Archive for the 'Phoebe' Category

OpenSpires and learning design

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

As part of the Oxfords OER project, OpenSpires we are feeding in  our experiences from the  Mosaic, Phoebe and LDSE projects.  Despite  developing Ancestral Voices as an OER, up to now we have been a net consumer of content (both those developed specifically as OERs and everything else on the web that might be used for learning) .  This project is letting us look at it from the other end of the continuum, we are producing OERs what will help people use them?

For a long time I have been suspicious of the model of reuse learning design projects often assume, an unproblematic set of learning objects to be found in a repository certainly does not reflect reality. The LDSE team is definitely grappling with this – recognizing learning content comes in many different forms, that the stuff we use to build our learning experiences is everywhere.  There is also the hugely social aspect of learning design, in a web 2.0 world I sometimes think we overstate this, but all the data we have on reuse and design processes suggests that this is crucial.  So while we need to look at things like UK LOM I suspect that Flikr and YouTube are more important.

Last thought for now – we know academics are busy, they will only engage with these processes if they are easy, lightweight and offer demonstrable benefits to them.

Activity level design and learning design tools

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

One of the challenges in working in the learning design/pedagogy planning tools area  is that the most practitioners we encounter don’t want planning tools, they want content creation tools that work seamlessly with their delivery environment.  Or they say they want planning tools, but when you clarify their requirements they want is really all around content creation.

Liz Masterman and I were discussing representations of activity level design, when we had one of those realisations that make you wonder why you have never seen it before – and suspect that perhaps it was obvious to everyone but you – that at the activity level, design is most often done within the delivery tool.  I may plan a face to face teaching session in Phoebe or (getting back to basics) Word, but usually I work out the details of the specific activities of a face to face training session in PowerPoint as that is what I use to present it to the students in class.  With online courses again I am far more likely to start writing straight into the wiki itself when working out how I want a wiki based activity to work and what instructions I need to give students around it.

I would be interested if others would agree with this?  If it is not just me, then for projects such as Cascade and LDSE  this has implications for where it is best situate guidance and support, where planning and support tools have a role to play, and where they are just adding an unnecessary additional tool into the process.

Effective Practice in a Digital Age

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Effective Practice in a Digital Age

JISC have recently published Effective Practice in a Digital Age, which is an updated version of their Effective Practice with e-Learning guide that was published in 2004. The original version of the guide was recently identified as one of Eight Classic e-Learning publications by Tony Bates, where it is in very good company.  Through our work on Phoebe we have contributed to the new version and I think it is an excellent, easy to read overview of some of the latest thinking in this ever more complicated field.

Curriculum design, guidance and Phoebe

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I recently demonstrated Phoebe to the curriculum design and delivery projects for JISC (if you are one of these projects you can access a recording of the talk here – otherwise there is an older video of me demoing it here).  Tim Linsey from Kingston University Blogged this and it is interesting to see that his conclusions about where Phoebe might be most useful very much chimed with our evaluations.

After not having done much with Phoebe for a while,  we are seriously looking at how we can use it in out curriculum delivery project, Cascade.  More specifically we are revisiting ways that we can make the Phoebe guidance more usable,  useful and sustainable, both for ourselves and as something that could be consumed by other tools or projects, especially in the context of the LDSE project, but also more widely.

So if you think you might be interested in this, do let us know. The more information we can gather about how people might want to use and develop this content the more likely we are to take it in directions that suit us all.

Only connect

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

In the last few months we have been laying the ground work for the Cascade project, but now that we have our research officer, Bridget Lewis, in place we are really moving forward with our work on this.

What is really apparent at this stage is how interconnected everything is, I appreciate that this is hardly a revelation, but when you are working on very tightly defined deliverables it is really easy to ignore the implications of your choices beyond the boundaries of what you are doing.  When a significant focus of your work is looking at the bigger picture things start getting tangled.

A positive aspect of this, is how much we are genuinely taking forward outputs of  other projects that we have done over the last few years, Mosaic, Isthmus and Phoebe in particular are proving to be directly relevant, and it is great to feel that we have achieved things with them that can really improve what we are doing now.

In particular:

  • Mosaic –  better understanding of OERs, licensing and staff development materials around reuse.
  • Isthmus – what we know about our online students (although Cascade is dealing with a much larger student body than Isthmus did ) and the implications of innovating on live courses.
  • Phoebe – the tool itself as well as what we know from it about course design.

There is also a lot of overlap between Cascade and the LDSE (Learning Design Support Environment) project that we are working on with several London-based partners.  With Cascade focusing on changes in the hear and now, while the LDSE is designing for the future, they each act as a sanity check on what we are doing on the other project.

Phoebe updates

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

While Phoebe is still very much a prototype, over the last couple of months we have been upgrading it (or her, is software like ships?) to fix some of the known usability bugs from our last rounds of evaluation.  With so many people planning to use Phoebe in earnest over the next few months, as much as possible we wanted to ensure that the feedback we get helps us to specify development in the future, rather than forcing everyone to tell us about problems we already know about.  With this in mind the following are all now in plac:

  • Implement a search across shared designs
  • Ensure robustness of the view design screen
  • Ensure that terminology is consistent and meaningful to users
  • Allow formatted content to be pasted from MS Word
  • Adding tables, headings, linking to images
  • Allow the adjustment of a text entry box size in template
  • Add links where appropriate to the final outputs of the D4Lprogramme
  • Make it possible to copy and rearrange certain fields in a design
  • Allow HTML codes to be included in the information entered in a design
  • Ensure robustness in browsers other than Firefox
  • Fix general usability bugs in template interface

We have also had a problem with Phoebe displaying the following error “Fatal error: Class ‘MDB2’ not found” – if you refresh the screen it takes you to where you were with seemingly no damage, but we have just migrated servers to hopefully eliminate this.

We are very aware that these sorts of updates and bug fixes are a job which never finishes, and just when we think we have it all working I am sure someone will be able to tell us something else we have omitted, or inadvertently broken by fixing something else.  To this end if you do use Phoebe and have a problem, can you to let us know  by emailing us at and we will do what we can to sort it out.

Cascade – Curriculum delivery project

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Cascade of Maqui

We have recently heard from JISC that we have funding for the Cascade project as part of their Curriculum Delivery call.  This is really exciting news as it gives us a chance to properly explore implementing the technologies that can transform a learning experience across the whole of the Department for Continuing Education.For the Department as a whole it will provide us a chance to really explore how technology can be used effectively as we confront the challenges we face due to the ELQ policy (which removes HEFCE funding for students studying an equivalent of lower qualification and for TALL it will give us a chance to build on the work we have been doing in the last few years, both in research and in course development.

Image by Whirling Phoenix AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved.

Really reusing and learning design

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Although we are only really halfway through the Mosaic project it is providing some real food for thought about how reuse actually works in practice and what it means for a lot of the assumptions underpinning other work we are part of through projects such as the LDSE and Phoebe in the area of learning design.

There is no question that engaging in reuse in earnest has clarified my thinking about the ways it really happens – we have always reused content up to a point but a commitment to producing a course which is made up of over 85% existing materials really focuses the mind.

Obviously at his stage  if the project all our findings about reuse are only from one course, but from what we have experienced so far I really believe that really reusing involves:

  1. Using content found through Google overwhelmingly more than that found in repositories
  2. Using anything that might enhance teaching, text, images, videos, databases, simulations, learning designs and very occasionally “learning objects”
  3. Using things that  may be large- a course, or small- an image, but the larger they are, the more likely they will be changed.
  4. Getting the materials into your course which ever way makes your life easiest, linking to the things you want to use or if you are really cutting edge bringing them into your space through mashups etc
  5. Working alone or collaboratively but more often in ad hoc rather than formal ways

I am sure none of this seems particularly radical, especially in the blogosphere, but what it does do is undercut certain assumptions which are in play in a lot of educational technology research and development projects.

  • Learning content is exceptional
  • It lives in repositories
  • It requires specialized metadata
  • It will be delivered to students through a course in a VLE

I think it can be all to easy to design tools for how you think the world should work, rather than how it is. It is too late to make learning content work this way – and thinking about how our field has changed in the last decade would you even want to?

D4L (and Pheobe) live on

Monday, October 6th, 2008

JISC have announced the projects funded under the Curriculum Design call.  We did not submit a bid  for this call, but were obviously very interested from the perspective of Phoebe, as although it is usually referred to as a pedagogic planner I would argue this is a process which encompasses curriculum design.  From the institutions funded it looks like an interesting mix of institutions who have done work that I know of in this area and new groups.

However what is really interesting for us, is the number of these projects who have said that they want to use Phoebe.  We were always clear that the next stage to a proper understanding of how planning tools are actually going to work was to use them for real planning, over weeks and months rather than for the duration of a workshop.  In addition I think everyone involved emerged from the D4L programme convinced that there was not one tool for everything (I know, not even Phoebe!)  and with many of these projects looking at a suite of tools, it will give us a chance to see how Pheobe and some of the other tools in this space (see previous posts in this area) work together.

Find out about Phoebe

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

In recent months we have been doing a lot more work with video content and as part of this we have recorded me giving an overview of the Phoebe tool.  This is basically the demonstration of Phoebe we usually give at the start of workshops – hopefully all you need to know to get stared using the tool.  I can’t vouch for the quality of the presenting, but if you want to get a 23 minute overview of Phoebe this is definitely the place to start. You can see me talking without the screen capture here, or the get the full version here.