Archive for October, 2007

Knowledge mapping on the fly

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Steve Godwin has just posted his interpretation of one of the sessions at the OpenLearn conference - using Compendium. Will post later on reflections on Simon Buckingham Shum’s talk on knowledge mapping (and in particular Compendium and the new tool they are developing Cohere). It’s interesting that quite a few people are playing with visually mapping the discourse from the conference - see Eric Duval’s map and also Simon Buckingham Shum’s blog and map about the keynote yesterday. John Seely Brown was talking last night about new literacies which are needed in today’s technology-enhanced environment and this was a key aspect of Simon’s talk. We clearly need to explore more the different ways in which knowledge can be represented - visual, textual and other… Steve if you read this would be interesting to hear your comments on the process of using Compendium, did it make you think differently?

Blogging on a roll

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I am really enjoying the active blogging which is going on alongside the presentations at the Open learn conference. It really brings the conference alive. There are three parallel sessions but keeping an eye on the conference blog is enabling me to feel as if i am almost attending all three parallel sessions!! Isn’t technology great?? ;-) Openlearn conference Of course there is always a downside - how much did i really take in of that last session, whilst simulataneously blogging and reading the conference blog? Of course multi-tasking is one of the key characteristics supposedly of the ‘new generation’… I stil don’t know the answer to the question of depth (concentrating on one thing) vs. breath (focusing across a number of things) - my suspicion is that both are appropriate in different context - the trick is to match the appropriate one to the right context! I think this has become increasingly important as our environment and associated abundance of resources and tools has become more complex.

OpenLearn conference

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I’m at the OpenLearn conference and have just done a talk on learning design and its application to the reuse of Open Educational Resources. John Seely Brown gave a fantastic John Seely Brownkeynote this morning drawing together for me many of the threads on the current direction of technlology developments and implications for learning. He talked about learning 2.0, indeed XX 2.0 seems to be a common meme across the talks - Andrew Ravenscroft and Patrick are now talking about the changing nature of learners and learning posing the question have we moved from ‘boot camp’ (ie structured, formal, etc) to ‘holiday camp’ (informal, user directed, etc.)? Patrick is supporting his arguments with data collected as part of the OpenLearn project - in terms of how users are interacting with the OpenLearn materials and their motivations for using the materials. Interestingly both John in his opening keynote and Andrew reflected on a number of learning theories and what they might mean in a modern context. John talked about situated learning, Andrew quoted confucius - ‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do I understand’. What struck me most was John suggesting in his keynote that things are really different now - that we have reached a critical point and the potential for new and innovative pedagogies capitlising on the affordances of new technologies and harnessing of the best of web 2.0/social networking.

The paper vs. blog argument…

Monday, October 29th, 2007

My post ‘the nature of academic discourse’ seems to have hit something of a nerve, which I thought was worth summarising here. Not surprisingly the issue of traditional academic output (such as published papers or books) vs. blogging comes to the fore. Sarah Stewart and Leigh Blackall challenge the current predominant norm of not counting blogging, arguing that it has an in-built quality assurance mechanism – through peer commenting and referencing and through ratings like technorati. Karyn Romeis points out that blogs report on ‘what’s happening now’, whereas peer reviewed papers are ‘old news’ because of the lead in time for publication. She thinks this time lag is particularly difficult for those working at the cutting edge. She also agrees with Sarah and Karyn:

Considering the readership of the blogs I would be likely to cite, I would contend that the level of expertise represented and the willingness to refute, rebut, challenge, defend, revisit, question etc. etc is far more rigorous than the peer review process. Sadly the assessing organisation does not agree.

David McQuillan celebrates the ‘stream of consciousness’ nature of blogging, suggesting that it is a valuable ‘route to publication’ and that by making thoughts public as they happen they are there and accessible for others to review and provide their perspective on. However Martin Oliver (a friend and someone I totally respect academically) suggests that there is potentially an information overload issue with blogs:

Please, don’t condemn me to having to wade through pages of peoples’ blogs in order to find the one or two good ideas in there!

He argues in favour of the traditional method, which he describes as ‘slow publication’ (reminds me of the ‘slow food’ movement and also Peter Goodyear’s call for more ‘slow learning’). Martin says:

It [blogging] has its place, but so does the discipline of shaping ideas in a format that can take a year or more to come to fruition. Distance brings its own perspective, and can help discern what’s of lasting value, rather than momentary excitement.

Which I do think is an important point.

My own view? Actually I think I agree pretty much with all these comments. However we need to be careful – I don’t think a direct comparison of journal papers and blogs is appropriate; people blog for a whole range of reasons not just for academic recognition and institutional ‘performance ticking’. I think what we are seeing is a confused transition, whilst we try and work out the co-evolution of tool use and our own working practice (both as individuals and as a society). Similar arguments are being raised of course about email (I haven’t dared open my email yet this morning having not looked at it since Friday…) but I think Patrick McAndrew pretty much sums it up and comes up with some nice lateral thinking on the issue of email overload!!

Beyond Authorware or not?

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Authorware has come to my attention twice this week. I felt a twinge of sadness when I read Richard Nantel’s blog “The retirement of Authorware”.

Authorware was one of the most popular authoring tools available. Over the last 20 years, thousands and thousands of hours of CBT and online courseware have been developed using the tool.

