Tuesday, December 22, 2009

5.3.4: Now, that's a good use of technology!

A virtual graduation ceremony hosted in Second Life by the University of Edinburgh reminds me of my own 'virtual graduation' through the Open University's KMI Stadium back in 2001 one cold morning at 3am in my pyjamas (fortunately no video feed!) In the case of the distance ceremony by the University of Edinburgh, Second Life makes good, novel sense... Trencher caps off to doing such a novel thing, and so well!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

5.3.4: BJET on virtual worlds

The latest issue of BJET 41(1), the first volume for 2010, is a special issue on virtual worlds... one that will be of interest to many engaged in Second Life and potential education futures. As my PhD gathers steam, my reading must become more selective - and so, with reluctance, I note this issue and turn my attention elsewhere!

Friday, December 11, 2009

General: OMG!

OMG! When will it end. Save time, but shallow appreciation! Must read. Is 'classicness' in story, or in style?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

1.4.1: Diploma mills alive and well online

In the editorial of the latest American Journal of Distance Education, Michael Moore describes a student's encounter with a diploma mill - that is, an online (distance) education provider of little substance, unaccredited, whose qualification is of little (if any) ultimate worth. Moore refers in his editorial to the Diploma Mill News, a Website (blog) that gives some insight into the size of the problem.

It is unfortunate that in the online world it is all too possible to pass oneself off as a quality provider of education... I am reminded here of the pre Dot-com Bubble hype surrounding the hyper-investment in e-commerce. The perceived danger was that existing companies would be left behind as new 'e-enterprises' claimed the virtual storefronts. What the dot-com advocates forgot, which led to their rather expensive lesson, is that business dynamics relating to trust and branding run deep. It is all too easy to create a brand online. Developing the requisite substance and trust of that brand, however, cost - not just money, but also (especially) track-record. The conventional wisdom of the day was that everything would be done online, that real-life could not last now that the Internet was blowing everything to bits (to cite one popular book of the time).

As history has shown, it is not easy to extrapolate trends based on the demise of Britannica and the rise of Wikipedia (particularly as the latter faces its own difficulties). While publishing has been hard hit; open source software development proves itself a viable alternative to commercial solutions; and online collaboration reaches new heights, formal education is yet to be seriously challenged. Changed, yes, but not challenged - and not fundamentally changed.

The important difference is, formal education is not in the information business. Neither is it in the accreditation business. Rather, at its very best, it is in the cognitive transformation business. The qualification is evidence of this transformation, but it is not the substance of it. Diploma Mill qualifications are not worth anything because they are not evidence of cognitive transformation. Formal education providers - accredited ones - have transparent systems in place that provide evidence that they are configured for this transformation to take place... and this, I contend, is why formal education providers have the edge even in a connected world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

General: Thoughts on Ascilite and research in educational technologies

Ascilite 09 finished yesterday. It was an excellent event, great to catch up with colleagues past and present. My own invited address, though purposefully provocative, seemed to be well-received; I spoke on the phenomenon of groupthink and its dangers in a connected world.

In the last day of the event, reflecting after my attendance of several presentations, it occured to me that some were emphasising reflection on practice over informed practice. In other words, some of the lessons presenters drew from their experiences were actually highly predictable and already known, based on literature already available.

In other words, instead of the expected
Informed practice to intervention to post-reflection
I was encountering
Intervention to post-reflection to (pre-existing) informed practice.
I wonder... do we in e-learning circles tend to do more than we actually read?

General: A view of the future?

I have been asked to prepare a paragraph on how technology might look in the next ten years in New Zealand, and to comment on how an academic institution might need to be aware of to be prepared for the future.

Here's my thoughts:

By 2019, internet access will be ubiquitous in New Zealand. Broadband infrastructure and mobile devices will make connectivity universal. Information will be at one’s fingertips, literally. All books, theses, journals will be available instantly on request; payment will be through either micropayment or institutional license (for enrolled students). Society will learn fairly quickly that connectivity does not equate with learnativity.

Part-time enrolments will increase as more students balance the opportunity costs of tertiary education with their own desire for lifelong learning. Full-time students will also exist however they will be a minority of, typically, school-leavers. To overcome the barriers of ‘local’ distance, classes will be streamed live to all course enrollees who will in turn participate via their mobile devices. Students will interact through online spaces that are extremely fluid and convenient to use from mobile devices however such interaction will serve only a small part in academic learning. Assessment will increasingly become important; rather than being collaborative, assessment will become increasingly reflective and integrative in scope. The classic essay will remain.

To be prepared we need only anticipate with open minds. The switch to this sort of environment is neither complex nor expensive, and good quality education and course design will remain so in this emerging environment.

