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A great opportunity to find out more about the Teaching Development Fund projects running at Bath, plus an excellent keynote from Professor Sue Rigby, Vice Principal Learning & Teaching, University of Edinburgh.

Programme: http://www.bath.ac.uk/learningandteaching/courses-development/events/exchange.html

Twitter: https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%23unibathexchange

I was very pleased to be at the launch of LITEbox today; a new initiative from the University of Bath that is  ‘…aiming to provide opportunities for staff and students to learn, share, explore and develop new and existing technologies for learning, teaching and research.’

It is doing this in three ways:

  • space and technology development
  • skills development
  • knowledge exchange

We were given demonstrations of how the newly equipped teaching spaces (of which there will be more) are being used to help support collaborative learning, and how VIA Collage can be used to support students on group projects share their work when using different devices.

We also saw examples of apps for teaching and learning, created by staff and students with the App Factory and the ease of their production.

LITEbox will be bringing  to light more examples of the use of technology in teaching, learning and research very soon, and also supporting new developments, so watch this space*!

*LITEBox: http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/litebox/2015/04/17/litebox-set-to-launch/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%23liteboxbath

A presentation from Meredith Henson, Business Development Manager of Catalyst IT, brought us details of the latest on Mahara, as Bath have updated to Version 1.10.2.

The new capacity to integrate social networking and digital badges is very welcome, as is the ability to create Collections: groupings of Pages, so enabling the user to form multiple page presentations.

It looks like and feels like Moodle, which is natural given Mahara’s roots. So if you are happy with Moodle and comfortable with its use, Mahara would make a natural companion, especially as they can be integrated allowing data to flow between them.

Examples of Mahara in use can be found at:

I am glad to say that I didn’t leave Lynn Truss’s talk feeling inadequate when it comes to my skills with the English language. In fact, I felt the emphasis on convention rather than rule was refreshing and honest, reflecting a pragmatic attitude to English grammar and acknowledging changes over time which, doubtless, will continue.

The focus was on the purpose of punctuation: the meaning-making that is an essential process of writing.  Not that perfect punctuation can ensure perfect understanding (‘I know you like the back of my hand’ vs ‘I know you like the back of my hand’) but it can help (‘The Queen: without her, dinner is noisy’ vs ‘The Queen without her dinner, is noisy’).

An interesting point was brought out by a questioner: is this lack of interest in punctuation linked to a lack of interest in thinking of the needs of others? Do we think the recipient is responsible for finding the meaning in a message, rather than it being the role of the writer to punctuate it correctly to give the meaning?

Two questions mentioned ‘text speak’ and how it might be part of the decline (symptomatic if not causal), but another mentioned the telex machine which also used a system of abbreviations. An essential difference is of course the number of people who have some experience of text-speak (either using it or have to decipher it) compared with telex users (who must have been relatively rare.)

The one area where I disagreed with Truss was her imagining of a future where all punctuation disappeared. I can’t imagine, since English took up punctuation to enable it to develop a greater level of sophistication, it reverting to a punctuation-free form again whilst it is still written down.

Bath Literature Festival 2012 http://www.bathlitfest.org.uk/lynnetruss.aspx

According to John Gribbin, those of us entertaining the idea that we might find intelligent life on other planets are destined to be disappointed. There appears to be no sign that another advanced civilisation (Gribbin typifies this as one which has advanced to the point of developing radio telescopes) exists.

His central argument hinges on Fermi’s remark that “If aliens exist they would be here“, not seeing any reported ‘alien sightings’ as credible. We have already started to explore beyond our home planet; it would be reasonable to expect another technically sophisticated civilisation (it would only take one) to have done the same. If they think Earth too ‘infected’ to visit they could have sent probes. If their politics are isolationist, it would have only taken one independent individual (with sufficient funds) to explore themselves (and would all alien civilisations be isolationist simultaneously?) We know that only part of our galaxy is inhabitable, they could have worked that out too, and reduced the time it would take to find us. One possibility exists, that we are the oldest and most advanced of the civilisations in the universe and the others have yet to reach a level of technical ability to explore space; but is this likely?

It’s not a happy thought for us members of the Star Trek generation, brought up with space exploration as just another one of those thing we did. We expected that we would have been on Mars long ago. We didn’t know that we wouldn’t have to worry about aliens because there weren’t any.

[‘The Reason Why’ – John Gribbin; talk given at The Mineral Hospital on March 3, 2012 as part of the Bath Literature Festival 2012]

Since moving to Bath I’ve been privileged to be able to attend Bathcamp meetings (http://bathcamp.org/). I’d picked up on these events via Twitter before I moved here, even before I knew I was moving here, and at the time couldn’t help wishing that I could somehow have the opportunity of attending. And here I am in Bath… which is how life works sometimes.

The theme of Bathcamp 29 was design.

Richard Caddick (@richardcaddick) kicked the evening off with a presentation entitled The Value of Imagination which touched on the importance of the interplay between differing fields (eg artist and scientific approaches to cooking). It’s not the first time this has been pointed out and it always makes me think of the lack of design for (almost design-against) cross-fertilisation in organisations; but I digress…

Many interesting points about form design in Forms are Boring from Joe Leech (@mrjoe) based on his experience of designing them and, perhaps more importantly, seeing the user experience test data when forms are trialled. Just as I’m convinced you can’t effectively proof your own writing, it’s got to be just as important to get someone else (preferably a member of the target audience or at least a real person*) to try using a form you have designed. Tips included dropping the asterisk next to mandatory  fields and just putting ‘optional’ next to the others (since real people tend not to look for the meaning of the asterisk, and ‘optional’ is a term real people understand). For the slides that accompanied the talk see: http://joeleech.net/user-experience/forms-are-boring/ which proved that forms are not boring and there really is no excuse for a badly designed form.

Last but not least was Jon Waring on Designing Recognisable Sites that have an Agenda, a really inspiring look at how a creative organisation looks at design when they work with clients. Slides for this talk can be found here: http://www.slideshare.net/3SixtyInternet/measurable-meaningful

*if you’ve scrolled down here to look for the meaning of the asterisk this may mean you are not a ‘real person’. Don’t worry, I would have scrolled down too, and yet I still find I am able to live a full and active life.

This was the title of the presentation given by Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute (BRLSI). Dr Bowyer is best known for the RepRap (replicating rapid prototyper), a 3D printer capable, of amongst other things, of reproducing its own composite parts. However, rather than focus on that, this talk comprised a number of ‘problems’ (or at least, situations) where Dr Bowyer offers his particular insights and possible solutions based on currently available technology or understood principles.

Ideas on which he elaborated including translating glasses (based on holography); explosive-metabolising microbes; robots that created photovoltaic cells from desert sand (laying them as they were produced and powering the robots to continue);  shoes with inbuilt bellows for cooling and a chemical name capitalisation convention to aid pronunciation.

For those who haven’t yet seen it, Darwin, the first machine released by the RepRap project, is currently on show in BRLSI (Queens Square, Bath): http://www.brlsi.org/

More information on the RepRap project can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RepRap_Project