Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Thing 2 - Cloudworks

I don't like the look of this cloud!

Scott Butner 2008 http://www.flickr.com/photos/rs_butner/2550530346/in/photostream/
Don't worry - Cloudworks is much less oppressive.

After completing Thing 2
  • You will know what Cloudworks is, and what 'clouds' and 'cloudscapes' are.
  • You will have explored the Learning Design Toolbox; a cloudscape of curriculum design ideas and resources.
  • You will have used Cloudworks to look for and evaluate tools, activities and resources that could be useful for your own purposes.

What is Cloudworks?

Cloudworks is a website for teachers in HE to to find and discuss ideas for learning and teaching, and share their own ideas too.

In fact, it's not just for ideas - people also use it to ask questions, share examples of how to do things, and announce events. Every one of these resources gets its own page, or 'cloud'. Anyone can make a cloud - all you have to do is create an account.

Go to the website now, if you haven't already: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/

Tag collections can serve as summaries
Its easy to find interesting clouds by entering keywords in the search box and searching their full text, but you can also browse clouds in several ways. Most clouds are "tagged" with several keywords or short phrases. Click on "tags" in the menu bar at the top of the page to see a complete list of tags. Clicking on one, "curriculum design" for instance, gets you a page listing everything tagged with "curriculum design". In this case you get three lists: 25 clouds, one user profile and several "cloudscapes", which are simply collections of clouds. Just like clouds, anyone can make a cloudscape (by going to the Cloudscapes page), and in this example one of the cloudscapes, called "Designing flexible curricula", is one I made earlier.  You'll notice some of the other cloudscapes have been made for meetings and conferences.

Clouds and Cloudscapes are the main concepts in Cloudworks - once you understand them the rest is pretty self-explanatory.  There is one more notable feature though: Cloudworks is "social".  In practice this means anyone can comment on clouds or respond to other comments, add tags, and even contribute extra material, links and references.  By default, anyone can add clouds to your cloudscapes too, but it's possible to turn this off if you need to.  It's also really easy to 'follow' practically anything in Cloudworks using RSS (new to RSS?), so you can easily keep up with interesting discussions and updates.

Once you've found an interesting cloud, look in the right-hand info pane to see what other tags it has been given and what Cloudscapes it has been included in; maybe they will lead you to other interesting clouds!

Hopefully that's enough to get you started.

Need more Cloudfacts?

Useful tips on what you can use Cloudworks for: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/support/tips

How to make your own cloud or cloudscape: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/2554

Here's a video introduction by Cloudworks' creator:

How do we think Cloudworks might help course designers?

People have posted quite a lot of ideas and discussion on Cloudworks already, all somehow connected to curriculum design - maybe you will find a useful resource or discussion.  You could make an account and 'favorite' some particularly interesting clouds, and you might decide to upload some ideas, examples or questions of your own.

Cloudworks is public and run by the Open University, but it is also an open source software project, which means Cambridge could have its own private version, as a place for lecturers to swap notes on teaching.

Step by step instructions

Explore the Design toolbox
  1. Go to http://cloudworks.ac.uk/
  2. Find the cloudscape called Learning Design Toolbox.  (Hint: use the search box, or click here if you're really stuck).  This is a collection maintained by our friends at the Open University.
  3. Read the description of this cloudscape.
  4. Scroll down to see a list of the clouds in the cloudscape.  In this case the list is rather long so the cloudscape's creator has broken it into categories (activities, methods, resources, templates, tools).  
  5. Look down the list of clouds to about item nine - if you came to our kick-off meeting it should sound familiar!  Click through to and scroll down to "extra content" to see what kinds of lists other people have made (Hint: if you're lost go straight to the "activity: how to ruin a course" cloud).  We've added yours too! 
  6. Go back to the Learning Design Toolbox cloudscape (Hint: click back in your browser or find it listed in the info column on the right).  Scroll down to the "cloudstream" at the bottom.  This is a constantly-updated feed of everything that happens in the clouds forming this cloudscape.  Why not see where the most recent discussion has been?
  7. Click through to some interesting-sounding clouds. Look out for comments and tags.
  8. Now you've got the hang of it, try find at least 3 things on Cloudworks which you might find useful.
Blog Thing 2!
  1. What is your impression of Cloudworks? 
  2. What three things did you choose?  How do you see Cloudworks being useful to you as a curriculum designer, as a place to find resources and ideas about curriculum design?
  3. What are your thoughts about using this to upload your own resources (ideas, tools etc) and getting feedback on them?
  4. Cloudworks is a public site run by the Open University, but it is also an open source software project.  Cambridge could have its own, private version of Cloudworks, for teaching staff to share and discuss ideas just within the University.  How useful do you think such a facility would be ?
Team Friday's ways to ruin a course.  All it takes is one misplaced post-it..

