21 December, 2009

Does web 2.0 benefit students?


Web 2.0 is suffering the same fate as previous “Revolutionary” ICT technologies of earlier decades. Politicians, school governors and university management are often heard citing the benefits of these new technologies, but there is still a lack of empirical evidence to suggest that the use of web 2.0 improves student performance.

However (moving swiftly on …), there are some clear benefits that Rob Spence (English and History) has found whilst using Wiki technology:

  • Improved student engagement
  • Students feel less on the spot
  • Students are more self critical
  • Tracking of student performance from day 1


There is a perception that students are arriving at university with ever decreasing levels of literacy, combined with ever increasing support requirements. Spoon feeding ‘A’ level candidates is thought to be a widespread practice in many schools and colleges, and when combined with a highly prescriptive curriculum perhaps it is no wonder that many students struggle when they arrive at university. It’s not unheard of for new students, when presented with an essay title, to ask for the opening sentence or paragraph, the quotes they are likely to need to use, and other guidance and materials.

These were the kinds of issues that Rob had been experiencing – perhaps informing his rationale for using a wiki for part of his first year “Introduction to Narrative” course.


Reflecting on his use of the wiki, Rob found that his students were more willing to get involved in writing at an earlier point in their university career, and found the experience less threatening than being put on the spot in a classroom session. Students were found to be more self critical – perhaps because they were writing for a perceived audience. One of the major benefits that Rob experienced was being able to see students work from much earlier in the learning process than in previous years – he could see drafts and developments from many students in the same area so was able to identify and track “Problem Students” at a much earlier point in the cycle.

Is it for me?

If you are considering using web 2.0 stuff (wikis, blogs, bookmarking …) in your teaching and learning, the Learning Technology team would love to hear from you. We are here to encourage and support you in the use of technology for teaching and learning. You can contact me (david.callaghan@edgehill.ac.uk x 7753) or Katherine Richardson (richark@edgehill.ac.uk x 7754).

David Callaghan
th November 2009

Image by Peter Nielsen, 2009

03 December, 2009

Technology Enhanced Feedback

There has been some research undertaken over the last few years, about giving audio feedback to students. The 'Sounds Good' project at Leeds Met was one of the more high profile, and I've bookmarked a few other relevant links.

Online audio use now seems mainstream, and several staff at Edge Hill are giving summative feedback now by means other than text (e.g. via audio, videos of the tutor talking, screencast videos showing the piece of work). In the Learning Technologist's office, we were discussing what is required to enable any member of academic staff to feel comfortable using 'technology enhanced feedback'. Is there a really simple way of creating audio feedback that wouldn't cause difficulties to those staff least comfortable and familiar with new technologies?

Something like Vocaroo is wonderfully simple, and while I'm not sure about proposing that as the Edge Hill solution, this level of simplicity is going to be required by some people. However, the most common approach currently seems to be to borrow or buy a voice recorder, and to email the audio feedback to the student. This contains several steps, but helps ensure good quality recordings, and could be achieved in several different ways.

Sue Murrin-Bailey and Shirley Hunter-Barnett are running a SOLSTICE session which describes how and why they gave audio feedback to students, at Edge Hill on the 11th January 2010. You can book through Edge Hill University Staff Development - staffdevelopment@edgehill.ac.uk - and SOLSTICE sessions are even open to people from outside Edge Hill University, so all are welcome.

After this session, it would be good to put together some very simple, technophobe proof advice that anyone could use to do something similar. Has anyone got good ideas about how this might look, and the tools that would be required?

[Image by mrbula]

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02 December, 2009

What is the Future of VLEs?

As Edge Hill's project to look into what the different people in the institution want from a VLE is underway, it is worth exploring some of the debates that are going on in the wider community.

Most agree that the general way VLEs are used, and design of VLEs by software developers, is not perfect. However there are many opinions and viewpoints on what the way forward is.

A good starting point is the 'The VLE is Dead (or is it?)' debate at the ALT-C conference this year (note that the debate has moved forward now). To summarise, four stances are set out.
  1. VLEs are evil. They aren't focussed on learning, but are content management systems. They are closed to the world and contacts out there who you can learn from and discuss with. They are owned by the institution, which in itself plays a role in switching students off.
  2. Personal learning environments (PLEs) are the way forward. The VLE is based on the same paradigm as the factory system of education. Rather than promoting learning they are designed to commodify learning. VLEs have the potential to open up learning to those currently outside the institution, and we should focus on achieving this with them. The personal learning environment is set up by the learner, and we enable them to develop one that helps them learn.
  3. Use the VLE for now, to teach the teachers and learners how to develop PLEs. Learners don't generally know how to use these web services, certainly for learning. The VLE can be involved in guiding students towards these new web based technologies for learning.
  4. The VLE is good enough, and will get better. The tools in the VLE are good enough. Students expect consistency and reliability, which the VLE (if designed well and used well) should provide.
The idea of web based personal learning environments is exciting to me, mainly because that is where I do much of my own learning. My feed reader would be the centre of this, bringing in blog posts, twitter posts, journal articles and news, making it easier and quicker for me to follow and get involved in many conversations in a variety of subjects that I'm interested in. Someone else's environment might centre on their Twitter account or blog, and that's what makes this more personal than a VLE.

The personal learning environment model also fits in with creating lifelong learners. Where ever I go in life my online PLE is going to be available, unlike the VLE.

Have a look at Steve Wheeler's post, and the resulting comments for lots of other responses to this debate.

