointed out in his blog post. When discussing whether there is still a role for universities in a Web 2.0 world Andy concludes that luckily for universities “there are strong hints in the report that aspects of the traditional university, face to face tutor time for example, are well liked by their customers“.
The report repeatedly makes the observation that “face to face contact with staff – the personal element in study – matters to students“. When considering student expectations before enrolment, face to face teaching was found to be preferable to that via technology. This is to some extent directed by the influence of the school model where face to face teaching is the norm. Not only this but personal teaching is something fee paying students expect as part of their ‘purchase’.
However physicality isn’t always possible (or desired). When talking about ongoing drivers to change the CLEX report talks about diversity in the learner population and makes the observation that:
“e-Learning incorporating Web 2.0 offers the sense of being a contributing member of a learning community, which is one of the hallmarks of higher education. For learners unable to participate in an actual community for some, or even all, of the time – notably part-time, distance and, increasingly, work-based – Web 2.0 may be a reasonable proxy.“
Of course for most learners the use of ICT and Web technologies will go hand in hand with personal contact, which is the ideal solution.
The need for that personal contact resonates strongly with many remote workers. A quick look at the guest posts will confirm. Although remote working is for many a lifestyle choice it is also quite often a necessity. Despite the advantages it brings most who have tried it will acknowledge that sometimes nothing compares with meeting with people in the flesh. For many of us much work can be carried out in front of a PC, some work can be carried out using social networking tools but for other tasks (notably those that require quick interaction -like a meeting) the preferred option is face to face.
The extinction of face to face meetings has been predicted many-a-time (along with the paperless office and a world without books). Back in 2005 Alan R. Winger wrote an article for Business Horizons entitled Face-to-face communication: Is it really necessary in a digitizing world? in which he argued that despite changing technologies it was still the best way to communicate for two main reasons:
“First, being physically close brings into play in a robust way all of the senses: sight, sound, smell and touch. There are more than a few differing types of contact. Messages can be expressed vocally, the content of which can be the outcome of rational thought. Vocally, the content can express feelings both in terms of what is said and how it is said. Perhaps even more important is the ability to see another when face-to-face, which brings nonverbal cues such as body gestures and facial expressions into the fray. Many consider these to be critically important in business communication. Being near also permits touching and smelling, both of which can provide important clues in some discussions.”
“Second is the matter of speed. Information communicated in a face-to-face setting is instantaneously received, as is any resulting response. In this sense, speed is argued to contribute significantly in situations where the problems to be dealt with are best addressed with knowledge contained in the minds of those working to find solutions, i.e., tacit knowledge.“
So now we remote workers are in a predicament. Face to face is preferable for some tasks but often not possible. Luckily the CLEX report concludes that if face to face is not possible “ICT (can be) accepted as an adjunct if managed well“.
My previous Ariadne articles have offered suggestions (such as virtual meetings) and I hope in the near future to write more about the use of video, which is one possible approach.
I suppose as remote workers with limited time and limited organisational budget for travel the trick is identifying which face to face activities hit the biggest score productivity wise.
For now I’d argue those that:
- include problems that need people to use tacit knowledge to find solutions
- pack the most into the shortest time (conferences)
- include the most opportunities for networking
- can’t be well replicated using video or audio
- are mission critical to a project
should be first on the list.
Also any thoughts on the connections between remote and e-learning and remote working. How about remote research? I’d be happy to broaden my scope if people are OK with it.
Posted on May 15th, 2009 2 comments
Are you working from home as you read this? Work Wise UK, a not-for-profit initiative which aims to make the UK one of the most progressive economies in the world by encouraging the widespread adoption of smarter working practices, have been running their annual Work Wise Week and today is National Work from Home Day.
The week runs from Tuesday, May 12, until Monday, May 18. This skewed ‘week’ is to emphasise the need for flexible working practices. There are a number of themed days:
Mobile Office Day (Tuesday, May 12) - encouraging people to work while on the move, instead of travelling to a central office.
