My challenge to get fit

Earlier this year ago I went and had a free health check which was offered by my workplace. The results were OK, but one of the findings (which was a massive surprise to me) was that I was borderline overweight! I’ve never considered myself to be anywhere near overweight, so that was a bit of a wake-up call. The other result which wasn’t too good was my physical activity score, however this wasn’t a surprise at all, as I knew I didn’t do enough exercise. Sure, I walked to and from the bus stop each day but I didn’t do any serious exercise.

I decided that I should do something about this, so decided that I’d find an exercise plan to start. Life got in the way, however, and the next few months were spent selling and buying a house. A couple of months ago, settled into our new house, I started the Couch to 5K plan developed by the NHS in the UK. As the name suggests, it’s a plan to get you off the couch and running five kilometres, all within nine weeks. I’d heard of the Couch to 5K program a couple of years ago thanks to Sonny from the Podcacher podcast. He blogged about his journey over the nine weeks of the plan. I downloaded the Runkeeper app for my phone so that I could keep track of how I was going.

I’ve now finished Week 6 of the plan, so only another three to go. I can certainly feel the difference in my endurance – there’s no way I could have run for 25 minutes a couple of weeks ago, but I managed it on Monday. I did have to skip a week back in October when the bushfires were burning in the Blue Mountains and the air was too smoky to run in. I’m back on track now though, but Christmas might interfere with the plan a bit. My style is probably more of the “Cliff Young shuffle” rather than a proper running style, but I can work on that.

To give myself some motivation to keep going once I’ve finished the plan, I’ve registered for the Bridge Run which is being held next year as part of the Sydney Running Festival. It’s a nine kilometre run from North Sydney, across the Harbour Bridge, and finishing in the Royal Botanic Gardens. I’ve found a 10K training plan on Runkeeper, so I’ll be using that to prepare myself. I’ll let you know how I go.

My ascilite experience

This week I had the opportunity to attend some of the sessions of the 2013 ascilite conference, which was held at Macquarie University. ascilite is an acronym for Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, and its members all have an interest in the “application of technology to enhance teaching and learning in higher education”. This was the first non-library conference I’ve attended, and it was interesting to see how other professions organise their events.

Following the Welcome to Country and official opening, the first session I attended was The Great Debate, which was an entertaining look at the topic “The dream of technology-assisted learning has been realised”. The result, by an overwhelming majority, went in favour of the negative. After morning tea I went to two of the concurrent sessions.

The first discussed the use of gamification to increase student engagement with course material. The presenters used the nQuio software to develop online quizzes which were displayed in each lecture, along with a leaderboard. As students answered questions, the leaderboard updated instantly with their scores. Students also earned points by completing assessment tasks (both voluntary and compulsory) throughout the semester. This introduction of a gaming element to the curriculum resulted in students feeling more engaged with the course material and completing extra work in order to collect more points. From a library point of view, I can see that this sort of software could be used to try and liven up the instruction sessions that we run. I’ve seen other tools such as Socrative which allow online quizzes to be developed which are answered in class by the students, but nQuio has the extra gaming element added. The second session presented the results of a study into how students used lecture capture technology. It was found that most students didn’t use the recordings as a substitute for attending lectures, but rather as a catch-up and revision tool.

The second day I attended the conference, I went to the afternoon keynote by Mark Pesce, who spoke about the future of education and the way that computing technology has changed the way that learning occurs.  Mark highlighted that being connected is now an important part of education, and that universities will be judged on the quality of the networks that their students are part of. I then attended two sessions in the “Mobile Learning” stream.

The first looked at the different ways students used mobile devices as part of their education, and found that different devices are used to access different content. Tablets are most often used for reading content, laptops are favoured for tasks which involve writing, and smartphones are used for connecting. The vast majority of students owned at least one mobile device, so from a library point of view we need to ensure that our content, whether created by us or provided by vendors, is easily accessible in a mobile-friendly format. The final session I attended presented the results of a trial of providing iPads to students at Charles Sturt University. One of the findings was that mobile devices can create learning spaces anywhere. As a result of this study, all new educational technology projects at CSU need to be available in  a mobile-friendly format.

It was an interesting conference to attend, and some of the ideas which were discussed were relevant to libraries. The 2014 ascilite conference will be held in Dunedin, so I don’t think I’ll be able to go, unfortunately. I would recommend trying to get to a conference that isn’t a library conference but still has relevance to the work we do. It’s always nice to get a fresh view of things.