Another debate that is going on is talking about whether the system that the institution provides should be a teacher controlled VLE (like Moodle) or a learner controlled network (like ELGG). The 'Moodle- the wrong tool for the job?' post on the Learning Conversations blog contains interesting points related to this.

16 October, 2009

Resources to Help You Start Using New Tools in Teaching and Learning

I think that a really good way of learning about the area of Technology Enhanced Learning, and understanding the tools you might want to use, is to follow a selection of blogs and other resources written by practitioners and thinkers. It might be a bit of a chaotic way of learning, but it enables you to explore and find a range of people and ideas that interest and inspire you.

I've created a list of some resources below, which be followed easily using a feed reader like Bloglines or Google Reader. To subscribe to them and many others, download my OPML file [right click the link and choose 'Save link as...' or 'Save target as...'] and import it into your feed reader [Google Reader help] [Bloglines help]. The feed reader will inform you as new posts are added. Glance through these each day and read any articles that catch your eye. Delete some feeds and add other ones that you find.

General Learning Technology blogs:

  • George Siemens talks about overarching issues to think about when using technology for learning. His ideas are interesting and his blog is called elearnspace.
  • Stephen Downes works quite closely with George Siemens and talks a lot about making education open to all. His newsletter is at OLDaily.

People and organisations with a more specific focus:

  • danah boyd's area of expertise is in how young people use the web socially. She's got a lot to say that feeds into how we use technologies like social networking in HE. Her blog is called Apophenia and a list of her best posts is available.
  • Clay Shirky writes about social media, and his ideas are helpful when we think about how the web affects the world we live in, including education. His web feed is available.
  • Garr Reynolds writes Presentation Zen which is relevant to educators as so much of what we do is presenting, however that might be done. As a non-designer, I learn a lot from this blog and get a lot to think about.

15 October, 2009

What is Google Wave Good For?


There's been a lot a talk about Wave, even though it isn't properly released yet. But is the hype justified? What is it best used for? Does it replace any other tools that we use?

Well, as noted in the video below, Wave was designed to help people move from using email on occasions where there is perhaps a group having a long scale conversation.

Many people have given their views on what Wave is, or isn't, good for. For example:

However, it is difficult to know how valid these opinions are until you use it yourself. I got my invite to Wave on Wednesday and have had chance to set up a 'Wave', that is, a conversation containing synchronous and asynchronous text conversation, maps, images, etc. On the face of it I like the way it pulls together a lot of the media that might be involved in a conversation, making all of the 'artefacts' from a conversation accessible to a large number of people.

My Wave was public, and a few other interested people got involved. One interesting thing in Wave is seeing people type in real time. This means you can see people type spelling mistakes, and change their minds about things, which might sound annoying but I much preferred synchronous chat working like this. András Beck, who was involved in the Wave put it well, saying that "its more close to real life conversations than usual chat programs. I mean... if a friend talks to u, u usually know what he wants to say after 50-60% of the sentence [and so] you can start to put ur thoughts together while they type. Usual chat means u type, and wait, then type, and wait...".

Sadly I can't yet embed the Wave in this blog yet, but it will be a possibility in the future. This would make it easier to make conversations public.

In conclusion, Wave is a complicated tool, and like any tool it is for certain purposes and not everything. Regarding my question about if and how it should be used, it looks like an improvement on email message boards from some perspectives, and I'd like to use it with a group as a place to store thoughts and conversations about a project instead of using a blog, or a group of students to use it to explore a topic together.

As for my experiences, I had an enjoyable conversation (about Wave itself), with people who were interested in the topic. Perhaps if the tools you use allow your students to connect with a range of people like this, precisely which tool you use matters less.

Finally, here are two views on whether Wave will actually take off: Ryan Carson says yes it will, Anil Dash says it won't.

02 October, 2009

Using Delicious for Managing Your Bookmarks

Back in the olden days everyone stored bookmarks in their web browser. In Internet Explorer you'd click on Favourites or in Firefox you'd select Bookmarks.

Many people are now using Social Bookmarking tools to store bookmarks. I use Delicious.com as this allows me to:

  • Search through everyone's bookmarks on a certain topic, to see what other useful sites and articles are out there.
  • Access your bookmarks from anywhere, home or work.
  • Annotate your bookmarks to remind yourself why you saved them.
  • Subscribe to a feed of another person's bookmarks, if you find that you have similar interests.
To get started with Delicious
There are certain things to think about when you are using social bookmarking.
  • Your online identity - Are you sharing your page/feed with other people - perhaps students? I use my delicious account for both work related and personal bookmarks with out worrying who can see what. However if privacy is more important to you, you might just want to mark all your personal bookmarks as Private.
  • Backing up - When you collect useful personal data in any service you want to know that you can back it up. Delicious isn't likely to loose your data, but you never know. You can backup your bookmarks by choosing Settings > Export / Backup Bookmarks.

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Blackboard CE8: Just-In-Time Support Screencasts

Anyone building or teaching a section in Blackboard CE8 (the VLE that we are using at Edge Hill University) can use our Blackboard screencast videos to remind themselves of how to do various things, for example if you want to give a student access to your section.

By the way, if you are interested in creating screencasts yourself, you have several options. I use Camtasia Studio, which costs about £80 for an educational licence with a £30-£40 headset to ensure good quality sound. Camtasia is great if you are creating a large number of videos as it allows you to do this very quickly. It also allows the addition of simple pan and zoom effects and editing if required. The generated videos can them go on the University's video server and you can pass on the web address to your audience. A while ago I put together a series of videos that might help you get started with screencasting using Camtasia Studio.

If you are only creating a few simple recordings, you are probably better off using a free web based service like Screenr, which also hosts the video and will post it to your Twitter account if you want to distribute it that way.