Remote Office Day (Wednesday, May 13) – encouraging people to use remote offices instead of travelling to a central office. These would include serviced office space, touch down centres or even hot spots such as coffee shops.
Virtual Meeting Day (Thursday, May 14) – encouraging people to conduct meetings by audio or video conferencing or go online instead of travelling to meetings. BT.com have been offering organisations the opportunity to take part with a free trial of its WebEx virtual meeting service.
National Work from Home Day (Friday, May 15) – this will be the fourth time this day has been run. It will encourage people to work from home instead of commuting to their usual place of work.
Smarter Travel Day (Monday, May 18) – the concluding day of the week will encourage people to travel outside peak times. Coming into work an hour early, and then leaving an hour early at the end of the day, or going an hour later, and leaving an hour later. This will reduce the peak rush hour, and make the commuting experience far more bearable for many.
Slipped the Net Here at UKOLN
Somehow the Work Wise Week details had managed to avoid my daily trawl for remote working information. I have a feeling that last year the National Work from Home Day was bigger business, maybe the recession has had some effect on enthusiasm to try out new things. Or maybe it’s just me that’s missed it? We haven’t managed to organise anything here at UKOLN but it might be a bit like preaching to the converted as UKOLN already supports flexible and remote working. It’s some of the bigger ‘more conservative’ businesses who could do with a bit of gentle persuasion that remote working is good for business.
Has your organisation or company been doing anything special for Work Wise Week?
Posted on March 4th, 2009 No comments
Have I mentioned before that I’m the UKOLN Remote Worker Champion?
In the last couple of months here at UKOLN we’ve been trying a out a few relatively easy to implement ideas that will hopefully make remote working a little easier. All these ideas are ‘low hanging fruit’ and something most organisations could quite easily have a go at.
Videoing Staff Seminars
We are lucky enough to have a good number of excellent speakers who come to visit UKOLN and give presentations on their work. In the past you had to physically attend a session to hear the talk, for remote workers this would mean a long trip for an hour-long seminar. Recently our systems team have invested in a High Definition HDD Camcorder and we are now able to video and share the talks after the event, presenter agreeing.
The camcorder is a Canon HG20 which was chosen by the systems team but I’m sure you could achieve a great deal without such a high specification camera. The HG20 is a very nice camera indeed, and we still have quite a long way to go to realising it’s full potential. During the initial trial we recorded the footage at very high quality, which couldn’t easily be converted to Web quality for sharing! At the moment only a few members of the systems team know how to use the camera, but once set up it just requires turning on. Usually someone is available to manipulate and move it during the session, but if not a reasonable quality can be achieved by just leaving it.
The video footage is released as soon as possible after the seminar along with the slides and any other multimedia used. All seminars are available for staff use indefinitely and stored in our staff Intranet. They are not currently available externally but this is something we may look at in the future. Obviously making seminars available in this way is great for all staff as many are out of the office or otherwise busy and unable to attend.
Support for Phoning in to meetings
UKOLN have recently purchased a new conference phone that has 6 microphones. This avoids the constant ‘phone shifting’ we used to have to suffer during staff meetings, it also means that people who are phoning in can hear questions and comments much better.
All UKOLN remote workers have Skype accounts and an appointed person usually connects to those phoning in to the meeting to monitor any problems with the sound, questions etc. We also try to follow the guidance I mentioned in a previous blog post on virtual meetings.
Anyone presenting at a meeting makes every effort to ensure their presentation slides are available in good time so remote workers can access them. We are toying with the idea of having a ‘remote worker’s deposit area’ that acts as an online storage facility for each meeting.
Staff Development Day
We have been lucky enough to secure a staff development day for Remote workers later this month. The day, which will be a follow up to our previous workshop and again be facilitated by Sylvia Vacher, will focus on time management and motivation. We intend to have a social night (for all staff) on the night before the workshop so hopefully it will be a good bonding opportunity generally.
Remote Workers List
I’ve recently set up a internal remote workers email list. This allows other UKOLN staff to address us directly as a group (for example for admin tasks) and also for us to share ideas, discuss things etc. I’ve also been sending out a email newsletter with a round up of current activities. We all have a common issue (dealing with working out of the office) so have much to discuss and the list has been useful without being overwhelming.
