Archive for November, 2008

That Was an Interesting Experience

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

As the piloting activity of the Open Habitat project draws to a close it’s time to gather out data and our thoughts and consider what it all might mean. We have plenty of evidence that MUVEs are a useful for teaching and learning and much guidance and direction to give to teaching practitioners considering taking the plunge. We also have, I think, an overarching message from the project:

“Teaching and learning in virtual worlds is an experience.”

I’m not trying to be facetious or flippant I mean it in the true sense of the term. Taking part of a teaching session in an MUVE is more than simply using a tool or achieving a task, it feels like an event, a particular moment in time when you have the chance to interact with others at a level of intensity which is rarely felt in other online spaces. A teaching session in an MUVE can become a focal event for a significant slice of teaching. A learning design can be created which leads up to and then away from an MUVE session. Much like a traditional field-trip, the teaching can frame the time that students spend out in the field or in this case the MUVE and work generated during that time can be considered upon their return. The ‘otherness’ of the alternative environment can act as a mirror for the students, helping then to reflect on their practice as they see how it is influenced by the virtual world.

Like any immersive experience it is at times challenging for an individual to assess what they have learnt during the experience itself but over time the benefits of being taken out of the comfort of their day-to-day environment starts to become apparent. If you believe that MUVEs are capable of supporting an online culture or beyond that an online society then maybe a session in one is akin to visiting another country. We are socially and psychologically transposed into this new land and whilst not physically transported we are visually represented. Like any exploration into new territories it can be chaotic, alienating, exhausting, and frustrating. There are new forms of communication to learn and new cultural norms to adjust to. It can be intriguing, surprising and occasionally exhilarating, offering inspiration and new perspectives on ideas which may have become stagnant. These experiences with others in these virtual worlds is a form of travel and they do say that travel broadens the mind.

Learning Design at the JISC Online conference

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Last week I facilitated the learning design session (with talks from Grainne Connole and Alan Masson) at the JISC online conference.  Overall it was a great experience (if exhausting) and if you have never been before I would recommend it.  As part of my facilitation duties I summarised the discussion for each day,  taking inspiration from Grainne I thought I would share these here, as it acts both as a good starting point for some of the key issues and a source of links to a lot of interesting resources.

Day 1


From the start of the day when Gilly’s keynote highlighted the importance of curriculum design as a way of dealing with the challenges of the future, this session has seen an interesting discussion, which has touched on themes which seem to be emerging across the conference as a whole. The titles below match up to the discussion threads, under each I have tried to summarise the main discussion points and /or highlight links to interesting resources.

Hello and Welcome

Malcolm Ryan introduced us to the work on defining the skills, knowledge and attitudes required by the e-competent tutor Alan provided a link to the HLM cards which are described in his presentation, along with an indicative recording grid at .

Gilly’s keynote and design There was a consensus that everyone agreed with Gilly’s vision, but that ther real the question was “how” to achieve this. Alan suggested, “not only do we need to provide support, guidance and facilitation, we need to address quite distinct challenges – reflection, planning, design” Grainne added “getting the balance right of getting people to think differently/out of their comfort zone, whilst also not frightening or overwhelming them” Sheena Banks brought up how methods of production can effect design which led to a general discussion on the need for practitioners to see examples from others – both in terms of outputs but also practice. Grainne mentioned how Cloudworks was designed to support this.

Supporting culture change Richard Everett introduced us to the work they have done at Oaklands College (see S1 for more on this) where the aspect of students contributing to the design process was picked up. Academics, while reluctant at first grew more interested as students showed they had valuable contributions to make. Sarah Knight suggested that the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes ( and would be interested in knopwing more about this work. Richard uploaded the report written by the lead eMentor at Oaklands!enclosure=.eebec11 . Helen also drew attention to the conclusions from the D4L programme here Helen Beetham, “Resource sharing area” #4, 4 Nov 2008 2:13 pm which concluded there was a difference “between skilled self-directed learning (how learners direct aspects of their own learning as they engage with an already-designed curriculum) and skilled educational design (how learning is designed for a particular curriculum or cohort)”. Alan stated he was making a mind map of the discussion which would try and share before the end of the conference.

Changing culture is due to the physical space as well This thread looked at how physical space can shape curriculum design Richard Everett and Grainne reflecting on their experience , including how very practical constraints can affect things. This discussion also started to consider how virtual spaces and especially VLEs also can shape things, and the need for virtual spaces which are not always about learning (Alan).