Some reports and further banter are available from http://e-ako.blogspot.com/search?q=future.

A more cynical view of the future would be as things are now, only more of our students drive to class in hybrid cars ;o)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

4.3.2: Enhancing online social connectedness

The latest issue of Distance Education (30, 3) once again contains some excellent articles. The first, "Theoretical foundations for enhancing social connectedness in online learning environments" by Slagter von Tryon & Bishop, is a valuable (if not lengthy!) piece on improving social presence in online discourse.

The article underscores the importance of making a good first impression, as all exchanges with others communicate something about the author's nature and competance and help determine the social pecking order of the group. Using a Delphi methodology, the authors recommend the following to improve social presence:
  • Providing opportunity for students to develop a group structure, through high quantity and quality social interaction.
  • Providing comprehensive technical support.
  • Providing persistent follow-up, particularly so that students are paced in their discourse so that the exchange does not become isolating and is socially consistent.
The authors proceed to develop a 'social connectedness design framework' that considers the three elements required for social interaction (status assessments, norm development and role differentiation) across the three recommendations coming from their Delphi results (increased interactions, comprehensive technical support, and persistent follow-up). The bottom line is that students need opportunities to 'be' themselves in the context of technical support and online exercises that draw attention to the fact that they are individuals within a common community.

While 'social presence' is not new and is now understood reasonably well, the article does provide an important focus on what continues to be a central aspect of online discourse.

5.3.5: Special edition of ALT-J; Mobile finding its place

The latest ALT-J (17, 3 November 2009) is a special issue on Mobile and contextual learning, edited by Agnes Kukulska-Hume and Mike Sharples. It is good to see the concepts of 'mobile-learning' and 'contextual-learning' side by side.

The articles have much in common; it seems now that m-learning has found its niche:
...the unique characteristics of mobile learning... include orchestrating shared learning with personal devices across formal and informal settings, providing immediately useful information, offering timely revision and reflection, connecting real and virtual locations, and enriching field trips and cultural visits (p.159, editorial).
None of the case studies in the issue are about courses making sole use of mobile technologies, and one even makes use of portable DVD players.

The first paper, "Towards an understanding of the virtual context in mobile learning" by Cornelius & Marston, introduces the concept of 'disruption' from the physical world by mobile devices, taking learners from a physical to a virtual context. The simulation described in the article is not immediately transferable to all sorts of courses, but the underlying concept raised (the potential for 'disruption') is a very interesting one.

The case study "Situated learning in the mobile age: mobile devices on a field trip to the sea" by Pfeiffer et al shows how mobile DVD players increased student performance on fish species knowledge, a novel (in my reading) approach to mobile technologies which again highlights the diversity beneath the 'm-learning' banner. In the case study, learning was found to be more 'efficient' and more effective through the use of DVD media on location. However the use of video over still graphics did not increase student outcomes to any significant degree.

One interesting finding in the paper, "How can mobile SMS communication support and enhance a first year undergraduate learning environment?" by Jones et al is that students tend to use their mobile phones for basic SMS and voice calls - even if their mobile has addiitonal features such as camera, Bluetooth, calendars etc built-in. the case study itself focues on the use of targeted SMS messages reminding students of upcoming deadlines and for course notices. Students valued these notices, whcih often served as gentle prods for them to continue with their course-related tasks. While the autors caution that they cannot prove any causality, student engagement with the course seemed to improve. The authors also caution that while some found the texts beneficial, others found them 'disruptive', with the interpretation of texts and the 160 character limitation proving additionally problematic. While the authors maintain their approach is a beneficial one, I can't help personally thinking that it may have been more trouble than it was worth based on the actual outcomes... still, the authors do suggest that the approach could be of real benefit to 'vulnerable' students getting to grips with the demands of tertiary study. Samples of actual texts confirm that the level of interaction was concerned with matter sof definition and recall.

The study by Sutton-Brady et al, "The value of using short-format podcasts to enhance learning and teaching", confirms that most students making use of podcasts listen to them through their home computers, rather than on mobile devices. The authors findings also suggest that short, assessment-relevant podcasts ("short-term, supplementary") are those that prove most useful. The real value of podcasts, then, may lie in their supplemental use with lectures, rather than being recordings of lectures.

Curiously, two of the studies note that their findings run counter to Prensky's notion of digital immigrants and digital natives - again underscoring the value of primary research findings over 'common sense' speculation!

The issue is a vaulable one for the ongoing research into m-learning, which seems to get ever broader but not much deeper in terms of its overall impact.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1.4.1: Growth of online learning

A report linked to from the Becta web site suggests that the number of US post-secondary stduents studying online will double in the next five years. The report, released by Ambient Insight (overview here) considers the growth of blended and online learning (note the relatively insignificant 'all online' category in comparison).

