Technology in PI and ERA projects

Liveblog notes from IET Technology Coffee Morning by Eileen Scanlon and Mark Gaved on Technology in PI: Personal Inquiry and ERA (Enabling Remote Activity) projects: Challenges and lessons learnt.

(I liveblogged a previous talk on ERA (Enabling Remote Activity) last December.)

Personal Inquiry

PI – 3y EPSRC/ESRC TEL programme funded. Scripted learning envrionment to guide learners through inquiry process. Oakgrove School KS3 geography students (N=300); GCSE Urban Heat Islands, across MK and Northampton; Year 8 Microclimates, around school grounds. First pilot run with 80 (!) students in 2008, second one large too – so calling them ‘trials’ rather than pilots.

Social issue: the flight from science in schools. Difficult to persuade young people of relevance of science to their lives. So inquiry important theme in project to make the learning of important scientific principles relevant to you as a young person – hence Personal Inquiry. Focus on formal and informal settings, and devices including personal mobile technologies and shared classroom displays.

‘Scripted inquiry learning’ has some ‘studied ambiguity’ – building on the  ‘discovery learning’ literature.  Also more technical meaning of ‘scripted’. Inquiry learning lit review as first stage, shared model of Inquiry Process. Took that representation, rendered it as an Activity Guide (or orchestrate, direct, or be ordered about the inquiry process), with support for what you need at each stage: Find our focus, Decide our hypothesis, Plan our methods, Collect our data, Present my data, Write my report.  Shift from collective to individual – exam board requirement to be individual – so working in groups to collect, but then individual inquiries.

Lot of technology: ultramobile PCs – Asus Eee PC; Scienscope data loggers and sensors (CO, temperature, IR irradiance, anemometer, humidity) – rugged, precise, quick to report; standalone GPS – Garmin eTrex; digital cameras – Canon A460 Powershot digital cameras (‘Sir, we’ve taken 500 photos already and don’t have room for any more’!); wifi – standard 802.11; OU web server; web-based Activity Guide as coordinating interface. Data saved locally on Eee when mobile and don’t have the network.

Enabling Remote Activity

Remote access: Enabling mobility-impaired students to participate in geology fieldwork and complete learning objectives. SXR 339 Ancient Mountains, one-week residential school in Scotland.

Remote collaboration: Group work involving students split between field and lab locations; one-day trial.

Geologists want to see both the big picture (view of whole land feature) but also very close-up.

Technology: server/client – Sony laptops, Asus Eee PC; video – IP security cams, Eee built-in; images – digicams, wifi cams; audio – walkie talkies, VoIP phones; transient wireless network – Linksys access points, external antennae on lighting stands, 12V batteries; local web server; web-based interface.

The ideal mobile device – looked at PDA, phone form, normal laptop, Asus Eee – Asus Eee settled on, but not perfect.  Portability is a challenge – but groupwork helps since can distribute some problems, e.g. weight. Multiple cabling and multiple devices not helpful – so built-in webcam in Eee halves number of batteries; wifi camera simplifies cables/card transfer; walkie talkie headsets free up a hand.  Power another one – full days in field, battery/generator, overnight recharging.

General points across both projects

Web-based interface big win in ERA and PI. Interface very familiar, little training needed. Continuity of field and built environments on different machines.  Issue of field machine browser connecting to local server (need later sync – challenge with large numbers of machines) or connecting to remote server (requires connectivity – challenge in the field).

Connectivity on the edge: tension between interesting locations and well-connected locations.  School networks not designed for roaming connectivity; poor line-of-sight in field.  Firewall issues too.  Local connectivity hard but backhaul even more tricky.

Bridging environments tricky. Solutions to technical issues may work (network keys, proxies, transitions) but social issues may override (e.g. teenagers grounded from internet use!).

New ways of teaching – technology fitting in to existing practices. Challenge of orchestration between multiple tutors and researchers – scaffolding by scripting (PI) is one solution.  (Although this requires intensive preparation and thinking-through by researchers beforehand; not ideal for lightweight usage that’d facilitate abduction/appropriation by the teachers/tutors themselves. Always a big challenge for tech innovation learning research projects – including at the OU. How do you get the great mass of teachers able to pick up the tech and redeploy it to meet their needs? Good examples as models from research projects help.)

Need pragmatic, participatory design – tutors/teachers and students crucial input but are very busy.

Graceful degradation – always have a Plan B – teachers/tutors do this by instinct anyway, technology needs the same approach, including fallback technical solutions: spares, redundant communications routes, etc.

