If you’re at all interested in new ways of interaction with computers, have a look at Johnny Chung Lee’s latest brain-dump post about low-cost interaction technologies. Throwable displays, cheap 3D motion capture, universal remotes and more. The video demos in particular are great for helping you understand what he’s talking about and seeing the potential. (I also like the way the Cambridge one reminds me a lot like old-school OU TV programming/Look Around You.)
Archive for June 2008
There’s been a lot of commentary about Nicholas Carr’s article in The Atlantic, Is Google Making Us Stupid? Carr is worried that, like HAL in 2001, he can feel his mind going. He used to read for long stretches, but:
Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. [...] The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet.
The article then goes on in quite a thoughtful way to explore the complex relationship between what you might call thinking tools and thinking. He’s not a thoughtless Luddite (as he has been unfairly portrayed in some places), and points out that this sort of thing is not a new concern: Socrates bemoaned the introduction of writing, and there was much criticism of the introduction of the printing press. However, he does seem to think we’re losing something valuable:
The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.
I really don’t agree. Sure, time to think is important – which is why I think it’s important to be offline some of the time. The Internet makes it so much easier to see other people’s associations, inferences, analogies and ideas. But it doesn’t make it so much harder to make or foster our own.
There’s another, more fundamental point here. To me it feels like new technology makes me cleverer, not stupid. Sure, if I was cut off from the Internet and computers I’d need to relearn the compensatory skills one needs to manage without ejournals, blogs and the whole wide world of useful information you can find within a minute of wanting it. But I’m not cut off, and I can think better with all that stuff than I ever could without it. For me, the technology feels like an extension to my self, so it’s easy to include it in the “me” that I’m considering when I say “makes me cleverer”. To take the systems view of Searle’s Chinese Room argument a little askew, the system that includes the pure unextended biological “me” acts as if it is cleverer, so we might as well call it cleverer.
To draw my own analogy (!) with another tech, my distance vision is rubbish without my contact lenses (or glasses). If I didn’t have them for a prolonged period of time, I’d develop ways of managing (squinting and compensatory behaviours) that would enable me to see better than I can at the moment when I whip the lenses out at the end of the day. So one could say that I would see better if I didn’t have the lenses. This would be true in a certain sense – which I think is the same sense in which it is true that “Google is making us stupid”. But it’s patently false in most broad senses.
If I want to see better, I should use the lenses. If I want to think better, I should use the Internet.
Grainne – learning activity competition – we all write learning activities on bits of paper, stuck up on wall around the outside of the room. Everyone rate them *, **, ***. Ask is this giving you good ideas? Online? Web2.0? (All learning activities will go in to Cloudworks.)
Interesting real-world process process similar to social networking/Digg etc – I came late to looking at them and noticed which were the ones with a lot of annotations and paid more attention to those. Which is what the conversation is centring around.
Interesting stuff about appraising ideas about learning activities. Issues about scale and reuse. They are context free, though, which makes it hard to make concrete. As an array of things without a purpose makes it hard to sort or select.
More feedback collected on the IET WetPaint site. 3rd place was Tina about blogs. 2nd was Patrick with the instant video vox pops. 1st was Canan with discrepant events – she gets a box of chocolates.
[Stephen Godwin has also blogged about the morning session.]
Martin Weller on SocialLearn – movie developed for mtg this afternoon, will go to VCE later. We get an early draft still in Camtasia. Microlearner – Move from expressed goals to relevant OERs via a Google CSE?
Then we get it again as a conventional PowerPoint. Usual outline – part of response to Web 2.0 disruption in education.
SocialLearn is a profile, an API, a suite of learning applications, a site.
New tool called Microlearner – “Little snippets of learning that lead to a vast mind” – writes to and imports goals, resources, stream. Also 2Learner – create/import goals, tasks, aggregate. Pull in and publish relevant content (OpenLearn), relevant courses/designs (Cloudworks – “Flickr for learning designs”), publicise what you’re doing via Facebook apps, make connections with Cohere.
For – informal learners, students, educators (create your own PSE), partners, geeks, vocational learners.
Beta (invites) in July.