[Image by Sarahnaut]

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21 August, 2009

danah boyd: Some Thoughts on Technophilia

danah boyd has written a very accessible piece for the New Media Consortium's Symposium for the Future entitled 'Some Thoughts on Technophilia'. It aims to 'provoke conversation in preparation for the event', and I think it does a great job of simplifying some important issues that educators using new technologies need to consider.

I think we all know that "Dumping laptops into a classroom does no good if a teacher doesn't know how to leverage the technology for educational purposes...", and so on, but I think that it is also clear that it's tough for teachers to know how to use a specific technology in teaching and learning, let alone a wide variety of technologies. Learning 'deeply' how to use the technologies requires using them in different aspects of your life, thus it requires you changing the way you do things, and this is time consuming and disruptive. It doesn't fit neatly into managed staff development sessions.

I think educators should be encouraged by danah's statement that "Also there are no such things as 'Digital Natives' ... Most of you have a better sense of how to get information out of Google than the average youth." People of different generations, and perhaps even of different year groups, may have different online habits and subtly different online etiquette, but there's no need for educators to be intimidated by perceptions of young students' competence. You have a lot to teach them about information literacy for example.

The second to last paragraph challenges us to be careful with the online spaces that we choose to use in education. The argument here is not refering to the affordances of the technologies themselves, but instead demands some awareness of how students' various online identities are constructed and how their complex social world works online. This might mean not using Facebook and tools that students may already use in a different contexts for socialising.

By the way, danah boyd has studied extensively how American teenagers use the web socially, and some of her insights are relevant to anyone wanting to explore social aspects of learning and teaching online. The video of her interview with Discover magazine is a good overview, and then have a look at her published work.

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07 August, 2009

My Twitter Trends

twitter logoMicro-blogging tool Twitter has become increasingly popular over the last 12 months, with many people 'following' celebrities. Here in the UK, Stephen Fry and Chris Moyles (amongst others) have contributed to the 'outbreak' of such a seemingly strange activity - that is the sharing of what one may be doing at any particular time in just 140 characters. Nevertheless, such celebrities have ammassed huge following by fellow tweeters, and contributing to the development of today's craze. Today's addiction.

I have been using Twitter (properly) for about 18 months now, and have used it in a variety of ways;

  • personal/social communication with friends/colleagues

  • following some celebs (although this was short-lived)

  • share common interests and find links to new places/data/information

  • Live-tweet from conferences

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on my use of twitter, and how it has changed and progressed through my different uses (above).
I think I enjoyed tweeting the most in the 'early days', before the mass frenzy of celeb tweeters. I had a selection of followers, all of whom I actually knew! On a personal level. And people I actually liked (unlike many of the 'friends' I have made on Facebook!)
I could ask a random question, aimed wildly and at nobody in particular, but yet it might be answered. Answered because my followers used the tool in a similar way to me. They followed people that they personally knew. And so they would see my question, and just might post a reply.

Then with my professional hat on, I decided to see who some of my 'friends' were following. Because I trusted colleagues in the elearning field, like @hallymk1, and @narcomarco, I thought i'd follow some of their friends. And this was good. From their tweets I found some new information, new sites and tools that I hadn't already come across. Another useful benefit of Twitter!

I was so excited with twitter, hooked one might say. I thought it would be a good idea to live-tweet from conferences and events, although in hind-sight, most of my followers who shared the same interest would likely have been there anyway. And for those that were unable to make it, how much of the experience would they glean from my 140 characters anyway???

As time went by, I watched the same TV shows and listened to the same radio stations as you, and your friend, colleague (and Grandmother's cat!). And for some strange and random reason, I thought it might be interesting to see what Stephen Fry might be up to. Despite the high regard in which I hold Stevey, I soon became bored with reading that he just had his hair cut by the 'Wonderful Phillip, who's been cutting hair in Ormond Yd, SW1 for 60 years'.

I suppose like many relationships I've had, this was all one-way. Stephen would do all the talking, and I was the passive recipient. Amongst his endless amounts of tweets (many of which I wasn't interested in), it would be physically impossible for him to reply to even a small percentage of his followers (he follows almost 55k people of his 700k followers). I actually asked him a question once. What might I expect in my phone bill from using my iPhone in New York and Miami. He didnt reply. I was hurt! My bill was an extra £300! And again, like the many relationships, I got over it quick. And moved on.

Follow me sign
I moved on to another strange phenomenon. One in which I was obliged to follow those people that wanted to follow me. Those people I didnt know. With interests in things different to me. I learned quickly that they just wanted to sell their services (professional and otherwise!). Click. Unfollow!!!!

And it has come to the point where when I open up Twitter just to find some new links/resources. I skim the tweets, perhaps stopping at the people I really like. The people that might have something interesting to say (for me anyway). I'll stop at @Everton_news to see some transfer rumours. I might stop at the friends I mentioned above, as well as some others in the field. But I do this with less enthusiasm as I once did.
And where is Twitter now? Recently we have seen football players (Darren Bent) in trouble for tweeting his desire to move from Tottenham to Sunderland. What this does show us though, is that the media are beginning to keep tracks on the celebrity lives. In fact, Twitter is becoming the new 'live news coverage desk', as people are live-tweeting news stories, as they happen (Hudson plane landing, Iran scandals and local fires). It's becoming a political tool! (Barack Obama's election campaign and the Iran elections).