Scaling issues: identical setups helps, but takes time to set up/turn around 30 machines – real challenge on a daily basis. Needs room and power to do it. “How many sockets do you want in the new building?” “Oh, 88 should do us.”

Summary points

  • technology intervention changes the learning activity – transformation of practice
  • test in field (in authentic contexts) as much as possible
  • important to co-design activities (participatory approach)
  • evaluation of interventions crucial but challenging (practicality, control groups)
  • need sustainability and exit strategy

(… which I think stand as very good general points for most technology interventions in teaching – or indeed any teaching innovation)

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Low-hanging fruit: interactive tables for collaborative learning

Jochen “Jeff” Rick, Computing Dept. Notes from Tech Coffee Morning, 8 April 2009.  Background from the shareIT project, part of Yvonne Rogers’ pervasive interaction group.

Low-hanging fruit – is the stuff that this is a big obvious win for.

We tend to think of two sorts of educational technology: 1. Personal ed tech, with one device per person – desktops, laptops, handhelds, mobiles etc. You can share/work around.  2. Whole-class educational technology – projectors, smartboards. Smartboards are almost ubiquitous in UK classrooms.

New class, including: Interactive tabletops. Three well-known examples: Microsoft Surface; SMART table (£5000) – small, aimed at kids, software a bit lagging; DiamondTouch table.  Work in different ways: Surface shines IR light upwards, then a camera looking at the IR coming down, so can see your fingertips and outline of objects. SMART table is FTIR – internal reflection – like the CNN interactive display, Jeff thingy on TED talk.  DiamondTouch is ?conductive – you stand on a pad and it senses finger location via direct conductance.

Electronic whiteboards “reinforce a transmission style of whole class teaching” – Moss et al 2007. But tabletop stuff can’t be used that way. (Unless you also connect it to a projector, as we have in this talk!)

RQs – looking at: What theories resonate with interactive tabletop? How do learners collaborate? How can the task and interface enable, encourage and enforce collaboration?

Three technologies to demo: OurSpace: Marshall et al (2009) Proc CHI 2009. Rick et al in Proc IDC ’09. Harris et al (2009). DigiTile – Rick & Rogers (2009). WordCat – no papers yet.

OurSpace – seating exercise. Aerial view of classroom, drag around tables and students.  Demo – three people doing the task, stood on each pad.  Students are flagged as friendship groups (colour), glasses (can’t see), speech bubble (talkative).  Did prototype studies where the kids laid out their own room, and talked to them about the criteria that were important to them about space allocation. Now use fake kids but real room and desk number configuration. Can also do route-drawing with your finger. Did lots of empirical tests with Year 3-4 (age 7-9), multi-touch versus single touch, kids stood at three sides of rectangle or side-by-side.  Collaborative design task, no right answer.  With single-touch, turn-taking talk goes way up compared to multi-touch, at the expense of task-focused talk – in percentage terms, but actually the extra talk on turn-taking is extra, not replacement.  Equity – physical equity – not terribly affected, except boy groups more equitable with multi-touch, but girl groups more when single-touch. Most other research shows big difference here, but this doesn’t show it. Because in this case the handover is very quick and easy, but in others (e.g. handing over smart pen) it’s harder and requires explicit release and handover time. In multi-touch mode you can do your own thing and not pay attention to the others, but single-touch you have to collaborate – you might as well pay attention to what’s going on if you’re not driving.

DigiTile – tiling program. Six colour choices, half/whole tiles. DigiQuilt was the base software this is based on (for single user). Task is to generate a given picture. Or harder challenge – generate a tiling to give a certain mix of colours. One classroom study done, another in progress. Looked with shared or split palette (half the colours to each participant). Doesn’t make much difference – perhaps because kids don’t mind reaching in to each other’s space. Generally they collaborate really well, not much over-dominance, largely equitable. Possibly because easy to undermine a strategy if you’re not included?  Pre/post test shows significant difference on fractions knowledge compared to controls for a 30min session. (Cool!)

WordCat – word categorisation. Sort words in to two-by-two grid, need to have something in common on horizontals and verticals. Each have a word, and both have to put it in the same place to get it to stay there.  Both participants have to do it the same before you get to see the next word.

Task overview: OurSpace – enables collaboration – in multitouch mode, participants could largely work independently, but in single touch mode, more coordination was required. DigitTile encourages collaboration – on more mathematical challenges, participants learned quickly that they had to work together or they would just step on each other’s toes. WordCat enforces collaboration – it cannot be completed without a partner. Small interface changes can adjust how strictly collaboration is enforced. (Or, can bully/persuade the other participant to just go through the motions.)