Business models hard – still don’t know how it’s going to make money, more work needed. Use as springboard to get research in. Then at end Feb appoint a ‘grown up director’ and make it all official.
The learner’s profile is held in one place, which is how you pull together everything together. Though it’s an open API so you could read/write it from elsewhere.
Partnerships – could be e.g. Pearsons, Microsoft, etc. Critical mass is key and hard to get. Target two close-to-home groups initially – CPD and potential students who are ELQ and hence put off by high fees.
Is SocialLearn a Creepy Treehouse? Less so since you give the choice/portability to the student, so they can make the decision about what’s work and what’s fun. Clash between HE culture – we decide what you learn, and how – vs Web 2.0 where everyone does it. Martin thinks SocialLearn should sit in the productive middle ground – students appreciate structure but it’s bottom-up – filter on the way out, not the way in (David Weinberger).
Most of Pearson’s money is from accreditation. Tools For Change meeting – publishers’ get-together. Trying to push aside HEIs from the business. The point of SocialLearn is to create the nightmare competitor that puts them off. A disaggregated education market place.
Relationship between SocialLearn and the OUVLE? Duplication of MyStuff and profile? MyStuff is an application that could plug in to the architecture. SocialLearn could be seen as the VLE-killer (in the far future) – but more likely to be a tool that feeds in to the VLE, but comes with you after you leave university. Need Eduglu to stick this all together, Microsoft, Cisco are all trying to build this stuff too – so clearly an idea whose time has come.
Martin Weller presentation – showing us his Broadcast Strategy Review video [Flash, behind OU firewall]. And his Edupunk Youtube vid. And his Future of content vid. And his Everything is Miscellaneous Slideshare.
You can do all this yourself.
The future of work/learning/recreation is the sweet spot is the overlap between personal/fun/informal and the professional/work/formal.
(Side point – Martin’s created a TEL internal wiki on WetPaint.)
So we – TEL – should get away from doing reports/papers for everything. Broadcast stuff may get reused.
Small groups: think of one thing you do now that could become ‘broadcast’ – what would it look like, how would that be better/worse, what skills/help would you need?
Tension between OU model/skills/unique talents and low-entry barrier/anyone can do it. Scale/QA issues. Good to get students to do it. Tension between fun/social and ‘serious education’ – is the former somewhere we can go? PhD students doing a sales pitch video for what-their-thesis-is – to help develop their fundamental argument. Fundamental skill of being able to identify the main point – and that is a fundamental educational skill, whether in an essay, a blog post or a short mashup vid. We all find it difficult. Being open to creativity through another way. Writing ability and thinking ability and mashup vid ability – are separate skills. So could be a useful extra item in the repertoire for assessment. (A conceptual theremin?!) [This report videoed by Patrick - available later?]
Other feedback – time is a recurrent theme, both how you find the time to do new things, and how much time it takes to produce things like videos when you’re not very skilled. (One group went off task and did things on the TELSNS Ning/blog/Twitter instead.) Low quality is Ok if tradeoff for immediacy.
Digital literacies is a real thing. Martin says it’s not that difficult, but you learn by playing, so it has to be fun to do that. (Hence his sweet spot.) RobinM says it’s a little harder than we might think. Competitions in YouTube/Slideshare for world’s best X – then literacies people coming along to explore why they’re good.
The meeting accounting is running at nearly £2600 as we return from coffee.
Instant feedback from the small groups captured by Patrick’s little video tool as talking heads over coffee. (May be available later online?) There’s a general feeling of skepticism bordering on cynicism about some of them but some enthusiasm. Boundaries between the personal and the professional/work worlds – some people mix them seamlessly (apparently) but some people experience a lack of separation between work and other life as very problematic already.
Patrick is going to suggest things we should do:
- Let’s give Twitter a try. No compulsion but that’s where people will gather. Follow PlantOUTEL if it’s not already following you (so we can see all the TEL people’s Twitter accounts).
- Wikis – I did a (private) wiki for last year’s conference – but we can use WetPaint, pbWiki, etc, and there is an IET wiki again. Should use for monthly and quarterly reports.
