Archive for November, 2007

links for 2007-11-30

Friday, November 30th, 2007

That VLE vs. loosely couple thing…

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Now I don’t want to stir, but I can’t resist it ;-) I was just quietly reading the final proofs for a paper accepted for the ReCALL journal associated with a keynote I did at Eurocall this year when the following paragraph caught my attention…

Only one person on the survey mentioned a VLE as one of the four technologies they like to use most, and ten listed a VLE as a dislike. Critical factors appear to be whether the VLE is well designed and structured, how relevant the information on the VLE is to the students’ needs and the degree to which it is really embedded into the culture of the course.  The findings hint that students are beginning to move beyond VLEs as a central resource and that they use the VLE only when it meets specific, individual needs. Many students did say that they used their VLE to check for course-related information and in some cases the VLE was used as a course calendar or for communicating course administration. A fundamental issue is how students integrate use of the institutional VLE with their own personally acquired technologies. The ECAR survey found “student respondents to be immersed with technology ownership  and use, and impatient with instructors who don’t have adequate technical skills” (ECAR, 2007: 5).                                        

Now there are a number of caveats straight off.

  1. For VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) read LMS, CMS etc. etc…. the point is semi-structured software environments to support learning.
  2. This research was essentially prior to the major take off of web 2.0
  3. Use is not simple and is very contextual; how well VLE tools are used depends very much on how well they are designed and integrated into the course, and most importantly how relevant they are perceived to be by students
  4. There were lots of positives in the data about VLEs - students on work placement in hospitals valuing the calendar facility as a means of keeping in touch for example.
  5. A lot of teachers value the safe, constructed space of a VLE as a means of getting to grips with all these new technologies, Angela MacFarlane once referred to VLEs with a skiing metaphor - a ‘nursery slope’ for teachers to engage with and experiment in. 

Nonetheless I do think the recent debate needs to continue.We have some fundamental issues facing us. The reality is freely available (and often very good) tools for learning are available and students will make use of them, BUT the arguments about the value of VLEs as a consistent institutional interface - about the ability to monitor and track via systems that are under institutional control - also need to be taken into account. As usual I sit on the fence of the fascinating recent debate between BrianMartinNiall and Tony (note alphabetical order! I ain’t taking no sides on this one!!!).  Now some of you reading this blog will have sussed me out… as a closet chemist.. with an obsession for representing things as “octahedrons’, “tetrahedrons”, etc. So here’s my take on the vle vs. loosely couple thing, surprise, surprise as an octahedron!!! :-)

Glimpse of the future

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

This video which I came across via John Naughton’s blog  gives a glimpse of what the future might look like if the current technological trends and associated impact on changing business models continue. Of course predicting is always dangerous particularly in relation to technology, nonetheless I think the video raises some interesting issues….

e-inclusion: spanish style

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Nice post from Ismael Peña-López summarising some of the debate from a recent Spanish conference on e-inclusion. Hey and it gives me a chance to practice my Spanish ;-)

Great e-learning examples?

Sunday, November 25th, 2007


The building blocks of learning (flick:

Tony Karrer  refers to Cathy Moore’s post on good e-learning examples and he points back to an earlier question ‘What are the examples of e-learning?’ This has got to be one of holy grails of e-learning - providing teachers with good examples to help them create better learning activities. BUT in reality it’s not that simple for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly, different repositories of e-learning materials are organised in different ways and so it can be hard to navigate through and find what you want. [As an aside globe acts as a meta-repository across a number of large-scale repositories of learning objects.]
  • Secondly (and related to the previous point) finding and adapting resources takes time.
  • Thirdly, teachers say that they want things which are relevant in their context, but if the example is too specific and contextualised the user may not see how it can be adapted for their context, whereas if it’s too abstract it may have little meaning. 

So despite all the rhetoric about reuse and repurposing of good examples, in reality very little happens - most teachers continue to rely on their tacit knowledge and a serendipitous approach to design. I’ve posted before on some of the work we are trying to do in this area (hereherehere).  Of course there are many others working on this problem; JISC is funding an exciting set of projects on design for learning and the RLO CETLis all about reusable learning objects. One of the things we are currently doing is interviewing teachers to try and better understand how they go about designing learning activities and elicit what support or resources they would find helpful. I’m not saying we have the answer to this issue but if through this process we can provide some better guidance for teachers in using technologies then that’s got to be valuable. At least I hope so!!           

Quality discourse: flourish or whither?

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

George Siemens post ‘blog malaise’ raises some really interesting questions about the ‘worth of knowledge’ in today’s context. 

The fact is, today’s information currency finds its value in connections. And Google is the banker. If you want society to know you exist, you need to be found by search engines.    

If you want something chances are the first thing you will do is google it. He goes on:

What happens when brilliant researchers conduct brilliant research but publish it in closed journals? The researcher or the research may likely not reach the awareness of individuals who find information through search engines (though, with Google Scholar, this will likely change somewhat). Voices of authority (as seen from the perspective of an average information seeker) are determined by how accessible and how prominently connected they are.          

Which suggests that there is a shift in what counts in terms of authority and how that’s determined. I think this raises profound issues for us as academics. I am very aware of this from my own perspective through a number of things recently. Firstly as we finalise our RAE submission what counts there is the weighty peer reviewed journal article and each individual’s indicators of esteem. But this doesn’t capture the rich ways in which many academics are now communicating - through blogging and by sharing presentations on slideshare. Which is the more valid representation of academic knowledge? Secondly I’ve written up some of our learning design research in a couple of book chapters recently and now feel slightly frustrated that I can’t make that material available electronically because it goes against the publisher’s copyright. Thirdly I am aware that using social software (such as writing blogs, sharing references via social bookmarking, or making presentations available on slideshare) exposes an individual’s work to a far wider audience than would be possible via traditional means. All this seems well and good, providing a vibrant environment for sharing of ideas. However it seems that we are currently in a transition period. A lot of the more educationally focussed researchers I admire and follow are currently not in the blogosphere, which means there is a divide between 1) traditional academic communication and 2) social networking academic communication. Will we eventually reach a situation where the rest of academia see the benefit and importance of social networking tools and switch to using them as a standard means of communicating their ideas or will there always be those who favour the traditional methods? If the later happens will a lot of good intellectual thinking tied up in subscription-based journals or books get lost in the large noise of easily accessible “blogspeak”?  

links for 2007-11-24

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

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…   

Technology pros and cons

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

This diagram is a variant on a slide I have used in numerous presentations over the last few years and interestingly I think it’s still as relevant in the current “web 2.0 meme” discourse, although I might have a go at extending it to explore more explicitly some of the pros and cons specifically relevant to social networking… informality, privacy, openness are words that immediately spring to mind.

pros and cons of technology  
The pros and cons of technology
Below is a transcript of the text that normally goes along with this slide.. What’s fascinating about technology is the way in which whatever aspect of it you look at there are pros and cons… So yes the internet now means we have access to vast quantities of materials, but there are increasingly real issues about information overload and issues about assess, and about assuring the quality and authenticity of materials.  The wealth of new tools for communication offer opportunities for new forms of dialogue and collaboration but bring with them associated issues of a need for new forms of literacy skills. The internet provides the potential for new forms of community, but often learners are confused and feel isolated in these virtual environments. Some students relish the opportunity to communicate online, others don’t and prefer face to face interaction, lurking in online discussion forums. Also communication is different online, a slight joke in a face to face setting can be viewed very differently online, causing offense. The internet offers us instant access to information. Which means events unfold immediately as they happen. However this can result in a rather surface approach to what is happening as the Iraq war or September the 11th demonstrated, we watched the events unfold online but somehow they did not seem real – it’s  like watching a movie. Finally there are the potential for new forms of virtual representation, such as medical simulations, virtual worlds and the ability to adopt personal avatars. However this can result in a feeling of a lack of reality not knowing what is real and what is fake. I recently felt this very strongly when I was being shown around the Nursing school’s Virtual Interactive Practice suite [This was at Southampton University in ca. 2005] which is a mock hospital ward with interactive computer dummies where you can simulate heart attacks, etc. I was for a moment confused by which were the dummies and who were the students!  Would welcome people’s thoughts and comments on this!! 



The email thang again

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

OOhhh I think this week’s bone of contention may well be around the limitations of email. Patrick is the latest to blog on this. I got in the same mess as Patrick this morning composing an email, then loosing it because I was over my limit aaaarggghh  (I suspect the culprit was the same massive document Patrick referred to!!!).  Alan adds some interesting thoughts on the subject raising the question ‘is there something in the air?’ Dunno Alan guess we’ll have to wait and see!