Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Slow learning

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

John Naughton has a nice post about slow journalism:

You can get junk food on every high street. And you can get junk journalism almost as easily. But just as there is now a Slow Food movement, I should also like to see more Slow Journalism.          

And is the same true for learning? I’ve mentioned before Peter Goodyear posing the idea of slow learning. Clearly the social and communicative aspects of web 2.0 technologies have tremendous potential educationally. But to what extent have these been realised?  As usual the hype doesn’t quite live up to the reality.

This slide picks up on the framework we developed in our computers and education paper, arguing that different learning theories can be viewed along three dimensions (individual-social, passive-active and information-based-experience-based). It then lists some of the key characteristics associated with web 2.0 against what can be argued to be the key characteristics of ‘good pedagogy’. Sooo just as slow cooking needs good ingredients, an expert cook, time and space to indulge in the experience of enjoying good food, the same can be applied to slow learning… The ingredients are the ways in which the learning is supported or scaffolded through good pedagogy, the expertise is the designer of the experience and those who facilitate or support the learning process, time and space is the enabling environment using the affordances of technologies capitalising on the social and communicative dimensions of web 2.0 technologies. Well that’s the theory anyway, I don’t think we are quite there yet…   

The academic perspective

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

The student experience? What about the academic perspective? Following on from Michael Wesch’s ‘A vision of students today’, now read ‘A Vision of professors today’. Alarmingly realistic!!!

A student’s view on things…

Friday, November 9th, 2007

Of course the debate about VLEs/LMS vs. PLEs and beyond has been raging for years, malady but with the increasing impact of Web 2.0 technologies and the shift towards more open philosophies (Open Source, buy Open Content, mind etc.) and associated high impact applications of these (facebook apps, now OpenSocial) it seems to have gained momentum as is evident by a spike in the discussion I noticed this week. Now we all now this isn’t a simple question of right or wrong – the arguments are complicated. But to pick up the gist of some of the recent arguments for and against (or perhaps it might be more appropriate to say round and about!!) have a look at a couple of the postings yesterday - Martin Weller’s ‘The VLE/LMS is dead’ referring to Scott Leslies ‘Loosely couple teaching’ “versus” Niall Sclater’s ‘The VLE is dead, long live the VLE’.

I don’t want to repeat the arguments they make, but want instead to take a student perspective on all this, namely my own. As I posted recently here and here I have started an OU Spanish course. The quality of the materials are excellent and it’s great to have both books and pdfs and I have downloaded the audio files to my iPOD and listen to it in the car (still in the keen stage as you can see ;-)). But the social dimensions of the course are important to me as well. I had my first audio conference this week via Lyceum. It was great to connect with others on the course, the tutor gave clear objectives for the session and steered us well. My version of the system kept falling over which was irritating but that’s technology for you. My main point is this. In the course web site (which is generally very good) there is a discussion area using FirstClass – ‘great I thought, a chance to make connections with others on the course’. A dip into it and I saw hundreds of messages across disparate courses and so gave up. In contrast, during the audio conference, a couple of us side chatted, mentioned we were on facebook, five minute after the tutorial finished I got an email from one of the other students pointing me to a group set up in facebook for our cohort, I joined and was soon adding to the discussion area and exchanging initial thoughts on the course. Somehow I can’t see me using the firstclass area much…

Podcasts and student feedback

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

book and ipodHow does the technological medium through which we choose to give feedback to students influence the nature of that feedback? I’m very aware of this at the moment as I have started my OU Spanish course - LZX194 for those of you who are ‘into’ OU course codes! ;-) As I work through the textbook there are various exercises to complete, with answers at the back in good old traditional form, these are complemented by short audio clips with gaps for me to repeat sounds and words. This week I also took part in an online audio conference tutorial using Lycium. The oral feedback from the tutor was key and helped bring the course alive. For me the social dimensions of the course – the chance to interact with the tutor and other students is an important, motivating factor. There is something very motivating about speech as opposed to text!

Lots of people are now interested in using podcasts for educational purposes. Ed-Cast, Education Podcast Network, and UK podcast are all examples of educational podcast repositories and of course iTunes has an education category. Educause has a nice simple guide to Podcasting and how it can be used in Education. Certainly I am finding my Spanish podcasts invaluable to listen to in the car to and from work. Wesley Fryer’s blog is peppered with podcasts and includes an entry on the use of podcasts with respect to digital storytelling. Chris Ribchester did an excellent talk at the Education in a changing environment conference entitled ‘Podcasting a tool for enhancing assessment feedback’. Chris outlined a number of benefits of adopting this approach: the fact that it made the feedback more personal, more animated and that podcasting enabled him to give the students a richer form of feedback. He described how students receiving traditional feedback on paper tend to be primarily drawn to the overall mark, so that they don’t necessarily take in the detailed comments. In contrast with the podcast, students had to listen all the way through – the actual ‘grade’ perhaps only occurring towards the end of the podcast.