- Blogs – encourage people to try – let Juliet/Will know and they’ll put it in to the aggregator.
- KMi tools – do play with them. Can we occupy Cohere (Compendium?) to support IET’s ideas?
- Ning – have a look at the Ning Anesa and Rebecca have set up.
At an internal conference thingummy – the TEL group (Technology Enhanced Learning) is my organisational bit of IET (for now).
Patrick is encouraging us to use our laptops and do what we want to do, and he knows (and doesn’t mind) that we’re not all paying complete attention all the time (Martin is deep in something). About 24 people, with about 19 laptops (some have none and some have more than one). Wants us to work in new ways.
Has Tony Hirst’s meeting cost counter running – £1690 already just getting coffee (although £1500 is the meeting room hire). Many techies in one room gives plenty of people who can fix tech issues … but also creates more tech issues to fix. (Sound issues, projector not showing whole screen, etc.)
Grainne: Write down a really great teaching and learning idea – on slips of paper. Pin up on wall, tick ones you like, the winner will get a box of chocolates. Link to Learning Design work and CloudWorks. (Except lots of people don’t have accounts and Juliet who issues them is off on honeymoon … another tech issue. And Twitter is intermittently giving the FailWhale.)
Patrick: Wikinomics is widely read in the OU. Lots of people in the room have blogs; only about two have one on the official internal OU blog hosts.
Groupwork – four or five groups, way in which we can adopt open technologies to help us work, what are our preferred ones.
Extensive small group discussion about tools and their use – distinguishing between social, organisational, and purposeful/educational use. Then a lot of discussion about our experiences of using stuff as diverse as Twitter and Cohere.
Notes from the 29th Computers And Learning Research Group annual conference. I’m discussant for the first day.
[Added later: This was liveblogging but due to my stupidity with the Save instead of the Publish button it's 24h later than what one could with entirely reasonably call live..]
Designing Learning activities: processes, tools and research issues (Andrew Brasher, Simon Cross, Grainne Conole)
“We’re now starting to expand”
Shift of focus from content to activity (so I’m producing more content)
How can we design learning activities which make effective use of tools and pedagogy? How can we scaffold and support the design process?
Been going for 1y, funding till Dec 09; focus shifting from developing tools to rolling out and embedding in Faculties from Autumn.
Gathering empirical evidence to understand the design process. Case studies, workshops, interviews, course observation & evaluations.
IMS Learning Design needs you to be able to think like a computer programmer; it produces executable code. LAMS is easier to use but still is executable. But neither support the design development process, or offline activities.
So CompendiumLD – and specialised notation (loose). Generally, time flows downwards (like UML swim lanes but less formal). Actors perform actions making use of tools and resources to reach a specific outcome. Has context-sensitive help – gives you tools based on the label you type (keyword lookup – discuss, organise); also ‘more about instant messaging’ – Google Custom Search Engine.
Schneiderman 2007 – tools to support creativity – functionality that a tool should offer:
Low thresholds, high ceilings and wide walls.
Next developments to tool: time estimates. Also visual mapping of activities to learning outcomes.
Discussion about evaluating learning design. Consensus that it’s really complex, especially separating influences. (Interesting conversation with David Hawkridge about contrast between being didactic and being learner-led – Betty Collis example about oil rig engineers Masters. Students agree the assessment criteria – and perhaps the assessment itself. And curriculum. But tension with defined/fix curricula and hence accreditation, which is Universities’ USP (?).)
Simon’s tall so can’t read notes if they’re on a table, so he brings along a stand for his notes to sit on (a document stand usually used beside a monitor).
Case studies – feedback that it’s difficult to abstract from specific examples – but the converse is also hard.
Evaluation is hard, complex, evidence tricky.
Feedback in formative e-assessment: closing the loop in distance learning (Stylianos Hatzipanagos)
Project mostly at King’s Learning Institute; funded by Centre for Dist Ed of Uni of London. Also includes Bob McCormick. Three ODL environments (King’s, UoL external programmes, OU); investigation of relationship between formative assessment and learning technologies. Models of formative assessment. Technologies work has mostly been about objective tests rather than effective assessment (depending on what you mean by effective, of course!) vs Bob McCormick (2004) saying promotes innovation and deeper thinking.