Having gone through these stages, I have come to realise that I haven't used Twitter for the most obvious reasons - Teaching and Learning. So I was interested when c4lpt (elearning celebrity Jane Hart, who does actually reply to you!) shared links to 'Twitter uses for T&L'.
And now im thinking how this can be used at Edge Hill. And to be honest, im struggling. As I support the Faculty of Health, and CPD in particular, I wonder how (what might be classed as non-traditional) students might take the suggestion of using it as an everyday tool. A tool for learning. Furthermore, I wonder how academics might respond to the suggestion. In fact, I dont even know how many academics at Edge Hill are on Twitter. My guess for those in the Faculty of Health, would be few... Very few.

And now im shortly off to the TEDX event in Liverpool, where i'll be live-tweeting!!! Brace yourselves...

14 July, 2009

Creating and Sharing Digital Content: Promises and Pitfalls

This Thursday we are hosting a free 1 day event focussing upon 'Creating and Sharing Digital Cotent'.

Creating the conditions for institutions to develop high quality content for use, reuse and open sharing is high on the agenda for UK Policy and funding bodies, but there remains various challenges that HEIs need to overcome in order to respond effectively: New Institutional practices are required to support environments to mainstream and sustain use, reuse and open sharing of digital content; and Individual practitioners must also aquire new skills and strategies to realise the potential of open educational resources (OER).

As well as sharing our own experiences from the recent JISC funded ReProduce project, there are a number of other excellent speakers, including Melissa Highton (Head of the Learning Technologies Group @ Oxford) and Tom Boyle (RLO CETL).

There are still a few places left for the event. The booking form can be found at http://surveys.edgehill.ac.uk/seminar

02 July, 2009

The Museum of Learning Technology: Open Day Displays

We created a display for our open day this week and a couple of people asked for a digitised version. So here it is. It looses a little without the supporting materials, but I might try to add them later.

The idea of the displays was to approach issues and ideas around our work in a simple and entertaining way, using as few words as possible. That's more difficult than we imagined. Let us know what you think. Is it worth creating more resources like this as introduction to specific topics? Even with my drawing skills not stretching beyond stick figures?

They're best read full screen.

Firstly, the whole display...

Then in 4 sections...

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26 June, 2009

The 'Edgeless University' report and the £20m Open Learning Innovatin Fund.

The Demos report on 'Edgeless Universities: why higher education must embrace technology' was actually one of the more interesting reads of late, and i'm sure each reader will probably take something slightly different from it. Already, the Times Higher has published an interesting overview, and amongst others, Suki at De Montfort has posted her take on the report.

Whilst Suki picked up on some of the issues around distributed institutions and flexible learning spaces, another area stood out for me - Open access to resources.

As we already know, the current economic climate means that the public investment most of the sector relies on is insecure. 'Universities are being asked to do more for less' and 'current ways of working are unsustainable. We are entering a period of critical change in which UK institutions will need to adapt to survive.'

Part of this adaptation is to collaborate with other institutions and share resources. This may be in the shape of course content, but equally applicable to research output, ways of working, and frameworks for development. It requires 'commitment to open content and shared resources, and investment in the management and curatorship of vast amounts of data and knowledge.'
A sound basis for linking the technology with the learning and teaching is also a critical issue :
'While technology opens up many new possibilities, matching these possibilities with a vision for teaching and learning is the real challenge".

Obviously this is something we try to encourage through the notion of New Academic Teams, however perhaps we could drive this even further by collaborating across institutions. Dr Shaun Curtis of Universities UK, told Demos: ‘If you have aspirations to be a world-class institution, then there is an acknowledgment that no body of knowledge resides in one institution or in one country.

Despite such positivity, the fact that reports like this still discuss issues of 'openness versus competition' suggests it will remain a debate for some time yet. Brand development 'makes more sense for established institutions with robust brands such as Oxford or, in the US, MIT, than it might for other less established or high-profile institutions'.
I actually believe the debate is not only between openness versus competition, but openness versus competition versus capability. Even if we philosophically agree upon openness, it is still difficult to participate.
I presented some of the challenges we face in openness at the SOLSTICE conference a few weeks back, such as Institutional maturity and readiness, and mechanisms for storage and dissemination. The Demos report reinforces challenges around Staff Development.

"The UCISA survey noted that staff skills were ‘overwhelmingly seen as the greatest challenge for these new demands’. The answer is not to barrage teachers with imperatives to change how they behave, but to help them find space and the capacity to develop new ways of working for themselves. This needs more resources, incentives and support."

This will undoubtedly remain a key area for the future development of Technology Enhanced Learning, that is of course, if we are committed to using Technology to Enhance Learning, rather than paying lip service to the politically correct stance of ICT inclusion.

The issues around collaboration across institutions has obviously been considered for some time, as David Lammy (Minister for Higher Education and IPR) announced a new £20m open learning innovation fund for UK universities, encouraging collaboration between institutions to innovate. There is also encouragement for the Open University to be a national resource for UK HEIs, allowing us to develop a world class infrastructure to build build on our "international reputation for online distance learning". The Money will ensure institutions collaborate and establish renowned expertise in relation to distance learning.
Attention is also drawn to the importance of Open access:

"Knowledge is Power. But access to that knowledge is absolutely key.. Rules and means to distribute must be accessible to all."

For further reading see;
Times Higher article on Demos Report
DMU Learner Exchanges blog post on Demos Report
or the full Demos report itself.

10 June, 2009

Happy Birthday! Cakes

Cakes is 5 years old today! Over those 5 years, it has developed a lot, and I think it is worth taking a closer look at that experience and to ask what new bloggers could learn from it?

