Archive for the 'learning design' Category

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.

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.

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.

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.

European LAMS conference

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Like Martin Weller, Grainne Conole and Sheila MacNeill I was at the European LAMS conference in Cadiz last week. This proved a great chance to talk to people who are doing interesting things in pedagogical planners specifically and Learning Design more generally.

For me the most gratifying thing was that we all seem to be moving in the same direction, despite not having necessarily having talked to each other as much as we probably should have done over the last year. I think the key will be in maintaining this dialogue and ensuring we all move forward in a way which allows us to get the most benefit from each others work. Between the commitment at the OU to their learning design work, the LDSE and the projects JISC are funding in the curriculum design and delivery calls I think a lot will happen in the next couple of years, the trick will definitely be in trying to make this all join up.

It is also worth commenting that all of that is only what is happening in the UK, the LAMS group now have funding for their Activity Planner project and Ten Competance continue to do really interesting things.

I think there is a lot of willingness to keep talking, now all we have to do is to find the time….

Where are planners now?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Much of the last little while has been spent writing our final documentation for this phase of the Phoebe project. Although report writing is not my favorite task it has been a really valuable experience to take the time to reflect on what we have a achieved with Phoebe specifically and how our understanding of design for learning has progressed over the last few years. It feels like a very long time ago that IMS LD came out and seemed to capture something about e-learning focussed on activities rather than content, making it the first standard to address the real issues….and depending on your interpretation acted as the catalyst for a lot of the work that has come since.

Over the next few weeks, I will try and blog about some of the conclusions we have reached as a result of Phoebe, but as a very good place to start I am going to point to what other people are saying about this area.

I think the first people to mention are the team working on Compendium LD at the OU. Grainne Conole has several presentations on this subject at Slideshare, although perhaps the best place to find out what she is saying is though her blog, and more specifically her posts on learning desgin. Martin Weller, has also blogged a fair bit on this, with lots worth checking out.

There is also a lot of useful information available on the site CETIS created after our planner review day. You can access all the presentations and I would really recommend reading Helen Beethams Breifing paper, an excellent summary of a complicated space.

Lastly a lot of us will be presenting at the European LAMS conference in late June. It is worth noting while a lot of the papers are focusing on LAMS (as you might expect) many explore learning design more widely. Finally there is a whole day on pedagogical planners which if it is anything as good as last year will be a great chance to find out more about state of the art thinking in this space.

Learning from the Games Designers

Monday, April 7th, 2008

The designers of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games face a significant educational challenge. They need to efficiently and subtly teach new players how to use their game. This involves teaching players about the environment and the interface whist keeping them motivated and drawing them into the challenges of the game itself. This is situated learning in which the games designer is the ‘master’ and the player is the ‘apprentice’.

This educational challenge is similar to the one faced by those intending to teach in Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVE’s) such as Second Life. There are a significant amount of basic skills that need to be mastered before students can successfully engage in meaningful collaborative activity. The traditional ‘orientation’ process in Second Life is didactic and generic, teaching skills in an abstract technical manner. This has come about because unlike an MMO, Second Life has no shared goal, its possible uses are many and varied. However, a teacher who wishes to use Second Life should have a defined set of goals or learning outcomes they wish to achieve. They should be able to define task orientated activities which are relevant to the students motivations, for example, Art and Design students can be asked to compete to build the tallest monolith as a focus for learning building skills in Second Life rather than being given general instructions on how to create, scale and texture objects. In teaching terms this seems like an obvious approach but often when faced with a complex new platform teaching practitioners will often fall back on a basic instructivst style which may not align well with the approach generally taken at HE level for that discipline.

This is where we can learn from the MMO designers who are careful not to fall into this trap as it is likely to make a players initial engagement in a game seem like a chore. For subscription based MMOS such as World of Warcraft this would mean a high drop out rate and a massive loss of revenue, something that the HE sector can emphathise with.

The JISC funded Habitat project intends to learn from the game designers by capturing the processes in World of Warcraft in its initial stages and mapping the styles and types of task to the learning outcomes they fulfil. The data will be captured using pre and post activity questionnaires and video screen capture synchronised with video of the player at the computer. This data will then be used in the process of designing appropriate orientation sessions for pilots in Second Life with students from two disciplines: Art and Design & Philosophy. The Habitat project recognises that some of the most sophisticated collaborative learning spaces online at the moment are MMOs and that the design of these games can be a relevant model for the pedagogical structures that we put in place for the educational use of MUVEs such as Second Life.

Keep watching http://www.openhabitat.org to see how we get on.

Learning designs, representation and reuse (2)

Friday, March 28th, 2008

In the Mosaic project we are moving on from looking at the course as a whole, to writing specific screens of content, and it is providing a good way of unpicking our assumptions about what Phoebe means for planning at the activity level in the context of a specific course. In our earliest thinking about Phoebe we always intended to have a “mind map” interface. We never did manage to implement this as we had enough other fundamental issues to address, but for me there is no doubt that it is at the more granular levels of learning where these sorts of representation have the most to offer.

As we have looked into how people design learning, both the the earlier LD Tools project that was done at OUCS, and our evaluations for Phoebe, it is clear that unless mandated externally, preferences in terms of representation are extremely diverse. A significant number of people do really want spacial map like plans, but an equal number would never plan that way, and prefer liner or tabular representations – all of which ignores those who use PowerPoint, paper, the back of a napkin….and the whole area of when designs move from just design into something you can instantiate.

So while we are working towards a tool that can cope with all the things outlined above….one day…. what does any of this mean in the shorter term? One thing that has served us well as Phoebe has progressed is acknowledging complexity, but trying to find simple solutions to the aspects of this space that can be tackled here and now.

Then chipping away at the larger more complex issues as we go….

So to take a simplifying step sideways when it comes to designing activities, in the sort of distance learning context we are designing for in Mosaic, this basically means writing instructions for students about undertaking activities that link to the tools they will need to use to accomplish them. Most of the time all you need to describe an activity is some words. So for Phoebe, just a box to write them in?

Although in the Phoebe team, we are resistant when people suggest that Phoebe is all about the guidance, I am starting to think that until we can really unpick the representation issues the most value to be found in Phoebe at the activity level is all about the right guidance. We also know that this guidance is the most powerful when it is very precisely targeted.  Coming back to the reuse observations I made at a course level, our authors definitely write better activities when they start with examples of similar activities used in other course, and they write the best activities when those examples are from courses in their own discipline.

So, ok this works  fine in a relatively small department such as ours –  look at the other courses we have built, get some ideas – but how do you scale this for national contexts, how do you find these “just right” examples? OK now we’re back at the more complex issues  – but certainly something that the wider D4L strand and other work at JISC and elsewhere has things to say about.

But blog posts shoudn’t be too long should they, and it is a Friday.