Archive for June, 2009

Blended learning

June 26, 2009

My forthcoming trip to Brunel University in west London is for a conference about E-learning 2.0 .  I’ll be there to talk about know-how non-profit but I’m looking forward to discussing a whole range of issues.  The conference organisers have already used a social networking tool called Ning to encourage people to get discussions going in advance of the conference itself, and some of this has extended to a discussion of different approaches to pedagogy.

Blended learning is a fairly widely used term, and I made some comments on the social networking site that I’d like to share here with a wider audience.

My thoughts are that blending channels – e-learning and face-to-face – is becoming so commonplace that it’ll soon be regarded as barely worthy of mention: students expect web support through VLEs, etc, for face-to-face courses, and of course it’s well established that e-learning courss can be supplemented by an element of face-to-face. However blending formal and informal pedagogies is important I think will become more so.

You’re right [responding to the conference organiser] that e-learning offers new pedagogic opportunities, but I’d also suggest that the pedagogic benefits and practical benefits are becoming more closely combined than in the past. For instance is the ability to get access to a social network like this from home on Friday evening a purely practical benefit? Or is it pedagogic because it opens up new opportunities for my own learning?


Ideas about referencing

June 25, 2009

Like many people who teach in universities, I often need to provide students with guidance on how to include proper academic references, and I know that it’s easy to underestimate quite how difficult the concepts of referencing, of reviewing background literature, and of putting things into your own words, can appear to students when they first encounter them.

So I was very interested to read this piece by Alec Gill, which I saw in the Times Higher but is also on his blog at .  However he hasn’t mentioned one of the most important reasons to use a single referencing approach throughout a document, which is that mixing referencing styles within one document is a ‘soft marker’ for plagiarism.  But I do like his recommended approach of putting the author’s name first, then the date, then the type of resource.  Those with a computer science background may recognise this as a form of object orientation, where an ‘object’ could be a paper, a book chapter, a painting, or any of a whole range of things, but you state at the beginning what sort of object it might be.


June 25, 2009

I’m intrigued to note that the BBC website’s guide to using Twitter at is written by LJ Rich, who isn’t to my knowledge related to me.  By following links from the page it’s possible to find out LJ’s gender and even what the initials stand for…

Incidentally I’m not knowingly related either to Richard Rich, the villain of A Man for All Seasons, or Ben Rich, the aircraft engineer and one of the pioneers of the idea of Skunkworks.

Credit crunch and subscription services

June 18, 2009

One trend that I’ve noticed, almost certainly in response to the credit crunch, is that businesses are heavily marketing subscription services, where customers pay up front for a year’s supply. It’s very visible among the UK serious newspapers. The Guardian has recently raised its cover price, but accmpanied the change with a big promotion for a subscription service where you pay in advance for vouchers, and pick up your paper from the newsagent in the normal way. The Times has a similar service, and is offering Marks and Spencer vouchers and theatre tickets as an inventive to people who join up. Clearly the fear is that these papers will lose readers as the hard financial times continue.

The same trend also affects Internet retailing. Ocado, the Internet supermarket, now charges for delivery but offers a deal where you can pay in advance, or even in 12 monthly stages, a fixed fee for ‘membership’ which covers all deliveries for a year. Again the idea is to lock in customers who might otherwise be tempted to take their business elsewhere if they find that money is tight.


June 18, 2009

One business which I’ve mentioned in teaching is Tom-Tom, interesting because its products represent a practical use of location-based systems and I think could be the key to harnessing mobile data. However Tom-Tom announced a dramatic loss earlier this year. The article at suggests that over-paying for the mapping company Tele-Atlas was on bad move, but another is that Tom-Tom is focused on a standard product and is being squeezed by smart phones and by systems built into cars.

My reading of this is that Tom-Tom is in danger of falling into a common trap for technology companies: it’s seen as the best with a particular type of technology, but has difficulty adapting to the next generation. Superficially that’s puzzling because Tom-Tom should be well placed to offer both add-ons for phones and built-in systems for car manufacturers. Or maybe look for a market where people are looking to upgrade their systems in some way.

Personally I’m slightly resistant to sat-navs, at least in cars, as I think they’re just another distraction. And I really don’t like the idea of using a smartphone as a navigation system while driving, if only because my attitude to the use of phones while driving is rather similar to that expressed by the TV critic Sam Wollaston in

Somebody who doesn’t like management gurus

June 18, 2009

… in the Times at

Incidentally I have seen a counter-argument to the point made about Frederick Taylor in the 7th paragraph – that by being clear about the time needed to perform every simple task at work, he was actually protecting workers from exploitation by unscrupulous employers

Changing business cultures (2)

June 18, 2009

The engineering business where I had my first job was GEC-Marconi – this had been an extremely successful business from the 1970s to the early 1990s but then failed dramatically.

Traditionally GEC-Marconi was an example of what Goold and Campbell, writing in the 1980s, called ‘financial control’: the central office, under Lord Weinstock, set the individual business units tight financial targets, but allowed business units a lot of autonomy so long as they operated within these.  But the approach also worked because Weinstock sought out profitable areas of business, many of them with the public sector as clients.  GEC-Marconi did well out of the nationalised telecommunications, power, and rail industries  and out of defence during the cold war.  That business landscape has disappeared completely, and the financial control strategy wouldn’t work for a big engineering company today.

Update (1 July) – the reference to nationalised industries is relevant to today’s news that the train service on the East Coast main line is to be taken back into public ownership.  Predictably, one of the narratives surrounding this has been people suggesting that the whole rail network should be nationalised.  It’s worth remembering that GEC and others did very well out of the nationalised rail system in the 1960s/70s/80s and it’s naive to suggest that in a nationalised system none of the revenue from rail fares finds its way to shareholders.

Changing business cultures (1)

June 18, 2009

Before entering academia I worked in IT with two different employers: the first a big engineering company, and the second the software company Logica. For the first 15 years or so from Logica’s inception in 1969, their London-based staff were distributed around a number of office buildings in or near Newman Street in the West End (I think that 64 Newman Street was the company’s registered office, as it contained the senior managers’ offices and the postroom). During the 1980s most of the staff in London were consolidated in one office building near Euston called Stephenson House.

So it’s interesting to read in that when Andy Green joined Logica as CEO last year, one of his first ambitions was to close Stephenson House. It turns out that he’s moved most of the staff out of central London, and the company’s headquarters is now in Reading – which is a very significant change. Nevertheless there’s still a small office in London (on one floor of the recently built King’s Place) so that they can claim to have a London address.

A practical example of a mashup

June 18, 2009 works for street names (though not postcodes) in London, despite the site as a whole being quite American-oriented.

Interesting that the site includes a clear statement of its methodology (which is actually rather simple) and the limitations associated with it. Incidentally my Walkscore at home comes in around 80, which is probably typical for residential areas in London

Twitter and photosharing

June 17, 2009

I remain sceptical about Twitter, but I notice that it has spawned a photosharing site used by (among others) the mayor of London – for instance . Kudos to anybody who knows who the man in the red tie is…