Research-led institutions focus on examining/summative. UoL external programmes are very diverse. OU emphasis on periodic assessment and systematic provision of feedback.
Some tutors equated ‘formative assessment’ with ‘continuous assessment’.
‘Closing the loop’ formative feedback rarely takes place in courses with emphasis on end of year (summative) assessment.
Cross-fertilisation between distance learning and f2f learning would be good.
Improving spoken English with ICT? ‘English in Action’ in Bangladesh (Adrian Kirkwood)
Light relief break – just a few ramblings (!). Big motivator of break between Pakistan and Bangladesh (independence 1971) was Urdu vs Bangla. So teaching English is an interesting project. “Very flat” – like Norfolk.
DfID funding for 9y (!) from May 2008, launched from Downing St, aims to have impact on 25m people. (Out of 150m population.) Request came from Bangladesh – tool for participation in global economy, empowerment and development.
Partners: BBC World Service Trust, OLSET (South Africa), OU. TV and radio programmes, mobile devices stuff. Builds on experience of OU’s DEEP Project in southern Africa … also TESSA? OU bit focusing on developing teachers.
English already major timetabled subject in school; aim to improve communicative skill, rather than written exams which you can pass by learning the grammar rules. (Why not change the assessment? Hard to do.) Problem with low skills level in (communicative) English in the teachers too.
Parallels with situation in Southern Europe (Spain, Greece, Portugal etc) and Japan right now too – very little oral work in English assessment.
Another big project where it’s hard to pick out a big-R Research angle from the general this-is-a-good-thing development one.
Navigate through materials: redesigning a language course with a modular flexible approach (Fernando Rosell-Aquilar)
Issues on existing Level 1 courses feeding in to remake: Poor retention. Too much content, inaccurate timings, repetition, linear/directive structure with little flexibility.
So took ‘learning objects’, modular approach. First on L140, Spanish.
Students approached from different places and all thought they’d started from the ‘right’ place. One found the approach ‘random’. Free to make choices.
Blended tutor support – f2f, Lyceum, telephone, forum, student support.
Have a blog directory of all students – using the Glossary functionality in Moodle! So students can put their own entry in. But can also change your entry when you post to blog so can see who’s updated via Browse by Date function in Glossary.
Chris and Chetz in the Datacapture Suite with wikis, blogs and learning objects (Chris Pegler and Chetz Colwell)
Accessibility in the Web 2.0 environment. Work in context of PROWE (with Leicester) and Stor Curam – now Learning Exchange. Repository projects. Expert accessibility.
Parallel with Web 2.0 with the introduction of Windows, when whole load of new accessibility issues emerged and a lot of catch-up needed.
Big problem with accessibility features being present but not ‘visible’. Classic errors with tab order wrong, labels for textareas wrong, and so on. There are techniques and ways of doing this right but often don’t.
Tagcloud vs JAWS … reads it with ‘link …’ after each word. And no indication of the size of the tag. Information in the popup, also hidden from JAWS (doesn’t read TITLE elements by default – which you want). Could simply include the number in the tag itself, which is probably better than a separate list (and is better for all, too!).
Video records useful for mediating in disputes about what you’ve found. (“The users are using it wrong!”)
Equability and dominance in online forums (Jon Rosewell and Tony Hirst)
Analysis of dominance of forums by small number of posters – only looking at number of posts (for now, because it’s easy). Could lead to dashboard approach to monitor health of forums. (Link to Student Support Review?)
Mostly large, moderated without tutors (peer support). 10pt/10wk courses, 100-800 students. 4 courses, 36 forums, 3000 posters, 27000 posts. Forums with ostensibly different purposes.
Robin Mason rule of thirds – 1/3 post many, 1/3 post few, 1/3 lurk. Bit more subtle. Also do-not-attend at all.
Pattern of posts made by posters – oh wow, it looks like a power law. Small number making a lot of posts, long tail making very little. Jon calls it a J-shaped distribution. Showed neat animation of patterns from loads of course/presentation and they look very, very similar.