Interesting questions of definitions – collaboration, cooperation, and so on.

Learning in Digital Worlds: What are we talking about?

Prof Josie Taylor inaugural lecture, liveblog 7 April 2009.

Two great realisations. Looks at people doing stuff with things – it’s really about conversations. Diana Laurillard’s work. The greatest challenge for those involved in the communication revoulution is not technology but communication between people. Link to Pask’s Conversation Theory. Converse of control, deregulation, enrichment by divergence possible, cybernetic – participants could be computers as much as people.

Second realisation: Abduction (Peirce). Used heavily in design. Inverse modus ponens.

The ‘computational aura’ – dialectical relationship between technologies and conversation takes us forward; digital artifacts and humans jointly construct, divisions blur.

Prolog learners with Ben du Boulay, 1984-87. people not systematic in their logical thinking. Interpretative framework for people trying to understand complex machine behaviour is the human social framework.

Communicating through videotunnels (88-90), with Tim O’Shea, Eileen Scanlon, Claire O’Malley. Mediated eye contact and role in establishing collaboration on problem-solving.

Physics problem solving (90-94) – collaborative undestandings established through dialogue – negotiations around agreement.

MENO: Multimedia, Education and Narrative Organisation with Diana Laurillard et al (96-2000) – Narrative guidance, narrative construction.

Mobile learning (2005-2009) – Conversaional processes, Pask again. Conversation is means by which we negotiate differences and form transiently stable interpretations of the world.

So … established enough about the nature of human learning to support it through use of digital devices. But technology always changing, underutilised – confusing, worrying. Professionals not good at technology predictions.  Changes deceptive and misleading – we tend to muddle up surface presentation/format changes, accessibility/delivery, functionality offered, and functionality required.

Case study: Penguin Paperbacks. Before 1935, to read book, go to library. Cheap paperbacks changed this. Readers become buyers, business boomed, range increased, easy to get hold of. What actually changed? Mobility (vs hardback), access changed, contexts, cost. But functionality and skills required didn’t change. So changes only syntactic (format), but a revolution occurred.  We tend not to ask the right questions: What is the right size of book for optimal reading? What is the learning benefit of this change? We don’t need to innovate any more? What about people who can’t read?

Conceptual infrastructures: Ubiquity, Ambience, Flow, Grid: everyone has connection, carries connection, everything has one, everything works together.

Speckled computing – http://www.specknet.org – autonomous, minute specks (1mm^3), collaborating as programmable computational networks called Specknets. Truly ubiquitous computing. Fine spatial and temporal resolution. Information appliances might not be explicit; highly diffused.

(With shift from multiple media to multimedia, our learning thinking was still valuable. Similar argument here.)

These digital artifacts as cognitive enhancers – makes it a semantic change.

Learning context of the future: network, grid, specknets – return of the intelligent machine?

Computers as participants in a cybernetic view of learning. Enable computers to work out how to work with us.

Theory of Mobile learning (Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula 2007) – focus is communictive interaction between learner and technology. Digital artifact is as much a participant as the human. Draws on Pask, Laurillard, Vygotsky (via Activity Theory), Engeström.

Two-layer model: human/task focused/semiotic layer – Engeström extended activity system. But also technological layer – with conversation between each level. Relationship between the two is dialectical. (Note to self: Just had horrible thought that actually these levels are end-on in a trad activity system, rotate through 90 degrees, not overlay – to follow up. Probably isn’t though.)

Interdisciplinarity is key – need educational technology and technology.

Grand Challenge for Computing: Research in Learning for Life. To conceptualise how learning environments will manifest. Not just incrementally extending current models of teaching and learning.

Conclusion: Technology potential People will retain control – but are lazy so likely to relinquish it. Digital artifacts geneate possibilities and options – humans must choose. Some artifacts may become intimately connected with human bodies.

Dewey 1916 p88 quote about learning in a mobile society a nice finish.

From exposition to enabling participation: the OU’s learning journey.

Prof Andy Northedge – Inaugural lecture. Liveblog 7 April 2009.

Starting question: Is an OU educationist any help?

What do we know about HE teaching and learning? Literature scanty compared to schools – especially when he started. How can teaching work at a distance? Many fundamental questions addressed by early course teams.  Teaching and learning acts separate, disconnect in feedback loop.

OU as an extraordinary test-bed for educational ideas – very new thing for academics to discuss teaching with each other: forced a discourse of practice. Also discipline of the market. (Stats a hard sell particularly.) So have to worry about whether students want to learn what you’re trying to teach – again a new thing. Students could walk away. Concretisation/reification of teaching, replication possible.