When you consider the potential benefits of online access to resources and class discussions, the growth rate is relaly not surprising. What is hidden in the statistics (perhaps it might be available in the full $US4.9k report?) is any indication as to how blended the mix of the courses will be. Here at Laidlaw College, all of our courses (with the exception of one particular programme) might be considered 'blended' because all provide online course areas and expect students to interact with them (even if just to upload and receive back assignments). We are steadily improving resource availability and online discussion use, but already we can be considered 'blended' - and that on a shoestring budget!
  • Moodle (open source, no license cost), externally hosted (reduced infrastructure cost).
  • Google education services (free, no infrastructure cost - and we were the first in New Zealand to roll it out institutionally).
  • Turnitin integration (minimal annual license fee, fully integrated with Moodle, and no administrative overhead).
  • Mahara (open source, no license cost), externally hosted (reduced infrastructure cost).
  • Adobe Connect Pro (commercial, hosted internally).
Not a bad selection of applications... with smooth, highly integrated administrative systems we do pretty well!

5.3.3: ePortfolio case studies from JISC

The JISC has released two final reports on ePortfolio use in the UK HE sector. the cases are diverse in many ways; scale of implementation, platform, course type. The reports (one looking at eassessment, the other at case studies) are a wealth of good practice, revealing the maturity of activity now underway.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

5.1.2, 3.4.2: Open Education Resources

I deliberately left Open Education Resources out of the E-Primer series, as there still seems substantial work to be done for them to go beyond being a 'good theory' and something 'inevitable' into something with a track record. OER has a host of dedicated adherents, and it seems they are close to achieving a form of critical mass and proof of concept. OERs have been of interest to me since Stephen Downes' classic paper on learning objects in 2001(Learning objects: Resources for distance education worldwide). It seemed a little like wishful thinking, but it had a definite attraction to it; at the time I was reading about (and practising) instructional design, and the barriers to a learning object economy at the practical level seemed more significant than some were letting on. Next in my journey was David Wiley's excellent differentiation (DOC) between 'Lego' and 'atoms'. Other pre-2003 works are linked to from here.

What put me off including them in the E-Primer series was the book by Littlejohn (2004): Reusing online resources, which, to my knowledge, remains an important read in the area. The book highlights the potential and (considerable) challenges the development, storage and re-use of learning objects face (and, again to my knowledge, continue to face). Issues of granularity, searchability, suitability, licensing and the establishment of a 'learning object 'economy' for reimbursing authors seem to remain as challenges (the issues have not seemed to have changed in the intervening years based on Conole & Oliver's (2007) Contemporary perspectives in e-learning research. My main personal objection beyond those listed is the potential loss of meta-narrative; what story ties the little bits together (related to granularity)? Further, thus far OER repositories have fallen well short of their ideals.

What prompts this post is the work being done by Wikieducator (see their OER Handbook for educators) and the recent (Vol.10, No.5) issue of IRRODL, a special feature on open access. I am yet to read it (my current research lies elsewhere), but it is encouraging to read in the editorial (PDF) these words from David Wiley and John Hilton III:
Overall, this special issue presents an excellent discussion of open education issues ranging from useful descriptions of successful projects to empirical data about user attitudes to thoughtful criticisms of present work. These criticisms are particularly valuable because so much of the extant literature about open education is almost uniformly positive in tone. We hope this special issue will help to begin a more balanced discourse about the benefits and very real challenges of open education.
It is encouraging to see some primary research being performed; the account of open textbook creation, an honest appraisal of sustainability,  and the results of a survey looking at incentives and disincentives for use (showing that the classic benefits and caveats I mentioned above still exist). On the theoretical side is one by the editors (Openness, dynamic specialization, and the disaggregated future of higher education) suggesting that "every institution must begin addressing openness as a core organizational value if it desires to both remain relevant to its learners and to contribute to the positive advancement of the field of higher education"), and another proposing peer-recognition over formal accreditation.

One of the ironies in is the tension between OERs replacing current formal education and OERs promoting and serving formal education; for OERs to be sustainable, it seems they may need to be supported on the scale only made possible within formal settings (see the Friesen article). I still view OER as a work in progress, with significant barriers to overcome; there is much enthusiasm for it. However, I also know that enthusiasm will only get a great idea so far. For OER to truly come to fruition it requires a critical mass and an inevitability in terms of institutional shift. I'm not (yet) convinced that either of these are imminent. Using OERs doesn't take the 'work' out of education design!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

5.1: The narrowing of horizons?