Early on, Cakes was just a way for the Learning Technology Development team to share bookmarks. Although now I might use a social bookmarking tool like Delicious to share links, it was worth starting off just doing something simple that gave us the chance to explore the process of blogging. It also gave us an understanding of the blogging software and surrounding technologies like web feeds.

It was only after a few months that we really started adding value in what we were doing. There are many, many blogs that just link to things, but when we started writing up our own knowledge and opinions we began to find what it made sense for our voice to be in the external conversation around elearning. We started becoming more outward looking too.

My advice to new bloggers would be just to start writing about things that interest you. Over time you usually need to develop some sort of focus and identity if you want people to read your work and subscribe to it. However if you need time to find out what this identity is, just find time to write about and properly explore the topic you are interested in. For me this has been a very important activity in my own learning about learning and about technology.

[Image by ĻiĻ Pië]

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09 June, 2009

Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World

Within the last couple of months we have seen the release of the much talked about report: 'Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World' from JISC. Its a pretty hefty document, so hopefully I have summarised some of the key aspects (or at least some of the points that really stood out for me).
Before delving into them though, it is worth noting that the term 'Web 2.0', in the report, is identified as 'social software' or 'social media', and works to bring about "a culture of participation and collaboration." (of course this ties in with Pete's earlier post on 'Making Peace with Web 2.0').

One of the first key points raised is that the digital divide has not been completely resolved i.e. a perfect segregation between the youth and the elders, the have's and have not's, natives and immigrants. Of course, the debate around the topic has identified that such a finely tuned definition and segregation by age group is inaccurate - lets not forget the enjoyable 'barrage' on Prensky's work last week at Tara Brabazon's keynote at #solstice2009 conference (keep a look out on the SOLSTICE website for when it is available online).
Whilst the issue is identified in the document, it goes on to stress that the divide (albeit blurry) still exists and can be seen between students and tutors, which causes concern not only in the development of blended and supported online courses, but in the everyday usage of technology by academic staff;
"Staff capability with ICT is a further dimension of the digital divide, and effective use of technology, ie to enhance learning, is as much of an issue as practical operation, ie getting it to work"

However, and whilst staff development is clearly an important issue, some of the most interesting points (for me at least) revolved around students;

The findings report that "Present-day students are heavily influenced by school methods of delivery and are not pressing for change in traditional HE delivery methods", which kind of suggests we are getting off easily at present, but changes in school approaches will likely impact upon FE/HE in the future. For today's students, "Imagining technology used for social purposes in a study context presents conceptual difficulties to learners as well as challenge to their notions of space", tying in with, and reinforcing the widely accepted viewpoint that Facebook is for the students, and tutors should keep away!!! The report also highlights that "Face to face contact with staff – the personal element in study – matters to students", thus providing a potential demotivating kick in the teeth (or at least considerations) for completely online courses.

The report cites other work to alert us to findings of today's younger generation (11-15), labeling them as ‘digitally-social’ and alludes to their likely expectations when reaching FE/HE. Some statistics identified include;

75% Having at least one social networking site
90% Using email and instant messaging
60% Playing online multiplayer games
80% Owning an MP3 player
85% Owning a mobile phone with camera
Source: Learners’ use of Web 2.0 technologies, Becta 2008

These figures suggest great potential when considering the 'art of the possible';
avoiding Facebook, but considering Personal Learning Environments combined with Social Networking elements such as Ning and Netvibes should not be alien to the future student (if indeed alien to today's);
The use of online multiplayer games bodes well for those immersed in virtual worlds (2nd Life);
and where I see great uses is that in mobile technologies - camera phones are already being used for field work, but 85% of 11-15 year olds suggests this could be almost taken for granted, needing only the insight and imagination of academics to take advantage;
and the 80% of the age group owning mp3 players calls out for academics to take advantage through pod/vod-casting to provide greater flexibility for students to be (academically) active anytime, anyplace.

The report does turn our attention to the current state of Web 2.0 usage of today's academic staff, and claims that deployment is principally driven bottom-up, coming from "professional interest and enthusiasm of individual members of staff", and as such, usage in learning and teaching is patchy. Lending to the problem is that there is "no blueprint for implementation of Web 2.0 technologies, and each [institution] is currently deciding its own path."
Therefore a huge responsibility rests on us to support academics by raising awareness, skills and usage of Web 2.0 tools within teaching and learning in order to raise the quality and match the expectations of future students.

Of the recommendations of the report, a few are striking;
we should continue to focus on transitions between FE - HE, and I know Richard Hall at De Montfort has a project currently focussing upon peer mentors to assist new students in their freshmen year;
Information literacies continues to be a major focus - an area in which I think we have been addressing for some time through Fast Track / Fast Forward / Springboard;
and we should continue to support staff in the use of Web 2.0 and e-pedagogies in order to cater for the future student.

So, a lot of work ahead. Perhaps a Web 2.0 course for academics is in there somewhere too :-)

07 May, 2009

Students Hooked on Screens, Hooked on Reality

Ori Inbar who writes on the Games Alfresco blog has released an engaging version of his 'Augmented Reality Now' presentation.

Ori talks about something relevant to educators, asking how we can use augmented reality, i.e. taking the power of digital technologies and layering them on top of the real world, to get students to engage with reality when it seems that some are more engaged with fantasy (TV, games, etc).

Augmented Reality Today: WARM '09 from Ori Inbar on Vimeo.

I'd argue that much time spent online is already augmenting reality, as it is building on existing face-to-face relationships by playing games or talking together. Ori puts forward the idea that augmented reality, could be used to draw a 'digital native' generation out into the sunlight again. Students who are hooked on screens, now seeing reality better through the screens, out in the real world. Not sure how true that idea is, but while watching the video it feels like an inspiring vision.

Ori also touches on how games designers have, through decades of trial and error, developed a deep understanding of what motivates people and makes them happy. Mark LeBlanc's '8 Kinds of Fun' is mentioned. How could these be applied to education, to motivate learners? Not forgetting that ultimate device to motivate gamers - Rewards. As Bill Fawcett mentions in 'The Battle for Azeroth', World of Warcraft players have the opportunity for constant rewards in the game, most of which mean something important to your character's powers, and which encourage you to just play a little longer. Again, and again.

But while games can bring about learning, learning isn't a game. An obvious difference between these games and education is that education is a much deeper and more complex undertaking. You wrestle with deep learning, and it changes you as you wrestle with it. Therefore giving 'experience points', for say, reading books would be silly and damaging to students' understanding of learning. Giving students formative feedback on quizzes, and scores as personal motivation might go a certain way towards them being able to regularly think about and track their development.

[Image by antjeverena]

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06 May, 2009

Making Peace with 'Web 2.0'?

'Web 2.0' - The term still excites many, but to be honest when I hear it now I wince. It was originally a call by Tim O'Reilly for businesses to realise that the Web had changed. So for example, the real power of the web was not tapped from putting company brochures online, but the Web could be a platform supporting services that grow in value as more people use them. It was a message that pointed out to media businesses that people want to create and share their own content, not just consume yours. Looking at the way the education industry uses the web, it is still a call that we still need to hear. We keep students in small groups in VLE sections, rarely connecting with other groups of students. We supply them with content, but VLEs are not designed with user generated content in mind.

So why does it make me wince, even when the message is still valid, and it's implications still able to open up the potential of the web for learners?

Well, Tim O'Reilly never defined what the term Web 2.0 meant. People explored the possibilities of Web as Platform and everything that came with it, and the term came to mean a lot of different things to different people. For example, my above explanation of the Web 2.0 message will be radically different from other people's. From this mix of meanings the term becomes meaningless, and when I hear it I'm not sure what the speaker actually means.

So what do we do with 'Web 2.0'?

My opinion now is that we should stop using the term because it is hindering communication, not helping. We should say what we mean. If we want our students to use online services like social bookmarking which are valuable because many people use them, and the reason is that we think it will help their research into a subject, it is better that we explicitly say that. Often when we use these vague terms, we are preventing ourselves from realising that we don't really understand what we are saying in any detail, or at least preventing others from understanding what we are actually trying to communicate.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's a useful 'shorthand', and everyone understands pretty much the same thing from it. Maybe I should make peace with, and embrace the term 'Web 2.0'?

What about you? Do you use the term? What does it mean to you?

[Image by luc legay]

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27 April, 2009

SOLSTICE Conference 2009: It's All in the Blend?

2009 sees the fourth annual SOLSTICE Conference here at Edge Hill University, on Thursday 4th June.

The conference aims to 'explore the 'blend' between innovation, research and development of supported and blended online learning'.

In the keynote sessions, Dr Rhona Sharpe and Professor Tara Brabazon will be speaking, and abstracts for other sessions are available covering many topics including social networking, online formative assessment, learning spaces, 3D virtual worlds and the user experience.

If that sounds relevant to you, register online.

[Image from the SOLSTICE archives]
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20 April, 2009

Virtual Worlds in Education: Journals

For those interested in using virtual worlds in education, there are 3 'special issues' of journals looking at specifically that. These are a good starting point to survey what work is going on in this area.

If you know of any other good resources that you'd like to share, why not leave a comment below.

[Image by Peter Beaumont]

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08 April, 2009

Virtual Gaming Worlds and Learning

One of the interesting thing about looking at using games in education is learning from the game designers. They know how to keep a player motivated to play the game, and to keep learning the complex rules and possibilities. This is especially noticable in a MMORPG like World of Warcraft where players talk about playing the game for 2-3000 hours.

I have a couple of questions that I'd like to explore. Firstly is there anything that educators can learn from game designers relating to motivation and learning, to feed into designing learning experiences? And secondly how can games (either out of the box, specifically created or altered for purpose) be used as a valuable part of a course or module?

To begin thinking about the first question, have a look at Jane McGonigal's talk at the Web 2.0 Summit from 2007. She talks about how, compared to games, reality is 'broken' and she asks how we can make reality work more like games. Games come with a clear goal and clear pathways to achieving that goal, and they give you good feedback on your actions. Most importantly though, games are designed to make you happy. Some attempts to capture these ideas for non-traditional gaming uses are Chore Wars (join my party!), Seriosity (to help an organisation deal with too much email), The Nethernet, and Cruel 2 B Kind.

To help start answering the second question we could listen to David Gibson at the recent Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference in which he talked about putting together a synthesis of ideas to help plan, implement and assess serious games. He tries to combine ideas from Prenky (2001) [EHU Library E-book Link - see page 52 for the list that is mentioned in the talk] about how the new 'Games Generation' thinks differently, with appropriate learning theory, an activity theory framework and Mislevy's assessment model.

If you want to explore these things further you might also want to look at:

[Image by mi2starsfan]

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01 April, 2009

Adaptations that I would like to see in my classroom

Trawling through an archive of my e-learning masters course I found my thoughts about hopeful improvements within the next 10 years. Here’s what I said in 2006:

Adaptations which I would like to see in my classroom and may be financially and technically possible in the next 10 years (briefly, as I think most are aware of my ideas):

  • Thin client, cheap laptop, robust technology.
  • Increasing use of VLE, especially the forum feature – encouraging students to learn from each other.
  • Project based learning – less discrete subject and more ‘joined up’ (is that word making a come back, please) teaching and learning.
  • Use of variety of software, away from monolithic Microsoft towards other commercial and open sourced provision.
  • Get the kit to become more of an assistant than a hindrance:
  • currently we:
  • need to type, I want to see voice recognition;
  • we need to look at small screens, I want to see wearable displays giving a complete field of view;
  • we rely too much on text, I want to see multimedia used to it’s proper conclusion;
  • we have to say “Wait whilst my computer boots up”, I want to have a
    turned on instantly available source of information, as accessible as a piece of paper in my pocket.

… how far do you think we’ve come?

I think the above brings to mind that

  1. There has been some movement in thin client, but perhaps not as much as I’d like;
  2. The VLE forum is being challenged by the “small parts” model (utilising other web based social tools, as well as phone technologies); and
  3. Open source is becoming more mainstream (look at cheap netbooks operating systems).
  4. It also highlights that we have far to go with the human-machine interface (to lower that barrier), more use of multimedia and a machine that switches on when you ask it to, not 5 minutes later when it feels like it.

On the latter point, consider the OLPC, (this from their discussion of power usage page):

"Resume on our system is extremely fast: even without any serious attempt to optimize resume, we can resume from RAM in 160 milliseconds (mid-April, 2007). We are still determining the minimum resume time, as a 63ms delay we thought was required has a workaround in the Geode. B3 and later systems are probably similar to the GX. We will work in the future to further speed resume. Note that for most uses, 100ms is considered at the edge of human perception (e.g. typing).”

So, if OLPC can do it …

Thanks for reading – thoughts and comments sought.

David (image by mangee)

19 March, 2009

Designing for 'Flow'

When we are designing online learning experiences for students, it could be argued that there is an even greater need to keep students focussed and interested than in face-to-face sessions. The greatest attention stealer ever, the internet, is only a click away to an online learner, although even a 'captive audience' in a lecture might not always be paying attention much of the time.

Relating some of Csikszentmihalyi's ideas about 'Flow' to an online course, Shin's research from 2006, 'Online Learner's "Flow" Experience', explores Csikszentmihalyi's ideas and previous related research to explore how these ideas can improve students' focus and engagement. 5 measures of 'Flow' are identified, enjoyment, telepresence, focussed attention, engagement and time distortion (how much students lost track of the passage of time).

The data analysis noted the importance of students feeling that the level of challenge is relevant to their own skill level, in students achieving this 'Flow' state, and that female participants tended to underestimate their skill levels. However Shin concluded that the student 'having a clear goal' was more important in achieving 'Flow' than the appropriate level of challenge. Finally achieving 'Flow' was a good predictor of student satisfaction with the course.

So what does this tell us when we are designing online courses?

Firstly this research reinforces the idea that students need internal motivation and curiosity to completely focus on their studies. This level of motivation will vary from student to student, as will the appropriate level of challenge for their skills.

The research perhaps emphasises a need for a personalised experience suitable for the student. Is this at odds with social constructivist ideas about knowledge being formed socially? Does it mean it would be more difficult for students to work together and think together through a course, if they are being encouraged to learn differently?

Finally, one way in which we can help online students achieve 'Flow' is by reducing the cognitive demand of the technologies they are using. This can be through better design of systems and devices that they are using, which makes the technology invisible or at least more transparent. Devices like touch screen phones also increase transparency because they act more like the real world that we are used to interacting with. Better education about using the technology will speed up the learning process, further increasing transparency.

Don Norman
talks a lot about the effects of good design in 'The Design of Everyday Things' and Steve Krug does in 'Don't Make Me Think!'. In the short term we've got more control over better educating users to use the systems well, than directly improving their design. This education seems like a small thing, but it's a step towards freeing those students who are very motivated to focus on learning, and making sure that the challenge students face is related to what we want them to learn and not the underlying technology.

[image by margolove]

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17 March, 2009

Thoughts around re-usable stuff

I come to the debate on Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) a little uninformed, but I thought of something earlier which I thought was an interesting observation.

If you know what RLOs are - then skip to the next para. For those uninformed or wanting to be re-informed, Nottingham's working definition is: "an interactive WWW-based resource based on a single learning objective which can be used in multiple contexts".

Whilst looking at a colleagues excellent work (well done Ken), I couldn't help but think what a pity the HE community in the UK can't work together better to work as a team to produce content - thus Ken's excellent work might be used by Liverpool, UCL or Brighton, and Edge Hill might use objects from other leading institutions throughout the UK, perhaps even worldwide.

Besides the usual RLO issues (fit for purpose, context specific content, multiple outcomes misaligned with the re-purpose and the largest issue: copyright and IPR), a major barrier to working like this is fear of sharing good work with our competition - why would we want to give our excellent materials away to Hull, Leiden or MIT, when these are the very things which drag student here. Well, two observations about that:
1) I think we are being a tad arrogant to think of our stuff as "World Class";
2) I don't think the quality of this type of work does bring students here.

However, if we did "Share" our stuff, then these two issues are addressed, because:
1) we would be encouraged to raise our standards to be seen on a world stage;
2) Our resulting excellent materials would be seen by far more students and therefore we would be more likely to attract students here as more will ahve seen our excellent work.

Finally, the interesting twist which niggled me to write this: around here academics DO produce world class materials and DO make them freely available to the world - and are rewarded by this institution for doing so, and in turn this institution is rewarded too - so what are these materials called? Books and Journals. Why can't we do the same for "Content"?

12 March, 2009

Presentation Slides and Learning in Lectures

The humble presentation slide is used by many educators, and I suppose that it would be easy to overlook the impact on learning of decisions made when creating and distributing these.

We've posted before regarding some issues to think about when creating slides. These have included asking if PowerPoint's animations help or hinder learning, and how to choose appropriate images.

What I'd never properly considered was the effects of when slides are made available, but this is something explored in Babb and Ross (2009), "The timing of online lecture slide availability and its effect on attendance, participation, and exam performance" in Computers & Education 52.4 [Edge Hill Library link]. Walter van den Broek has written a good overview, but very basicaly the authors found that when slides were available before the lecture there was greater student participation in the lecture, but no significant difference in exam results.

In the same issue of the Computers & Education journal there is an article by Savoy et al (2009) "Information retention from PowerPoint™ and traditional lectures", which aims to suggest situations in which presentation slides are beneficial for retention of information, and in which situations they have the opposite effect.

Like most things related to teaching and learning, there are a lot of things to take into consideration when trying to understand the impact of presentation slides on different types of learning. However these articles have started me thinking a bit more about how I use them in my own sessions.

[image by Andrew Scott]

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11 March, 2009

Wikis: The Community and the Technology

Recently I've come across more people who want to use wikis for projects and collaboration in the classroom. On the face of it using wikis is simple, but it is worth staff having a good understanding of how wikis work, and an awareness of issues that could arise.

We'll start by having a look at a range of wikis.
- Wikipedia (English Version) - The largest wiki.
- Pulp Bard - Colaborative project to translate the Pulp Fiction film script into a Shakespearean equivalent.
-Wikipatterns - A collaboratively updated book about different ways in which wikis can be used.
-Reading List for a Course Created by Students - Barely started wiki that students could use to recomend relevant books to each other. The idea is that it could both encourage students to reflect on why their reading was worthwhile, and to communicate to other student both now and in the future why different books and articles would be worth reading.
-Wikis in Plain English is a video that explains why wikis and collaborative online documents are useful, using the example of planning a camping trip.

From these we see that wikis generally contain editable pages, discussion sections, history sections and a web feed to subscribe to notifications of any activity on the wiki. I guess the first step is for users to know about these and gain some understanding of the processes that took place in the development of the articles.

Firstly someone needs to start off an article. On Wikipedia many articles start off as short 'stubs' just to get them started. If enough people are interested in updating an article the development can be very interesting, as shown in this screencast by Jon Udell from a while back. In this screencast we see Jon extensively using the History feature of the wiki.

The screencast linked to above shows how incidences of vandalism are dealt with on an openly editable wiki. Classroom wikis will generally be only editable by the class, and vandalism is easily traced back to the culpit in that sort of situation. If people have genuine disagreements with a claim made on the wiki, they can use the Discussion area of the wiki to query it with people before making changes. If you use a wiki in your class, perhaps you can encourage this as an initial step when making changes to existing work.

In Minocha and Roberts (2008), research such as Minocha and Thomas (2007) is said to show that
  • "inadequate socialisation at the start of the collaborative activity was a key obsticle in conducting group projects or activities at a distance".

They define socialisation as
  • "the social act of coming together for a common purpose, for example, when students familiarise themselves with one another and learn about the norms, roles, rules and code of conduct.
If you are teaching at a distance using colaborative tools like wikis, it is worth thinking about how trust and understanding between students can be encouraged and protected.

So if you want to get started using a wiki, what can you do?

Edge Hill University isn't able to provide staff and students with access to wiki software in the near future, so your projects will need external hosting. This does mean that users of the wiki will need to register for a username and password to edit the wiki.

pbwiki is the external wiki host that I have used myself. You can get one for free, but it doesn't contain the functionality to back it up, so you might need to either do this manually or think about paying. 1 wiki hosted for 1 year would cost about £70, or if there was funding and enough potential users and institution wide licence would be about £600.

If you want to explore other wiki hosts, have a look at WikiMatrix's Choice Wizard to see lots of different wikis that could be right for you.

If you want to delve much deeper into the world of wikis:

  • Listen to: a few episodes of Wikipedia Weekly to hear what goes on behind the scenes in the Wikimedia community. There's a bit of waffle at the start of these but bear with it it'll aid your understanding of processes in a very large scale wiki.
  • Read: Wikipatterns which contains advice about running wikis with different purposes, what to do and what to avoid.
  • Read: How Wikipedia Works which is an in-depth explanation of everything that goes into making Wikipedia work.

Finally, note that there are other ways to create collaborative documents that might be more suited to your needs than a Wiki. Online tools like Google Docs and CmapTools (for creating concept maps) might work for you.

[image by one laptop per child]

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09 March, 2009

Thoughts on the Future of Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds like Second Life offer certain possibilities for teaching and learning, however issues like hardware requirements currently act as barriers to a wide uptake. Hopefully these issues, won't be a barrier for much longer and the possibilities will both become greater and more widely explored.

This beautiful video by Bruce Branit imagines one way in which virtual worlds could look and change our lives in the future.

World Builder from Bruce Branit on Vimeo.

Daden aimed to ask questions such as "How important will Virtual Worlds become?" in their "far reaching and provocative" 2007 Virtual Worlds roadmap (PDF). This monograph looks forward 100 years, and during the next 10 years they are expecting a massive increase in users and a move away from the model of isolated virtual worlds, running in seperate clients. In that timescale they also expect that virtual worlds may come to contain things like animation close to what we see in high end video games, better links with the real world (augmented reality), and automatic language translation.

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