Niall Sclater welcomes the fact that the trendiness of ‘podcasts’ as a label (even radio four are into it!!!) has reawaken educators interest in using audio for teaching and learning purposes.

At least pretty much everyone has heard of podcasts now. There’s a novelty about the word which gives new life to the concept of an audio clip. Audio has been used educationally for a long time of course but podcasts now make it more accessible - particularly to the mobile learner.

Chris’ presentation made me wonder if I should consider using podcasts as a way of communicating with my PhD students – it might provide a more personal and interactive form of dialogue. I certainly find annotating word documents using the comments facilitating far from ideal for feedback purposes. Text on the page can appear very harsh whereas the same comment spoken can have intonation added to it to ‘soften the blow’ as it were!!! However a downside of a podcast is the time it takes to listen – you can’t go any faster than the speed of the person speaking, in contrast with written text – you can scan read at a much faster rate. So I guess as always it comes down to the affordances of the different media – each has pros and cons and therefore use in an educational context needs to weigh these up.

Mapping the design process

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

As part of our OU Learning Design project we are gathering views on how people currently design their courses, cheap what approaches, order strategies and help they use. In addition we want to gather views on the types of support they would find helpful - in terms of support material, workshops or interactive design tools. As part of this we are following a number of course in-depth, to try and gain a more detailed understanding of the process of design, how teams reach consensus, what forms of representation they use for design, how do they generate ideas and what support (case studies or learning design tools) do they use. I am part of a new course team that is in the creative stage of working up the initial focus of the course. We had a really great two-hour team meeting last week. I wrote up the dialogue from the meeting, then used this as a basis for identifying themes from the discussion and associated issues in terms of learning design. A wide range of issues were discussed, the process was creative, dynamic and messy. The individual expertise of those involved and what they could contribute in terms of knowledge of the field and ideas for the course was crucial. Here’s a summary of some of the themes we discussed: Compendium map of a course design
• Context
• Student characteristics (prior experience, skills, interest)
• Overall big idea/theme/philosophy for the course
• Course structure
• Activities, tools, resources/content
• Pedagogical approaches and characteristics for the course
• Assessment
• Constraints

I then mapped this in Compendium and found it useful as a means of representing the process and discussion. For more on Compendium and a link to download the software from the OpenLearn site, click here. Here’s a snapshot – in the Compendium map I was able to add details under each of the icons and link in other files such as the word file of my notes from the meeting. Will be interesting to see what others in the team think and whether they think this approach adds value.

Going back to basics…

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Yesterday was a strange experience for me. I picked up a large package from DHL, which marked the start of me going back to being a student. Yep I have signed up for a level one Spanish course with the OU. For all my ‘research talk’ about ‘the learner voice’ I thought it was time to put my money where my mouth is and actually experience being a student using technology myself. So three reasons for doing this really – one professional and two personal… Firstly, I am rubbish at Languages but have always wanted to be able to speak another language. I did some Italian classes years ago and it was great! It made such a difference going to Italy and being able to communicate, albeit at a pretty rudimentary level. Secondly, my eldest daughter, Eleanor, is learning Spanish at school, so I thought it would be fun to learn together. And thirdly, I wanted to experience being an OU student myself, what it feels like, and most importantly what it is like to learn, formally, in a technology-enhanced environment. When I opened the box I had the classic reaction, a mixture of excitement at seeing all the materials and books and panic ‘what the hell have I committed myself to?’, ‘what if I fail?’ It is interesting how motivating I found the physical artefacts – the books, the CDs. The study calendar immediately became a learning scaffold – I focused in on the start date, the timetable, the deadlines. As a day-to-day user of technologies to support everything I do, I can see that I am going to be a demanding learner! I am going to want this course to use those technologies to the full. Having the physical books is great – but I also want electronic copies so I can download them and read whilst on the move – and so I was delighted to see six book pdf’s on the course website. Reflecting on my first impressions when opening that box fore-grounded and bought alive in a personal way some of the recent research I have been doing on students’ use of technologies as part of the LXP project (and now as part of the following on PB-LXP project). A phrase from the recent paper we have had accepted for Computers and Education (Conole, et al., forthcoming) in particular was uppermost in my mind

“The findings indicate that students are immersed in a rich, technology-enhanced learning environment and that they select and appropriate technologies to their own personal learning needs. The paper concludes by suggesting that the findings have profound implications for the way in which educational institutions design and support learning activities.”

Yep! How true is that! I look forward to participating in the course over the next year – both from a personal perspective (and let’s hope I actually learn Spanish!!!) and from a professional perspective (it will be interesting to reflect on my own experience alongside our emergent findings for the PB-LXP project). Wish me luck! ;-)


Conole, G., De Laat, M., Dillon, T. and Darby, J. (forthcoming), ‘Disruptive technologies’, ‘pedagogical innovation’: What’s new? Findings from an in-depth study of students’ use and perception of technology’, CAL Conference Special Issue of Computers and Education