The Virtues of Paper

In our project discussions I have noticed that we always seem to end up scribbling on paper! As I have mostly worked in the e-learning sphere I have found this interesting and I have since noticed that many software developers carry a notebook – whereas as many e-learning types do not. I think I understand the reason for this after working for 3 years down at the University of the Arts London in the Centre for Learning and Teaching in Art and Design. I was working leading a series of open education projects there that were really interesting, one of the striking things I came across was the crucial role that sketchbooks played in art and design practice,  I was lucky enough to work with Stephen Farthing  the Professor of Drawing at Chelsea and Ed Webb Ingall and became aware of this and the importance of ‘drawing’ (and looking at text as a subset of drawing).

There is nothing quite so immediate and fluid as pen /pencil and paper for capture and sharing and sense making. To put things in context I regularly attend e-learning events (seminars, conferences etc) where the participants are mostly engaged with laptops, tablets and mobile phones – perhaps they are all taking notes and not curating their online professional identity :-). But while working in London I attended a Technology Strategy Board Funding (Now called Innovate UK) Competition briefing for video software and out of about 150 developers and techies I could only see notebooks and sketches, in fact the only digital device I could see was the PR person with the laptop at the back!

Anyway to prove a point here is a picture showing a row of early papr Clipper prototypes – at one point my laptop only seemed to be destined to create paper – and no bad thing!



Clipper on the Road – Coventry School of Art and Design – Department of Media and the Disruptive Media Lab

On 21st and 22nd of April the Clipper team headed to Coventry University to meet up with staff from the Coventry School of Art and Design, based in the Department of Media and the Disruptive Media Lab. This was an ‘early doors’ meeting with potential users and adopters of the Clipper toolkit and the first outing for our very early visualization prototype. We knew from previous collaborations that it would be good to discuss the Clipper ideas with them – as they have been at the forefront of some of the most interesting open media education developments in the UK in recent years – check out their blog.

Disruptivemedia openmedia classes

What started as a sedate trip down from Scotland for John and Will ended up as a scramble against time as we endured lengthy train delays but we made it into Coventry in time to hook up with Trevor from the OU and visit the disruptive media lab to talk to Dr. Roy Bhakta (Senior research Assistant) and Alex Masters (Learning Technology). The feedback we got in our discussions was really useful (interfaces, rationale etc.) and helped us to view our work from an outsider’s perspectives – always useful and tricky when you are so close to a project.

After meeting at the lab we headed off to have a much needed curry to restore our strength! Over the curry and at the hotel we had quite a lengthy project meeting where we thrashed out more ideas for the interface and made some real progress. As Trevor remarked – its really hard making things simple! That is one of the challenges we face with Clipper – trying to make things simple in what is really quite a cognitively demanding set of tasks for a user. We made good progress and managed to simplify and remove some elements from the interface. These interface issues are also a challenge to the BBC R&D people we have been talking to – more on that later

Next morning we headed back to the lab to meet some people we missed the day before – Shaun Hides (Head of Dept. of Media and Co-Director of the Lab) and Martin Jenkins (Academic Development and Learning Technology). Another really useful set of discussions, we talked about Clipper giving access to archives and helping users construct their own narratives ‘through’ original materials and how the Clipper documents might act like DOI’s (one to follow up)- a kind of unique reference number for a digital object that link to an online catalogue record about the object . User analytics and user generated metadata were also topics that came up. We also talked about the wider publishing toolset we are working on in terms of a user-centered ePortfolio system for lifelong learning outside academia.

Next it was onto Birmingham New Street Station to meet Jonathan Shaw (Lab Co-Director and Associate Head of Media Dept.) where we chatted over coffee about what we were up to and showed the prototype, Jonathan was interested in the publishing angles, which we are going to follow up. We also got another useful lead to potential adopters.

Then it was time for the Clipper team to go our separate ways – on the return trip to Scotland our train broke down at Carlisle and we had more delays…still it was well worth it… a very productive meeting indeed, thanks to the hospitality and interest from Coventry colleagues.


Clipper Project Background

A few years ago we created a prototype of a tool to help people make sense of video collections, by enabling them to create and annotate ‘virtual clips’, compile them into playlists and share them. The tool had a lot of promise but it was built in Flash which has declined as a technology.

Nonetheless, it inspired a lot of our more recent work exploring the use of HTML5 to create easy–to-use publishing tools for the open education movement – that work is still ongoing (more on that later). But, back to Clipper… Thanks to the kind folks at Jisc we are back on the Clipper trail again. After taking part in a competition to pitch for funding we have received a grant to develop the concept a bit further and gauge the demand from the research community. This funding is part of Jisc’s work to help UK researchers and institutions better manage their research data, for more info about that see the Research Data Spring website.

So, in this part of the Clipper story we shall be exploring how the proposed toolkit and its underlying concepts can be applied in research settings – particularly in relation to making better use of research data. If we succeed in this phase of the work, we will be in line to compete for further funding to develop the actual Clipper toolkit.