Ecological analogy – communities often composed of dominant species plus long tail of rare species – biodiversity indexes. Indexes need to capture both richness (species count) and equitability (relative abundance of species). Shannon’s index widely used.
The distributions in the model go straight when plotted as log … but not for real data in biology (get S-shaped curve). His forum data aren’t straight or sigmoid, it’s a curve.
Diversity vs richness data cluster very closely on a curve. Equitability doesn’t vary with richness (number of participants). Startlingly little variability by different conferences apart from bare number of people.
No. of posters versus number of posts – seems to tail off: as the number of posts increases, the proportion of people prepared to contribute tails off. (Causality direction though.) End up with one person writing 10% of the posts … pretty much all the time, over a certain size of forum.
Patterns of participation seem remarkably consistent – so doesn’t tell us much about what makes for good forums! (Although these are all open, general forums with no direction.)
But the patterns are only in terms of the maths – the experience would be very different in many different forums. Whaddaya know, qual and quant give you different structures.
Link to Clay Shirky’s work on power laws and blogs. And my playing about with the KN – docs by user, downloads by doc – all look the same.
Using computer tools to scaffold argumentation: A case study in a postgraduate science community (Canan Blake and Eileen Scanlon)
InterLoc tool – built by Digital Dialog Games JISC project and many others. Rules and roles for participants: highly structured/reasoned dialogue, based around ‘locution openers’.
Latest version – InterLoc3 – is web-based.
Trial sessions, based around discussions of controversial topics (creationism in schools, DNA database). Does keep tone civil, and collaborative questioning, clarifying and justifying positions takes place.
Have to look at content of the discussion, not mechanical features, to see the value. So content analysis is next step.
The (In)visible WItness project: working with children and young people to explore gendered representations of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Jenni Carr, Liz Whitelegg, Rick Holliman, Eileen Scanlon and Barbara Hodgson)
Research with children & young people, not on. Dave Gauntlett (1996) quote about children being ‘researched on’ rather than ‘worked with’. So conceptualise children as active interpreters of media messages. (Children constructed as incompetent media users, compared to competent adults. Ha! Often the other way round.)
Media literacy very high; good appreciation of broadcasters and audience. And creative, with interactive/multi-platform programming. Expectation of interaction. Had a sense of what’s objectionable, used stereotypes – but complex and nuanced phenomenon. (Also, I’d say use of stereotypical images is very media-savvy – in the sense that that’s what media does.)
They consistently understood difference between presenters and scientists; understood that presenters didn’t really know science.
Alas, the proposed prize of a day out with scientists wasn’t seen as a big enough draw, so they went for Paris Hilton and Orlando Bloom instead.
Recent e-learning research and development at the University of Leicester (David Hawkridge)
Vote: who wants PowerPoint, who wants paper, who wants me to talk? (Only one asks for Powerpoint … and gets the USB stick.)
OU gave out 78 gramophone records – on A100! It had music, poetry and some prose. Surveys showed not everyone had the tech to use it. How else to give audio? Oooh, shiny new audiotape technology.
Podcasts … a modern version of deploying audio. Lots of ways of using them.
All of Gilly Salmon’s projects have animal names (IMPALA, MOOSE, WoLF …). Cool naming scheme.
Also stuff on SecondLife (MOOSE) and Pocket PCs (WoLF). Wrong equipment problems; steep learning curve – lot of time needed from very time-poor people.
Issue with 40% of students not wanting work-related podcasts mixed up with their own entertainment/music stuff on their MP3 player. General perceived barrier – also with texts, emails, etc.
Evaluating the Accessibility of a Virtual Learning Environment within ALPE (Chris Douce and Wendy Porch)
Accessible eLearning Platform for Europe: is there a market to support a company providing consultation and resources around the production of accessible e-learning material?
Platform is dotLRN with UNED enhancements for accessibility.
Got participants in to do tasks; struggle to recruit (multiple projects at the same time). Content is SCORM-generated. Hard to locate accessibility technology. (Lunar, Window Eyes, Guide, JAWS … etc. Software is expensive and hard to find, especially at short notice.) Video feed interrupted by OU PC security features.