How has pedagogic thinking moved on in 40 years? (OU 40 years.)

D100: Unit 1 – starting with the fundamentals of human nature. Unit has its own purpose, to consider – i.e. exposition. Question ‘Why does man live in society’ – not a burning one for students. “I’m afraid the outcome is going to be pretty unsatisfactorey, but what can I do? You’ll just have to make allowances” – aim at academic peer audience? Start with broad, abstract theoretical foundations.

DD100 – crime – starts with ‘Tales of Fear and Fascination’ – consciously stylish and intriguing. No preamble, straight in to concrete direct questions. Student addressed in second person ‘you will look’ vs ‘it will consider’. Activity right up front. Colloquialisms. How are we – joint project – going to answer interesting questions. Work from your personal experience, ‘have a go’. Challenge to everyday assumptions. – teaching as supporting participation in meaningful, active dialogue.

1969: HE teaching largely unexplored, unquestioned. Hard to research tuition and counselling. Little theory applied.

Four models then extant.

Apprentice-scholar (Oxbridge tutorial) model. Teaching recommends texts, sets & marks tutorials, lectures are incidental. Teacher guide to lit, taskmaster, critic. Presumes well-schooled intake.

Lecture-centred model. Teacher as key knowledge source – must have sound, up-to-date discipline knowledge, select/synthesie/organise it, transmit by speaking with visual aids. Fear of not knowing enough as teacher. Teaching as tealling/explaining. Unproblematic, poor learning is poor attention. OU units as lectures-in-print – conventional lectures much criticised.

Constructivist model (Piaget, Bruner roots). Learning as active, exploratory, constructive process. Teacher provides conceptual dilemmas, scaffolding – not explanation. OU case material and activities. BUT which concepts are to be constructed? How do you know when they’re constructed well enough? Must students recapitulate history of discipline’s discoveries? (long process!)

Radical student-centred model. Real learning grows from within. Students pursue own agendas with supportive peer group. Learning within group process, teacher as facilitator.  (Stuart Hall lecture at summer school – students said was the best thing ever, changed everything – but couldn’t tell you what it was they’d learned.) One Technology, art and design course (TADxxx) was like this … but only one.

All used with claims of success. Not contradictory is we view learning as a multi-faceted sociocultural process : learning is becoming immersed in the ways of thinking, discoursing, doing – of a ‘knowledge community’ (i.e. discipline). Knowledge is what is shared within discourse, within a textual community – Bruner 1996.

Aspects of HE teaching and learning – Intellectual cognitive vs personal/social aspects; (one axis), outer aspects (discipline) vs inner aspects (within mental/social being of student.) Lecture – outer/intellectual. Apprentice – personal/outer. Constructivist – intellectual/inner. Radically student-centred – personal/inner. Good teaching makes all these happens.

Sociocultural account of learning – specialist discourse of a knowledge community. Different levels and modes of participation in a specialist discourse: Vicarious participation vs generative. [Link to generative internet stuff here – note to self: follow this up!] Peripheral vs central forums (radio tx vs specialist conference). Idiosyncratic vs convergent usages. Outsider identity vs insider identity.  Learning is progress on these 4, gaining intellectual and social power.

Learning is a fuzzy process. Can’t pinpoint it as it happens, recognise it in retrospect. This allows OU courses to be open entry and modular.  Can’t all be learning the same concepts, but all progress in ability to engage with the discourse. (Anecdote about reading a passage on causal relationships as casual relationships … and the students more-or-less made sense of it.)

Learning is the unwilled by-product of meaningful participation in discourse of a knowledge community. In the process, your mental organisation shifts and becomes increasingly congruous with discipline. Metaphor not storage of lumps, but invisible shifting of sandbanks in a tidal estuary. Teaching is mainly enabling participation in specialist discourse.

Map of unit difficulty perceived – highly variable on D101, but ‘too difficult’ usually over 50%. D102 starkly different results – all ‘about right’, >80% – because consistent narrative.

Socio-cultural model now: in K101 online project. Teaching number skills. In discursive subjects, students skip numbers stuff. Give little time, learn very little. Sociocultural model – students.open.ac.uk/hsc/k101/u16_act5.html Inversion of standard approach: have a go at a question, then get involved in the discourse.

Also need to help students learn to engage generatively – TMAs! But for another time.

Enabling LPP is what OU CTs have learned to do in last 40y!