If you're interested

If Cloudworks seems useful, go ahead and explore further.  Are there more clouds and cloudscapes which are useful for you?  Create a user account so you can mark favourite items, post comments on them, and 'follow' what other people are adding and what they are saying.  If you happen across a fellow traveller, you can even follow them personally and see everything they post.  Feel free to create clouds and cloudscapes yourself - do add them to the "13 Things" cloudscape so we can find you.


  1. This tool was not well received by our participants, particularly on first impressions. The mongoose librarian complained “fundamentally I can’t get a handle on what I’m looking at. Is it a resource store? A forum? A social networking site? I can see that the answer may be ‘(d) All of the above’, but a clearer steer on function and navigation would be great.”

    Several people acknowledged the tool might contain some useful resources, but found them fragmentary, hard to find and of uncertain quality. On the plus side N Page rated the curriculum design toolbox “handy”, but 13things Blog Trial said “lots of interesting snippets but felt very bitty on first visit”. mrj10 added ““possibly some useful ideas, but difficult to know where to find them because there is a lot of jargon”, and because anyone can add material “there is no consistent terminology [and it is] difficult to judge its quality”. Reflections on Science Education and Communication “found cloudworks deeply frustrating”, saying “I searched for ‘Mathematical Biology’ which is one of my current interests. There were lots of links but not enough information to know whether to bother clicking on each one ... There might be useful stuff in there but I think I’m better off searching with Google”. The mongoose librarian provides as good a summary as any: “I can see that there’s tons of potentially useful stuff in here, but I can’t make out how to find and get to it.”

    Similarly, the idea of a community of learning designers was welcome but didn’t materialise for participants. The mongoose librarian says “I love the idea of an online community of LD practitioners, but I can’t work out an easy way to communicate with them.” N Page “found a few sections relating to information literacy (which I've been working with recently), but lots of clouds with no responses.  Not the most inspiring start.” mrj10 noted “Most posts don’t seem to get any response.” Reflections on Science Education and Communication says “My ... worry is that you could spend time putting stuff on here only to find no one ever looks at it again and you’d have no way of knowing whether or not anyone has taken any notice of it.” 13things Blog Trial, returning later, was however interested to see developments on some of their followed clouds. Engaging with other users may simply be the reward of investing time in participating on active clouds.
    scienceetc makes a diagnosis: “What we need is quality rather than quantity. Often with projects like this there appears to be a requirement to demonstrate that it’s being used which means populating it with as much stuff as possible. The downside of that is that there is no regard to the quality of the input.”


  2. [Continued...]

    As a fan of CloudWorks I was surprised by the lack of positive feedback, but surprises like this are precisely why the process is valuable for us at CARET. Personally I have to agree the shotgun approach to content makes the public version of CloudWorks less than usable for time-poor academics - it was only the relatively intensively curated Curriculum Design Toolbox that received any positive feedback. However, with an eye on the OU’s impending release of the CloudEngine [https://bitbucket.org/cloudengine/cloudengine/wiki/Home] I hoped our participants would support the idea of a Cambridge-specific CloudWorks site.

    13things Blog Trial lends some support: “I think within [an] institution [one] would get fuller and more frank discussion in a less public forum”. N Page is sceptical: “I'm not convinced it would be used enough, but maybe?” Reflections on Science Education and Communication and N Page both wonder what advantage CloudWorks would have over Cambridges’s VLE CamTools, or for that matter its online forums service. mrj10 is concerned that we would see the system “becoming an unstructured repository of material, much of which would not be used by anybody and that would get out of date, unless there was an active community of people who saw it as valuable in their work”, and even then is “not sure how generic Cambridge course design is and hence how much demand there would be for common resources.”

    Given the positive interest our participants showed elsewhere in the possibility of a community of learning designers, I interpret this cautious feedback as meaning it such a thing would need to be Cambridge specific, any resources in it would need active curation, and we if we did try to support one with CloudEngine we’d need to do some customisation, plus probably some training and introduction sessions.