In fact Authorware has a special significance for me – in some ways you could argue that it is partly to blame for me being in e-learning at all. When I was a lecturer in Chemistry I visited a professor at Cork University (Brian Hathaway) who showed me how he had been using Authorware to create interactive tutorials. I was amazed at how easy it looked and for some bizarre reason the image of a dove flying across the computer screen in one of these tutorials stuck in my mind (I didn’t say anything about the pedagogy of some of the tutorials!!!). Now ordinarily that would have been the end of it, given that it cost ca. £1000 which was a heck of a lot in the early nineties, but as luck would have it when I mentioned this to my head of department he at once took note and to my surprise allowed me to purchase a copy. I am sure the fact that the department was imminently due for Quality Inspection had nothing to do with it! ;-) Authorware image Anyway that was me off on e-learning developments, I soon got to know the people working in the then national Chemistry CTI centre, the web was just getting going, and the rest is history as they say!! Sadly I couldn’t find any trace of any of these original tutorials or the ones from Cork University, but this image gives a flavour of the look and feel of Authorware from Paul Hsu.

My second encounter this week with Authorware was at a seminar I gave at the LSRI at Nottingham University. I was talking about how we are using an adapted version of Compendium for learning design and also the different ways in which you can represent learning activities (textual narrative, diagram, etc) and the pros and cons of each approach. Mike Sharples said the way we were using Compendium – with ‘swim lines’ of tasks and associated assets reminded him of the look and feel of Authorware. Interestingly as an aside I seem to remember that there were two distinct camps in terms of creating computer-based material in those days – those (like me) who liked the ‘flow chart’ metaphor of Authorware and those who like the ‘narrative’/’book metaphor’ of toolbook. The former camp seemed to be primarily Scientists and Engineers and the later camp from the Humanities and Arts. So maybe I am influenced in my current work by my Chemistry background and subliminally by my use of Authorware. Certainly there are echoes in the current debates about ways of representing learning activities and the pros and cons of different learning design tools with the arguments back in the nineties about Authorware vs. Toolbook. What goes around comes around perhaps?

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, what approaches, 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.

Sharing good practice

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Part of our OU Learning Design work is trying to address the issue of how we can capture and share good practice. This seems to be a fundamental questions which has been inextricably linked with many e-learning projects over the years. Numerous books exist such as Gilly Salmon’s e-tivities and more recently Patti Shank’s Online Learning ideas book. Of course numerous more generic ‘101 good teaching ideas’ books also exist (Phil Race as a prolific author in this respect comes to mind). Online variants exist too of course - such as the AUTC Learning Design case studies and I have just come across another Engaging Interactions for eLearning via the eLearning post blog. But a key issue for me is how can we amalgamate all these good ideas, in a meaningful format so that they are genuinely taken up, adapted and reused???

Current learner experience work

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

I am currently complying a list of current projects and resources which are looking at students and their use of technologies. The current version is here - if there is other work I have missed please let me know!! It’s really interesting to see the range of work being carried out and there seems to be convergence in the findings - the recent JISC Ipsos MORI is particularly interesting with a high percentage of those surveyed indicating high levels of ICT use.

Kitten appeal

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

I just love the video on Christopher Sessum’s blog of a kitten playing with a Mac! Christopher says

While I regularly use both a PC and a Mac, the Mac generally makes me happier.

I totally agree. I have always been a perfectly happy PC user, but switched to a Mac this summer primarily because it seemed to offer better software for doing presentations. I was a little nervous about switching and had some initial teething problems but now I have to say I am totally hooked. It feels like driving a rolls royce after driving a battered second hand mini for years. And it is as Christopher says something about the design of the Mac intermingled with my feelings - oh dear I can hear that word affordances again

Oh and by the way the kitten in the video in uncannily like our cat “Mouse”!

A storm is gathering…

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

John Naughton’s blog about the latest technology virus and in particular this quote he posted from the original article:

To date, the botnet has been used only intermittently, which is disquieting: what it means is that someone, somewhere, is quietly building a doomsday machine that can be rented out to the highest bidder, or used for purposes that we cannot yet predict…

reminded me of a book that Ray Land pointed out to me by the French philosopher, Virilio, called ‘the information bomb’. Here’s a quote taken from a chapter Martin Dyke and I wrote which picks up some of the key points for me:

The speed of development of technologies is frightening – mobile and ubiquitous technologies now abound; technological and almost universal connectedness are now moving towards becoming the norm. Technology is now an integral part of our everyday lives, to the extent that some, like Virilio present a compelling apocalyptic version of the future, contending that the speeding up of society and the major dependency we have on technology for all aspects of our lives is not necessarily a good thing. Land (2006) quotes Virilio as stating that ‘the dromocratic condition serves to compress time and space such that users of networked communication are rapidly approaching a point where they will all operate instantaneously in real time. This can only lead to the collapse of space and the death of Geography’. Virilio sees global interactivity as eroding difference and diversity and removing human prioritising and agency. He forewarns that we are heading towards inevitable disaster on an unprecedented scale, when (not if) technological disaster strikes it will effect all of us instantly; the breakdown of the global communications disaster would soon lead to societal breakdown.

So is this Storm botnet it???


Conole, G. and Dyke, M. (2007), ‘Complexity and interconnection: steering e-learning developments from commodification towards ‘co-modification’’, in H. Spencer-Oatley pp 233-248 (Ed), eLearning in China: eChina Perspectives on Policy, Pedagogy and Innovation, RoutledgeFalmer.

Land, R. (2006) ‘Networked Learning and the Politics of Speed: a Dromological Perspective’, Proceedings of the fifth international conference on networked learning, 10-12th April, 2006, Lancaster.