OLnet: next steps with OER research

I’m involved in the very exciting OLnet project, which is building research infrastructure to understand the Open Educational Resource (OER) world.

The elevator pitch: there’s shedloads of high-quality learning materials available, but not a lot of research in to the entire area, even at a baseline level of project-level evaluation.  The OU’s Open Learn was unusual in having a strong Research and Evaluation strand, led by Patrick McAndrew, and the Hewlett Foundation has now funded OLnet to build research capacity across the OER world.  It’s a partnership between the Open University and Carnegie Mellon, but we’ll be bringing in Fellows from far beyond.

The OLnet project proposal sets out our vision and aims, and the nascent OLnet site itself is the place to go for updates and definitive information.  We had a really successful presence at the OER conference in Monterey last month where we launched the project and captured activity and contacts there using Cloudworks.

We’ve just had another brainstorming activity about what we should be doing (as you do when you’ve been running a project for a couple of months), and here are some desperately rough-and-ready notes I made from my post-its.

NB These are very much drafts: some are silly ideas, and some are in fact things we promised to do in the proposal and are very much still signed up to do and I have merely failed to articulate that here due to cognitive impairment.

So, my notes of Things Wot We Could Do:

Enumerate/map out (dumb and smart – blog post/XML/Cohere map) all known OER projects
Bread-and-butter survey and interviews evaluating all known OER projects. (Have good baseline but not exhaustive; warm contacts for Hewlett-funded projects thanks to Monterey conference last month).

Enumerate/map out (dumb and smart again) all OER bloggers / blog aggregator. Or in fact point to existing authoritative source(s) (Again have good baseline but need to do a little more stuff to span out.)

More active OLnet blog – specified role for OLnet researchers/fellows? Or employ someone for it

Lab/research toolbox – HOWTO – how to research/evaluate your OER project, open-by-default, makes results available in open format instantly, can see how your project compares to others; OR just do the coordinating activity based around microformats/shared practice. Aim to show benefit from researching in open/OER way (see comparison with others)

Tracking package/toolkit – easy drop-in stuff fro tracking learners, tracking re-use. Link to existing Hewlett project trying to integrate Google Analytics across all OER projects; we have close link to it but aren’t part of it at the moment.

Big tech effort to provide automated OER remix/reuse/repost-tracking stuff – like plagiarism detection software. Heavy on the tech stuff but could be very exciting to do in open mode – most plagiarism detection stuff is terribly proprietary.

Working space for researchers – on OLnet site.

Baseline literature review – useful output, good to build on.

Research agenda-setting activity, or research framework setting – meetings, mappings, real, online stuff.   Like Roadmap activities in previous projects but reinvented in OER mode.

Explore impact of licenses on reuse/remix/repost/etc – the David Wiley/Stephen Downes debate about CC-BY (or less!) vs NC-SA – admits of an empirical answer to illuminate the philosophical one?

Explore models of sustainable OER learning. Yet further.

Investigate technologies – scope, pilot new ones – for supporting OER research. E.g. reputation management system, FOAF, SIOC. Cross-site identity management (OpenID vs Facebook Connect vs throwaway logins).

Single sign-on for all ‘our’ stuff – Drupal integration with SAMS (very OU centric but possibly allows us to have single sign-on from Open Learn through to OLnet …)

More personal media

This isn’t remotely a new observation, but after my musings about the more powerful reach of new media, I was strongly reminded this morning that social networking is more powerful because it’s more personal.

Christian Payne, aka Our Man Inside, aka @Documentally, is a freelance photographer and new media person, who puts a lot of his life and work online using a whole variety of text, audio and video tools.  We’ve met in real life several times, but are more in contact online.  This morning, he posted this AudioBoo:

http://audioboo.fm/boos/3088-baby-boy

[which I can’t seem to get to appear as an embed in WordPress in this margin of my time, sorry] … and which I heard, after being alerted via Twitter, within a few minutes of the happy event.  Oddly enough, none of the mainstream news outlets carried this story.  And why should they?  About 2000 or so other babies were born in Britain in the last 24h (at a wild order-of-magnitude guess), so it’s not really news in that sense.

But to a specific, small group of people this was the biggest and best news of the day.  And this snap is probably not Christian’s most technically brilliant shot ever, nor likely to be his biggest earner, but I’ll bet it’s one of the ones he cares most about:

The news of a newborn’s arrival, and a picture of their face, and the sound of their first cry … carried to all the people who care about them.  That personalisation and relevance is part of the magic of new technology.  It’s new and it’s very, very old at the same time.

Welcome to the world, @minimentally.