Quite a few of us also now have Twitter accounts, which has been another way to stay in touch.
Thanks to the Systems and management teams for all their help with implementing these ideas.
If you have any ideas on other easy to implement support techniques then please do comment.
Posted on January 12th, 2009 3 comments
I mentioned a while back that I will be presenting at an online workshop for RSC Eastern on Web 2.0. Bookings for the event have now opened and places are limited so if you are interested please register.
In preparation I had my first go at Elluminate Live on Friday. Elluminate is a real-time virtual classroom environment designed for distance education and collaboration in academic institutions and corporate training.
So here are my initial thoughts…
It’s a Java application and I was a little worried that it would be slow and clunky, especially as I tuned in using my home Broadband connection, but it wasn’t. There were a few moments when people lost connection but given that we met for almost an hour it did pretty well. There was a little time lag when I spoke and did certain things but it’s just a case of taking it slowly and checking people are with you. (A better explanation of how exactly Elluminate works is available.)
Ease of Use
It was actually really easy and intuitive to use and pretty good fun. The main areas I tried out are the chat facility, uploading ppts, the whiteboard and presenting web tours. We also had a go at sharing your desktop, though it’s unlikely I’d have to do this at the event. I didn’t get to try out the Webcam, it can be a real bandwidth hog though so probably best to avoid for a big group.
I was logged in as a moderator. Our set-up meant that participants used the chat facility most of the time but could select the microphone if they wanted. I think you can restrict use of the microphone – having too many people talk would get confusing. One suggestion was that I set up my laptop too and log in as a participant. This will allow me to see what everyone else is seeing too.
I really enjoyed the session. I think as long as people accept that it is still a pretty new way to do things and technologies can need a little bit of tweaking and time, then it can be an invaluable tool.
It is possible for the whole of the event to be recorded and shared which is really useful too. For example here is a recent event presented by Ross Gardner from OSS Watch on what open source software is. (Note this links to an actual Elluimate and you will need to download a JNLP file).
I’ll post more on Elluminate after I’ve had another go but for now, to be honest, the only complaint I had was that my headphones made my ears hurt!
Posted on January 2nd, 2009 3 comments
Telepresence…I assume most people won’t have heard of it so I’ll stick with tradition and start off with a Wikipedia definition:
“Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect, at a location other than their true location.”
The defining feature of these technologies is that they are sense driven. This means that the user should be provided with lots of stimuli from the other location to make the experience as real as possible. Information ends up travelling from both directions, from the remote user to the technology and back again.
Currently my only experience of telepresence is limited to snippets from the Gadget Show (YouTube video). Recently I stumbled on a reference to it in Scott Hanselman’s blog. Scott is a Principal Program Manager for Microsoft and has been working from home for just over a year now. Scott and his team had a chance to remotely drive/beta-test a Telepresence robot from RoboDynamics, the first company to commercialise an enterprise Robotic Telepresence platform.
Scott describes the telepresence robot as:
“.. pretty sweet. They’ve got a 26x Optical Zoom and pan/tilt/zoom on the camera. There’s a screen for your “head” so that folks can recognize you as you wander around. I was able to walk all over their office. The control console includes sonar and bumpers so when I got close to bumping into the fridge in their office kitchen I could “see” the distance to the fridge and avoid it.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to letting a virtual beastie into your company. Is it on the network? Which network? What access? Who is it logged in as? What if it’s stolen?”
It’s obvious that there are a myriad of possible applications of these technologies. Commercial companies are already using them and further research will make them mainstream before we know it. There is further information on possible uses on the Telepresence World site.
For me the main areas of interest are:
Telepresence has a lot to offer education. The telepresence classroom is something you will no doubt be hearing more about in the future.
There is some useful information in the JISC Satellite pilot report, notably in the Satellite applications in education section.
It will be a little while before we see ‘Ronnie the robot’ in the UKOLN office or have a telepresence room but it will be great for us remote workers when we do.
