20 November, 2008

Online Discussion Workshop

I have just developed a workshop around online discussion (asynchronous), which ran for the 1st time yesterday.
The technical aspect of creating discussion forums in Blackboard is the easy part... the real problem lies in the understanding of why, and how, to embed discussion within course content, and how the tool aligns with learning and teaching e.g. Social Constructivism. Understanding at this level is critical for courses that hope to create and engage in meaningful online discourse.

group discussion

The session has already generated some interesting discussion, as it encourages reflection upon previous experience, the actual use of the tool alongside teaching styles, as well as some practical aspects to gain experience in creating and using the discussion tool within Blackboard. The session also picks up on Netiquette guidelines and 'what to expect in online discussion', as well as highlighting some key texts around the topics such as; Contingent tutoring, Lurking or Learning?, a Model for eMentoring, and Structuring online discussion for meaningful discourse.

The discussion workshop will run again on the 4th December so contact staff development to register. Also look out for the other workshops that look at the various Blackboard tools in more detail.

18 November, 2008

Using eXe to Create Web Pages

Blackboard is not a web development environment, and so we've tried to find other pieces of software that allow academics to produce simple collections of web pages for use in Blackboard.

Wimba's Course Genie (now Wimba Create) was used by some staff for a while, but cost was a barrier to a wider role-out of it's use, as well as difficulties with Wimba's licencing system.

A collegue mentioned eXe editor to me. I'm pretty impressed with it's ease of use and the fact that it is freely available and Open Source. There is also a version of the software that can run from a memory stick, meaning you don't have to install software to use it - very important for those who use Sunrays.

I've put together a series of short videos to show how you could get started using the eXe editor. It would be really good to hear from those of you who have used it, to find out what you think.

1. What is eXe (0.24)
Windows Media Version
YouTube Version

2. Downloading eXe (0.59)
Windows Media Version
YouTube Version

3. Adding iDevices (1.43)
Windows Media Version
YouTube Version

4. Adding More Pages (1.33)
Windows Media Version
YouTube Version

5. The RSS iDevice (1.46)
Windows Media Version
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6. Changing Content and Styles (1.47)
Windows Media Version
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7. Exporting and Saving (1.40)
Windows Media Version
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8. Importing an IMS Content Package to Blackboard (2:38)
Windows Media Version
YouTube Version

17 November, 2008

Using Virtual Worlds in Higher Education

As I'm focussing my SOLSTICE Fellowship project on using Virtual Worlds in Higher Education, I decided to put together an overview of the possibilities and challenges relating to using them.

For my purposes, 'Virtual Worlds' includes 3D social spaces like Second Life, simulation environments (like Google Earth might be used as part of) and gaming environments like World of Warcraft. Metaverse Roadmap's overview especially their diagram of where Virtual Worlds, Mirror Worlds, Lifelogging and Augmented Reality fit together, looks like a useful tool to help me keep a focus.

Much research has already been done and made publically available. For a visual overview of virtual worlds in general Kzero have produced diagrams which do a great job of helping us to visualise the overwhelming variety and number of non-gaming virtual worlds that are being developed. For the 3rd Quarter of 2008 they have a diagram that shows the age group that use the environments, the number of subscribers and when each was released. They also have one that shows the type of the environment, and the age group that use it.

Other interesting starting points include JISC's new scoping study, Serious Virtual Worlds which links to relevant research. The Second Life in Education wiki is a extensive collection of links to the ways that educators are using that particular environment.

After looking at some of the research and activities going on, there are several general areas and questions that I think might be worth looking at.

1. Online Synchronous Discussion.

The Openhabitat project included a cohort of Philosophy students using Second Life for group discussion and David White's excellent presentation about Openhabitat includes information about this. Listening to this presentation got me thinking about how online interaction differs in a Virtual World, compared to the basic Chat tools that we use now. Is anything useful added to the experience by using Virtual Worlds? As the technology develops how will these experiences and the value of using the environments for online discussion change?

2. Learning to Navigate and Create.

Some Virtual Worlds allow you to build complex environments and simulations. Pretty much any project going on in Second Life will require some building, and projects like the PREVIEW project will require more complex scripting. If we are going to create environments for Edge Hill courses, it would be useful to the planning process to know what skills, processes and time are required to build environments, of various levels of complexity, in different Virtual Worlds. Also what time and skills would the student require to use each environment?

3. The Future.

a. It seems like the initial rush by businesses to set up in Second Life has slowed down. What are businesses in general likely to be doing next in the area of Virtual Worlds? Can we help prepare students for any uses of Virtual Worlds that they may come across in their working lives or future lives outside of work?

b. Currently, according to Kzero's data, the most subscribed to Virtual Worlds are aimed at children. This suggests that, over the next 5 to 10 years we might be expecting people who have grown up using virtual worlds. What might virtual worlds look like then, and how can we best prepare for their possible mainstream use?

05 November, 2008

e-Portfolios: Practical and StrategicThinking

I've been attending the JISC Innovating e-Learning online conference this week, and found the discussions around ePortfolios useful.

The idea that we can split the uses of what are being called e-portfolios into 4 areas is popular. This is covered in the AlphaPlus document about existing e-Portfolio use, and gives a framework when thinking about what the purpose of their use. The 4 areas in this document are:

-Portfolio of work that demonstrates learning - The learner can put anything in here that demonstrates learning. If they make it available more publically it can be used for formative assessment by peers and teaching staff.
-Portfolio for summative assessment of learning on a course - This is marked against criteria.
-Portfolio to transfer learner information between institutions - The learner has little control over this.
-Portfolio to present your work, perhaps to a potential employer - This contains specially selected work for a particular audience.

Whatever you want to achieve by asking or encouraging your students to create an e-portfolio, you need to be able to communicate this to the students. Even if the advice is vague, and full freedom is given to the student, they need some idea of what is achievable and why they will benefit. The learner could see what could be done by seeing exisiting portfolios, like this gallery at Penn State University, and the 'e-Portfolios: Why Create an e-Portfolio' video on the e-Portfolios at Penn State podcast might help answer the 'Why?' question.

This is all at a practical level, but there is also a lot to think about around institutional strategies.

Thanet College seem to have done a lot of work in this area, and the document 'Thanet College: Personalised learning spaces - the next challenge for ILT', is worth a read if you are interested in the strategy side of things.

The ideas that stand out to me from Thanet are firstly, providing all tutors with PebblePad (an e-Portfolio system) accounts. If the staff think about their own e-Portfolio and use the system then they are better prepared to lead the students in their use.

Secondly, the idea of the Institution 'owning' the VLE and the learner 'owning' the e-Portfolio is useful, as it helps us think about and communicate to the students what we can expect from the different software tools we use.

Finally they saw a challenge in deciding where the college stood on transferability of the portfolios, which perhaps fits in with ideas around lifelong learning.