Lots and lots of very rich data – 20h of video.
‘Virtual learning environment’ not commonly understood. Inconsistent terminology bad. Complexity bad. Inconsistency between content viewing controls and other system not an issue. Time to complete tasks a lot longer for users with disabilities. Users with disabilities are very, very diverse.
Developers put a lot of effort in to custom access keys … and nobody used them. (They often conflict with the other assistive tech.)
Some of my colleagues are part of Law 37, “an alliance of creative folk – game designers, coders, writers – working together to create pro bono, pro-social games.” Their first project, codenamed Sleeper Cell, is “an interactive, cross-media and massively multiplayer game this summer to raise funding and awareness of the work of Cancer Research UK”.
It sounds really cool to me – fun and social benefit all mixed up.
They need help – live events team, mission creators, PR manager, Flash developers and production assistants. Interested? More information and contact details.
The Open University is on iTunes U! As Denise Kirkpatrick, Pro-VC for Teaching and Learning says in the press release,
Making available selected video and audio items from among the University’s highly-rated course materials via iTunes U to audiences worldwide offers a new channel for the University. We can open up free access to educational resources as well as a window for our potential students.
I think they’re right: this is the high-quality stuff that the OU has a well-earned reputation for, and the content up there is good.
(I note that the OU is taking a sideways look at the world, and placing the Arabian Peninsula at the heart of its activity – visually at least.)
It’ll be interesting to see how this fits in to the emerging ecology of online educational material. There’s been a lot of debate in the last week or so around new business models for education – kicked off by Tony Hirst, then followed on by Stephen Downes, Martin Weller, Gary Lewis, and others. It’s great to have good stuff available for free. But how we make that sustainable – particularly the high-quality stuff that costs a lot to produce – is a profound challenge that we don’t yet have tested answers to.
There was a good post by Mike Masnick on Techdirt yesterday, summing up a really interesting discussion on “The Economics of Free”, and pointing out that
The first thing to understand is that we’re never suggesting people just give away content and then hope and pray that some secondary market will grant them money. Giving stuff away for free needs to be part of a complete business model that recognizes the economic realities
Give-away-and-pray isn’t a business model. I don’t believe education is (or should be) a business, but in a world based on exchange (rather than a gift economy), there are bills, and to be sustainable, there needs to be some way of paying them. Educational resources – once produced – are infinite goods: the marginal costs of reproduction are zero, or very near to it. Mike Masnick points out that the price of such goods will tend towards zero, and suggests that to make a sustainable living in that environment, you need to link the free distribution of those infinite goods to scarce goods, so that the greater availability of the inifinite goods make the scarce ones more valuable. The canonical example is the music industry, with the give-the-music-away, charge-for-the-gig (and other stuff) model. But I think it’s very applicable in education as well.
The infinite goods are obvious. If we’re not already in a world where good-enough zero-cost educational resources are widely available, we’re very close to it. The OU’s offerings on iTunes U are just the latest goodie in a great and growing sack of wonderfulness (!).
The linked finite goods are less well articulated, and I think the discussion about ‘business models’ for education 2.0 could be improved with a focus here. Martin asks whether it’s acceptable to provide free resources and tools, but charge for support and accreditation. I think that’s exactly the sort of model we should be exploring. Learner support, guidance and accreditation are scarce goods: they depend on individual attention. The other thing that’s an obvious scarce good in education is bespoke production of learning materials. As with the open source software community, companies (and even some Universities) are prepared to pay programmers to develop specific bits of software as part of open source projects, to ensure that their particular needs are met. I’m sure this is also true in education. The employer engagement agenda is one aspect of this, and one we should be trying to link in with all this education 2.0/OERs stuff – I suspect that will make us a much more attractive proposition to businesses.
Swinging back to the OU’s offerings on iTunes U, I love our tagline “Warning! Content may transform your life” (as does Martin). It’s a lofty goal, but one well worth striving for. With all this unseemly grubbing around for money, it’s well worth keeping those noble purposes in mind.