Archive for October, 2008

Exclude teaching and learning materials from the open access repositories debate. Discuss.

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

I have just read Lorna Campbell’s post of the titled “Exclude teaching and learning materials from the open access repositories debate. Discuss.” which was really interesting to me, as a “repository” perspective on something which I am preoccupied about from the teaching and learning end.  As Lorna suggested I have a lot of instinctive agreement that lumping in teaching and learning content with the broader concerns of the repository world (and as an ex- librarian I find it far too easy to take that perspective) does produce tensions, and she identifies a lot of the right questions:

What to teachers actually do with their materials? Where do they currently store them? How do they manage them? How do they use them? Are there things teachers can’t do now that they would like to? How do learners interact with teaching materials? Are there personnal, domain and institutional perspectives to consider? And how do they relate to each other?

But I would say that a lot of these are  already being asked, and in many cases by projects under the  e-learning strand of JISC  (Design 4 learning, User Experience and Reproduce strands immediately occur to me and I am sure there are more) – perhaps the worlds of e-learning and repositories need to get better at communicating?

However I also think it is worth making the point that all repository content (from scholarly communication to a learning object) is potentially teaching and learning content and we should be able to create solutions that can cope with both.

JISC innovating e-learning 2008 conference

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

The JISC online innovating e-learning conference has opened for another year, with the real time action happening from the 4-7th November.  This is always an worthwhile event, but should be especially interesting this year as David White is presenting on how we have used Second Life for teaching and learning, as part of Theme 2: Going boldly into the dark, and I am facilitating what should be a really interesting session in Theme 1: Embracing the future now, on Supporting Staff – Transforming Culture, presented by Grainne Connole and Alan Masson.  As well as a chance to practice my online facilitation skills (rather than telling others how to do it) I think the latter session should prove a really good opportunity to learn more about what others are doing in this area, especially as we start to plan what we are going to do for the Cascade project.

Between boldly going and embracing the future I can see why it always feels like there is so much going on in TALL…..

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.

TALL win Teaching and Learning Award

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Last Thursday the TALL team got to shake hands with the Vice Chancellor in the salubrious surroundings of Rhodes House because we won one of the Oxford University Teaching Awards for our work, especially in expanding access to Oxford to new audiences.  The Secretary of State of Innovation, Universities and Skills, John Denham was even there, which underscored the importance of the whole thing.  It was interesting to see how many of the people there we knew, which says something for the role of elearning in innovative and effective teaching, even in a University as traditional as Oxford.

While most people associate this scheme with individual lecturers, it does also include support staff, such as us, something that is increasingly important in a world where people who are not academics frequently play a major role in the learning experiences of students, even if this is something the students themselves are not very aware of.

Progression in games, learning

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Game Set Watch has an article about progression in games; mainly on character progression, rather than player progression – but still an interesting look at different approached to the tutorial phase.

Open source community

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Jono Bacon, community manager at Canonical (sponsors of Ubuntu) posts about the Ohio Linuxfest, including a video demonstrating a great community moment.

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.

If Moodle worked like Facebook

Monday, October 6th, 2008

This morning I noticed David Whiley’s post If facebook worked like blackboard, which pointed out:

Imagine if every fifteen weeks Facebook:

  • shut down all the groups you belonged to,
  • deleted all your forum posts,
  • removed all the photos, videos, and other files you had shared, and
  • forgot who your friends were.

How popular or successful would Facebook be then? How popular or successful is Blackboard now? The closed learning management system paradigm is bankrupt.

This is particularly interesting in the context of our Isthmus project where we are looking at introducing user owned technologies into our courses here at the Department for Continuing Education in Oxford.  One of the real challenges for this project has been identifying what user owned technologies our students are using, as we have a majority of adult learners, in many cases the answer has been none.

As a result of this much of the project has been looking at ways to allow greater ownership of the learning, content, tools, through means that make sense to our students.  Yes feeding all your content in RSS is great, but not when 95% of your students have never heard of it, and more importantly don’t want to know (unless you can convince them otherwise, but that is the subject of another pilot, New media literacies…)

This has prompted one of the biggest changes in how we deliver our courses since TALL has offered online learning – namely (OK, only in the terms of David’s post) making our installation more like Facebook through the Persistent Identity pilot – which just this term went from a pilot to standard practice. To be basic we are now letting students access their course, materials, discussions, blogs….after the official course is over.   It seems an obvious thing to do now, and the fact that about 30% of the students who were allowed continued access have been back to the pilot courses once they were over suggests that this is something that the students value as well.

A small note of caution is that in scaling this up from 4 pilots to over 25 we have caused ourselves rather a lot of unexpected technical hassle, but that is for us to sort out and not  really a comment on the basic principle. Which so far seems to be proving sound.

Phase 2 plans for our Philosophers

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

We learnt a few things in the first phase of the Open Habitat project which have informed the set-up of our next pilots. I’m currently planning the pilot that will run with philosophy students in Second Life. The main challenge with the first pilot was the sheer speed of debate in SL. The experienced philosophy students are used to being able to gather their thoughts, write a paragraph or two and pop it into a forum.

Taking the time to reflect is important in any educational process but it is especially precious to the discipline of philosophy. Having said this, the students loved the vibrant, social feeling of SL and the sense of presence being embodied in an avatar brought. In fact they liked it so much they have continued to run non-tutored sessions in SL once a week managed via a facebook group. (This included giving the students building rights so that they could rearrange the environment each week to fit the topic under discussion)

For phase 2 it was clear that we needed to balance the reflective and the dynamic which we are planning to do by ‘bookending’ the SL session with Moodle. Here is a draft of how the pilot will flow:

Stage One (framing the debate):

  1. Marianne (the tutor) to post briefing page on Moodle
  2. students to post kneejerk response in blog
  3. Marianne to respond one to one
  4. students to reconsider in light of Marianne’s comments and prepare second kneejerk
  5. second kneejerk to be posted on Moodle
  6. all students to read, think and prepare third kneejerk for posting on whiteboard in second life
  7. third kneejerk to be sent to Dave for posting in world

Stage two (dynamic in world discussion):

  1. Everyone arrives in second life to find third kneejerk responses on board
  2. People read these and reflect as everyone arrives
  3. Marianne asks each student in turn to comment
  4. after everyone has responded people go into groups (arranged in advance), go to their ‘stations’ and prepare jointly a ‘final statement’
  5. final statements to be sent to Dave
  6. Marianne reconvenes students and the session ends with a final discussion.

Stage three (reflection):

  1. Marianne to annotate final statements, and add comments
  2. Dave to post final statements and the chat log on Moodle
  3. Students free to discuss final statements and Marianne’s comments by themselves.

It’s not rocket science but I think this really takes advantage of what SL is good for and is a genuine answer to the ‘user needs’ that came out of phase 1. We will then run this cycle a second time either continuing the same philosophical theme or starting a new on depending on how well it runs!

The other significant change to the pilot will be the use of edu-gestures which should allow for more non-verbal communication whilst the group is deep in discussion. We have a nice set (agree, confused, yes, no, I’m thinking etc) of gestures that the students can use during the sessions using a ‘lite’ version of the Sloodle toolbar generously created for us by the Sloodle project. I’m planning to introduce these gestures as a key part of the orientation session so that their use is seen as a ‘basic’ skill. In this way I hope we get the benefits of embodiment/presence as well as the benefits of non-verbal communication which is so important in RL but has not really developed in detail within SL.

It’s odd to think that an environment that renders you as an avatar (face, head, arms, legs etc) does not rely very heavily on non-verbal cues (apart from where you are standing and the biggie: what you look like). I’m hoping that this aspect of Multi-User Virtual Environments will develop as the language of communication (text, voice, visual) within virtual worlds becomes more sophisticated.

Most importantly the pilot has been designed in conjunction with the students who are going to advise on the layout of the in world environment and are enthusiastic about the changes to the format.