As Scott puts it: “I‘d really like be able to “walk” into someone’s office. Just pop in to see if they are there. I want to get involved in hallway conversations.”
A telepresence is definitely one step closer to a real presence.
Posted on December 17th, 2008 3 comments
Last week I posted on Twitter that I’d hit all time low and eaten a pot noodle for lunch. A fellow Twitterer commented that I hadn’t mentioned this in my articles on the benefits of home working. This got me thinking….
Today is UKOLN’s Christmas Lunch and I’m hoping to catch up with all our remote workers who are dropping in specially. With the holidays in sight and New Year not far round the corner I thought it was maybe time for my ‘top 10 lunches as a Remote Worker’ list. Enjoy…
- Cold Pasta – Cover with cheese and put in the microwave for 1 minute.
- No lunch today – Child sent home from nursery ill, usual stuff, nursery says “your child is ill, you’ll have to take him home before some other child catches it”, I think “well he wasn’t ill when I left him, he must have caught it off of one of the other children, in fact one of the children that he has to keep away from in case they catch his illness!”
- Cold brussell sprouts, cabbage and leeks – Veg box overload. Good job I work alone!
- No lunch today– just Hot-mail, Facebook fruit and BBCi Player sandwiches.
- Pasty from the bakers in town – Does anyone know that it’s actually my lunch break or do they think I’m a unemployed couch potato who has made it into town? Maybe they think I’m a student? Erm…perhaps that’s being a bit optimistic….
- 8 biscuits, 2 lumps of cheese, 3 yoghurts and a bag of kettle crisps – This wasn’t so much a lunch as an activity for my mouth. I made up for the calories by the frequent trips to the fridge (14 in total).
- 6 cups of coffee – nuff said…
- Quiche and salad – Went out for lunch with a friend. They brought their kids with them. Now having work life ruined by annoying children as well as home life. Joke!!
- Sandwiches – Why is it only the doorstep end bits are left? In fact does bread without butter or filling constitute a sandwich? Chewing on office furniture more appealing.
- Very quick soup so I have time for the laundry, unloading the dishwasher, sewing up the holes in children’s clothes and sorting out the recycling. Husband thinks that all these jobs are done by the tooth fairy.
I know it is all wrong, wrong, wrong so here is some Advice for Grumpy Home Workers from an expert on what you should really be doing.
Posted on September 22nd, 2008 No comments
I am the remote worker champion at UKOLN. This is quite a grandiose title for something pretty down-to-earth. Basically I represent the remote workers whenever they could do with representation: at meetings, when dealing with management, when dealing with systems support.
At the moment I’m looking into technological improvements that could be made to help remote workers feel more included.
We have ‘breakfast meetings’ once a month where everyone who is about meets up and reports to the rest of the staff on their current work activities. Currently remote workers get to sit on the end of a polycom soundstation premier conference phone and listen in. There is a lack of visual cues and quite often the meeting drags on for ages.
Although there are definitely technical things that could improve the experience chatting with my fellow remote workers has helped me come up with a quick list of activities that could improve the meetings no end.
- It’s essential that remote workers are sent copies of the minutes and any slides in advance of the meeting.
- A remote worker representative needs to be nominated at the start of the meeting, they will represent remote workers and ensure that they are being supported.
- Everyone should make sure that they introduce themselves at the start of the meeting, and remember to pass the mike around.
- After this all remote workers need to confirm that speakers are audible.
- People need to wait till they have the microphone before they speak. It might also be helpful to introduce themselves again if people don’t know each other that well.
- Remote workers should be given ample opportunity to interject e.g. “Does anyone at home have anything to add?”
- The meeting could be supported by other communication mechanisms such as chat or a share a common whiteboard, this gives remote workers a chance to make comments when appropriate e.g. “Could you make sure that the mike gets passed on”.
- Keep meetings to under 1 hour 30 minutes (preferably less) as maintaining attention without any visual stimulus can be difficult
Does anyone else have any suggestions?
I think the main thing is just getting people to appreciate how tough it is to listen in and to just spare a thought…