Tools to support design This thread discussed the tension between visual and text representations with a consensus that these are useful for different people at different times. Other issues raised were Alan “representations are outputs from a process” which it is also important to capture. Sheena raised the issue of over simplification, with Grainne in response “the minute you represent anything by its very nature you are being reductionist because you cant capture everything about a design in one go” Sheena “how far do you think that learning designs can be reusable/shared?” Helen Beetham mentioned the work from the Source project (see figure C1) which also identified the tensions around mediating artifacts around design.

Change is due the virtual space too! This strand revisited the issues around the VLE as an artifact which shapes design, and also considered the tensions between a VLE being pedagogically restrictive and it providing “simple, clear guidance which is useful…So again as always we need to adopt a mixed approached tailored to different needs” – Grainne. The Exe tool was mentioned here by Adam Bayliss.

Sharing learning and teaching ideas Grainne introduced Cloudworks “which applies the best of web 2.0 tools and approaches to enabling teachers and designers to share learning and teaching ideas and designs” and Richard Everett mentioned the pack of cards technique they had used at Oaklands

Change is due to the institutional processes too! Alan Stanley raised this important point, and how accreditation proceses tend to look at the subject but rarely at “what do students actually do on this course” which led to comments on this at the micro level from me and Alan reflecting on how they were looking at this in Ulster. It was noted that the JISC funded Curriculum design projects would be exploring this.


 Day 2

While today felt a lot less intense than yesterday, looking at the total number of messages posted we actually had a similar level of discussion. As before the titles below match up to the discussion threads, under each I have tried to summarise the main discussion points raised today.

Change is due the virtual space too! This strand revisited the issues around the VLE as an artifact which shapes design. Michael Vallance raised suggested “We do not limit ourselves to one solution but look at what a number of tools can do, and do well” I raised the ideas that sometimes “we forget how many students (not just academics) value an easy to use integrated environment that lets them focus on the learning not the technology.” The conclusion from Michael was to u”se the best technology available to do the task required … and not seek that all embracing single solution”

Change is due to the institutional processes too! Today this thread talk moved onto ways we have managed to get the learning technologist perspective into the sign off process for course development, especially in terms of negotiating shared course visions. There was also a brief discussion the differences between working with enthusiasts and the mainstream.

Visualization Designs This theme kicked off the day with Grainne introducing the idea of visual v. textual representations generated from tools such as Compendium LD. Grainne linked to as a step by step guide to creating a learning activity in Compendium LD. Adam Bayliss raised the possibility of Compendium LD for the Mac and Andrew replied he was aiming to have this available by Christmas. EA Draffon introduced a selection of other generic tools. Accessibility was discussed with Andrew Brasher mentioning There was a discussion about text v visual being better for different parts of the design process and Nigel Ecclesfield talked about generic tools that could cope with both modes. I talked about this in relation to the idea of a Phoebe/compendium link up, and also about how the LD tools report had looked at generic tools as well We also talked about visual design being better for activities and textual for course level design – although Andrew Brasher had examples of when this may not be the case. Lastly Alan share 3 representations of a design from Ulster and we discussed ways of taking the same data and showing it in different ways, especially in light of how the Mod4L project identified that most users did not have time to create multiple representations.

Starting day 2 – innovations that really work I started this thread by asking people to share innovations that had really worked. Richard Everett mentioned eMentors (where students teach the teachers to use technology appropriately) eInnovations – a £50K fund that staff (and students) bid into to do something innovative of relevance to the new building, but need culture to allow risk and failure. Grainne mentioned the OU ‘Design challenge’ to get people to design a short course in a day with support various stalls that represented stakeholders such as librarians etc, which raised as a key factor in success. Helen Beetham also mentioned other institutions’ ‘design intensives’ e.g. Brookes, Herts, Leicester. Alan Clarke suggested how Adult and Community Learning has used digital cameras, which led to a discussion of the Molenet project which James Clay was involved in and expanded on. Sarah Knight mentioned the ILT Champions programme for the FE which was reiterated by many, as something that had and was having a long lasting effect on their practice – this years conference is being hosted by James Clay, who shared some podcasts it had created

Cloudworks Juliette Culver introduced the cloudworks tool and the latest thinking here and Paul Baily suggested tag clouds (of this discussion) as a possible feature.