Friday, June 18, 2010

IT Heuristics

Here is a list of IT Heuristics. I'm sure I collected and wrote these down somewhere before but anyway.... this batch is (mostly) taken from my chapter in the rather expensive Social Information Technology book. But I may add a couple more in here, as they come to me... let me know if you think of any more.
These are the kinds of things that serve experienced IT users on a daily basis, once they've got over the various sets of inhibitions (hatred of IT, etc.) and inhibitors (access to working IT, a job or some other imperative that makes them use IT on a daily basis, etc.) that prevented them acquiring these heuristics all along.
  1. Throw the bone.
  2. Lock up the lions or they will eat you.
  3. Double-check your belt. The monkey probably stole your keys.
    After that, you're on your own initiative, right?
  4. Work out your support network: who can help you best with what?
  5. Learn about “backing up” and versioning: delete nothing, version it instead. This is done for you with the likes of googledocs or dropbox.
  6. Error messages: Try and act on their advice but if you dont understand what to do, guess, and learn from what happens next.
  7. If something goes wrong, don’t blame yourself – its usually the computer’s fault.
  8. If something doesn’t work or is taking too long, be pragmatic, find another way – there usually is one.
  9. In design, simplicity is genius: ICT allows you to be creative but that may just waste time and/or obstruct your message.
  10. If you forget how to do something, 'google it' or use a program’s help system to remind yourself.
  11. A key function of computers is that they are good at storing, managing and searching for information. What are the implications of this? Here's one: don't spend ages hunting for a file or sentence, the computer knows where it is - get the computer to search for you.
  12. ICT is made up of files: learning to manage files is key.
  13. Typing is still an important skill: Use a “learn to type” program to gain efficiency and confidence.
  14. Copy and paste: it works between applications although Paste Special, unformatted text is useful to avoid carrying over the formatting.
  15. Become familiar with these 4 shortcuts (there are more): WindowsKey+e (Windows Explorer)or WindowsKey+d (show desktop), Ctrl+c (copy) Ctrl+v (paste).
  16. Right click to access task specific functions (e.g. open link in new browser).
  17. ICT can not be trusted.
  18. Everything is owned by someone (beware of copyright)
  19. Never use the space bar to align text – use tabs, indents or a table instead. Find out about these from the help system.
  20. Use heading styles in Word (enables table of contents, document map, etc.)
There are probably a few more, but that's quite enough to be going on with. I identified this as a major flaw in attempts to get students doing networked learning. If they can't or won't use IT, they will not get very far with networked learning. In 2001, the Guidelines authors assume that the mere passage of time will soon negate any problems of engagement and access. In 2010, that assumption seems as strong as ever in my corner of higher education. We have to crack this to move these people on, and the usual tick-box approach to teaching IT skills will not cut it. ECDL, or something like it, may be an option, if students of it are fully engaged, but, as a qualification, it's soon reduced to 'learning to the test'. Organisations can be just as results-focussed, and the learning opportunities they implement suffer as a result. We must 'promote connections of meaningful IT use in the minds and lives' of learners. It is suggested that just such an heuristic-level approach may get them off on a better footing than sitting confused in an IT lab and, when they leave, forgetting everything they learned inside it just minutes before.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Post-reg IT skills

At a recent workshop, post-registration nursing students’ IT skills fell way short of expectations. This was no surprise to me, but what to do about it...? Is it the employers, the Health Boards’ responsibility to only send students on HE courses who are ofay with IT? Numbers would suffer and no-one wants that. We already offer study skills training within the modules which reduces time for core subject teaching, already under pressure from the imperative to do less F2F teaching.
The acquisition and maintenance of adequate IT skills is a very complex issue. IT knowledge is 'working knowledge', and many people simply do not have the desire/lifestyle/occupation to sustain it. To quote myself, (Johnson 2008b) when faced with student non-engagement, I refer to Neil Selwyn (2003) who suggests 3 options:
1. Restructuring of HE around ICT: Making ICT engagement unavoidable through, for example, requiring the completion of assessments to be mediated through computers. However, such a “strategy of compulsion can be strongly argued to be of limited long-term effect” (Selwyn 2002, p.115) in the same way as knowledge memorized for exams.
2. Realistically embedding ICT within existing practices in HE: to minimize the rejection of learning technologies, using them to “supplement and complement existing curricular processes” (ibid), thus providing meaningful and successful instances of ICT use.
3. Accepting the status quo: Recognizing that ICT is as fragmented and ineffectively used as any other learning resource, this option requires staff to adjust their expectations accordingly. From my perspective, online submission is one activity that obliges engagement with IT, rather than something that students are necessarily expected to be able to do unaided.
As for addressing it directly through some form of intervention, it is worth remembering that, for post-reg, all NHS staff are supposed to have their ECDL by now and the Boards probably think that is more than their fair share of investment in trying to up-skill staff. Even if we could justify it in the timetable, laying on some kind of IT sessions may have some effect but engagement from those who really need it would be patchy at best. It's a similar issue to many other aspects our students present with, e.g. 'key skills', engaging with feedback, etc.
Options include 1. Do nothing, continue as we are, 2. Try and share the problem more with the Local Health Boards 3. Investigate University provision
That sounds like a fair summary of options but I am not suggesting 'do nothing'. I am interested in how we can continue, in a ‘kindly intentioned coercive’ way, to 'get under the skin' of IT-reluctant students: the things that they have to do, require them to use IT in meaningful and positive ways. Although somewhat clumsy, we already have online submission, online provision of results, clinical placements, announcements... etc. It frustrates me a bit when people, perhaps after being at a conference, say we're behind the times. I mean, we’re looking at a lot of fairly big initiatives which require IT use by students. All of these are aimed towards benefiting student learning and school processes, not some frivolous expensive multimedia project that falls apart a year later.
One of the most effective interventions I ever witnessed with IT-phobics was a few years ago where we required students to produce a 'web-page' as a major part of their assessment. Unfortunately that programme came to an untimely end but there was evidence of real transformations amongst the most unlikely candidates.
I have to add that learning and doing IT is a 'funny business'. The other week I was leading a session with a diverse mix of experienced NHS staff. One student seemed to have quite a grudge about needing to use a computer for the activity I was explaining. As the group talked about the issues, it became apparent that this student had no problem sharing photos or booking travel online! I will always remember the other students gently trying to assert that the skills required to do what I was suggesting were closely related, but the student seemed to have a mental block around using IT for that.
So, yes, why not flag the issue up with the Health Boards. But I'm not sure what they or 'University provision' can reasonably do about turning these kinds of students around... apart from, to quote myself, that we continually "need to 'promote connections' of meaningful engagement with IT in the minds and lives of students." (Johnson 2008a; Johnson 2008b)

Johnson, M., 2008a. Expanding the concept of Networked Learning. In Sixth International Conference on Networked Learning. Halkidiki Greece: Lancaster University, pp. 154-161.

Johnson, M.R., 2008b. Investigating & encouraging student nurses’ ICT engagement. In T. T. Kidd & I. Chen, eds. Social Information Technology: Connecting Society and Cultural Issues. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Selwyn, N., 2002. Telling tales on technology: Qualitative studies in technology and education, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Selwyn, N., 2003. Understanding students (non)use of information and communications technology in university. Available at: