26 February, 2010

Matching Learning Tasks with Learning Technologies

There are a wide range of tools and technologies available to support all types of Technology Enhanced Learning, but that range of tools can be overwhelming even to those teachers who are experienced users of technology.

There are some simple methods that Learning Technologists use to help teaching staff understand the potential uses of web based tools. Presenting categories of tools is useful. If you can look at technologies in terms of, for example, those designed for synchronous versus asynchronous uses, you can think more easily about which you will use for a certain purpose. If you can identify Twitter as a tool for public interaction rather than private you can think better about what information might it be appropriate to carry. If you categorise it as a Microblogging tool it allows you to then ask if other Microblogging tools might be more appropriate to use for your purpose.

Sarah Robbins-Bell showed a possible way to structure this way of looking at tools, based on work by Herring (2007 ), which in turn was based on work by Ranganathan (1933). She used Faceted Classification to look at dozens of tools that were identified as Virtual Worlds [presentation slides], and saw 10 facets emerge that would help users understand if each tool would match their learning tasks and objectives. They will only be of interest to those working with 3D Virtual Worlds, but are:
  • Dominant content form - Either Text or Image or a Mix
  • Dominant user to user communication form - Text / Voice / Mix
  • Stigmergy - Stigmergic / Non-stigmergic / Conditional stigmergy
  • Object ownership - Private / Public / Sharing
  • User identity formation - Static / Conditional / Custom
  • Access - Public / Fee / Limited
  • User relationship with other users - Competitive / Conditional / Collaborative
  • User relationship with environment - Competitive / Conditional / Collaborative
  • Access to groups - Private / Public / None
  • Number of groups - Many / One / None
If you look at pages 33 and 34 of her ReLIVE08 conference presentation slides, you can see that she uses the 10 facets to compare Second Life and World of Warcraft, making it easy to demonstrate that two very similar looking tools are different in many ways that might not be immediately obvious to someone who had not used them much.

This same process could be done for other categories of tool, like synchronous communication tools, collaborative document creation tools and content dissemination tools. This could be a useful resource in a conversation about which of these tools might fit the needs of a certain learning activity. The following table is a very brief example of one for online learning activities requiring synchronous communication.

Facet Second Life Blackboard Chat Yahoo Messenger
Text or Image

Public or Private

Text or Voice

Of course exploring needs and requirements is a very subtle process, but this kind of thing could play a part in making it easier for everyone involved to understand the decision making process.

Another model for matching tasks with learning technologies was put forward by Bower (2008) in "Affordance Analysis - Matching Learning Tasks with Learning Technologies". In this article categories of affordances of learning technologies are put forward along with a methodology for practical application.

[image by Pink Sherbet Photography]

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17 February, 2010

Rewiring Inclusion: Barrier Free Learning

The Rewiring Inclusion conference in Notingham a couple of weeks ago was a refreshing look at the subject of accessibility. Perhaps it was refreshing because the word 'accessibility' was barely mentioned, and holistic, responsive ways to produce 'barrier free learning' and 'digital inclusion' were discussed.

I think that the sessions that I attended illustrated two different sides to accessibility very well.

On the one hand there is creating resources and software that can be accessed using a wide variety of input and output devices, as the user requires. The importance of this was talked about by Dr Dónal Fitzpatrick from Dublin City University.

The development approach that Google use was mentioned by Julian Harty from Google. They have a general focus on wider usability and accessibility for all, with post release improvements over time. This means that they wouldn't hold something back from release because not everyone could use it, but would aim to make it more usable for all users over time.

Julian's presentation proved to be a little controversial, as some people thought that Google weren't taking accessibility seriously enough. It is certainly a different approach than that talked about in Higher Education, perhaps due to our need to support every single student. Google users have a choice whether to use new Google services, while our students have to use the VLE for example.

Another side to accessibility that was covered was making changes to the way activities run, to meet the specific needs of individual students.

Dr Trevor Collins and Dr Jessica Bartlett talked about the Open Universities work making geology fieldwork available to students who for whatever reason, cannot travel out to the field.

They talked about working in areas with no mobile phone signals, and setting up wireless Local Area Networks to enable this. It was fascinating and showed that no-one needs to be left out of such activities.

So what should Edge Hill University's response be to all this? Is there a need to look at how can we make our online learning resources and activities more inherently accessible to a wider variety of people? How could we go about that?

[image by campuspartycolombia]

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04 February, 2010

Web 2.0 in the primary classroom

One of the more enjoyable aspects of my role is helping design innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

A while ago Chris Russell (Education) had the idea of exploring the use of web 2.0 technologies in the classrooms of some of his trainee teachers. However, Chris fell foul of an age limit for the Ning and Facebook services, both requiring users to be 13 years or older.

So we looked at a different approach using Google Docs. This service, combined with notions of the Smart Mob (Wesch, 2009) was thought likely to engage the learners (school children) and offer a more “Social Constructive” approach. The idea is to split up a project into small tasks so that small groups of pupils could work on these and then add their work to a single document containing the work of all groups.

I think google docs is particularly suited to this application because several people can work on one document at the same time, editing the same space, akin to writing on a class whiteboard. I envisage the creation of the final class document will be a highly engaging event, perhaps having the document displayed on the data projector so that pupils will see their contributions appearing as google docs refreshes content from all the contributors.

Chris raised the issue of assessment – how do you assess each child’s contribution to a joint document? I suggest a “… reflective piece …”, possibly using a writing frame, where each child can describe what their contribution was, how they found the experience etc. Further, perhaps year 3 could use the lower stage of Moons stages of learning (ref), and later years use later stages?

By David Callaghan (and collaboration from Chris Russell)
Image by popofatticus


A word of caution: Google’s terms of service says “You may not use … Google’s products, software, services and web sites … and may not accept the Terms if … you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google.” More info on: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13739_3-9902548-46.html

However, a colleague (Peter Beaumont) pointed out that Google contradict themselves by “Selling” google services to primary schools:


It’s your call …

An alternative you might want to consider is WikiSpaces. This service provides free, advertisement free and password protected wiki’s for K-12 education. However, the downside is that using a Wiki, the last edit becomes the current version, possibly causing pupils to become disillusioned and disengaged in a synchronous classroom environment.


Moon, J. A. (1999) Reflection in learning & professional development: theory & practice. London: Routledge.

Wesch, M. (2009) ‘How to get students to find and read 94 articles before the next class’ Digital Ethnography. http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=202 [accessed 4th February 2010]

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