A report released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project entitled "Social Isolation and New Technology" (PDF) challenges the suggestion that people are becoming more isolated because of the Internet and mobile technologies. Using 'discussion networks' as the measure, it seems that personal circles are actually widening and actually become "more diverse social networks". That said, the research does confirm that 'core discussion networks' (number of confidants, or poeple with whom important issues can be discussed) have declined.

A well-researched report, well worth an in-depth treatment which I cannot give it at the moment!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

TLT presentation: Archive of "Reframing e-learning"

The archive of the second ASCILITE/TLT webinar is now available online. The TLT team was excellent to work with, and their work is well worth subscribing to.

Now I'm working on my invited session for the upcoming ASCILITE conference... It should be a great conference!

5.*: Google Wave and education

It is probably a little early to start speculating on the educational potential for Google Wave (after all, it's not actually released for general use yet!) But a blog post by Richard McManus called "Google Wave Uses: Education" provides an initial insight.

Like many Web 2.0 tools, it looks as though Google Wave might be best exploited by students rather than by the institutions they enrol in. I imagine some innovative educators joining in their students' backchannel discussions, and possibly even involving themselves in correcting class notes... but it seems that the potential strength of Wave for education lies not in a formal implementation, but rather through encouraging students to make use of it themselves should they want to. As such, Wave might become a valuable third place. If formal education attempts to harness it, to 'make it' into something educational, its value as a student-driven application may well drop. in E-Primer 5 I discuss this phenomenon as it relates to blogging and the use of wikis in formal education contexts.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

1.1.1; 2.3: 'E-learning' and professional development

In an early view BJET article called "Conceptions of e-learning and professional development for e-learning held by tertiary educators in New Zealand", Stein, Shephard & Harris (2009) report on a phenomenological investigation into e-learning professional development. Respondents included people from the university, polytechnic, PTE and wananga sectors. The authors identified five 'categories' of e-learning based on the responses:
  • A: E-learning as 'tools, equipment, hardware and software'
  • B: E-learning as 'a means through which learning interaction is facilitated'
  • C: E-learning 'is seen as learning'
  • D: E-learning reduces distance (enhancing flexibility)
  • E: E-learning as 'collaborative enterprise' (involving students, teachers, support staff)
These categories are all related:
tools (Category A) support and facilitate the interaction (Category B) and the 'meeting places' that bring students, teachers, courses, institutions together, no matter where they are (Category D). Collaboration (Category E) at all levels supports the functoning of the whole system. The ultimate purpose of e-learning is to enhance learning (Category C) (p.11). 
Nicely put, a rich blend of perspectives into a useful and comprehensive statement! The research also sought perspectives on what e-leanring professional development is about.
  • A: 'Training to use technologies/tools/equipment'
  • B: 'Opening up possibilities for using technologies for teaching and learning'
  • C: 'A collaborative exercise that can take many forms' (including case studies, seminars, etc)
  • D: 'Relevance and purpose' (focussing on the value-add possible through e-learning)
The authors here suggest that C is the process of professional development, A and B the content, and D the purpose. The authors note that the findings do not provide a solution to the problems faced by professional developers, but the insight and richness of the categories is certainly appreciated.

5.1.3: More on the Net Gen

Mark Bullen's blog Net Gen Skeptic links to a 2009 article by Neil Selwyn (Institute of Education, University of London) called The digital native - myth and reality. The terms 'exaggeration' and 'inconsistency' and criticism of methodology in Net Gen studies give some idea of where Selwyn's article goes. As a literature review Selwyn's paper gives an excellent summary of how the Net Gen's innate potential has been built up beyond reality. He writes that
much of the writing around the digital native theme is concerned less with documenting young people's use of specific digital technologies per se, than the general practices and dispositions that digital technologies support and facilitate within their lives (p.366).
Naturally, this approach leads to exaggeration and misleading conclusions. It's like suggesting we are all global travellers because there is a local airport. Selwyn is highly critical of the 'common sense' association often made with reference to Prensky's work. All of this is rather old hat now, but Selwyn's paper is a well-written piece that includes some useful argument related to the value of formal education. Pointers to studies based on more careful methodologies confirm the coverage in E-Primer 5:
If anything young people's use of the internet can be described most accurately as involving the passive consumption of knowledge rather than the active crewation of content - leading, at best, to what Crook (2008) terms a 'low bandwidth exchange' of information and knowledge, with any illusion of collaboration described more accurately in terms of co-operation or co-ordination between individuals... technology use at school or at home remains rather less expansive and empowering than the rhetoric of the digital native would lead us to believe (p.372).
In sum, the Net Gen needs guidance, even direction in their use of technologies for the purposes of education. Selwyn also addresses the 'guide on the side' vs 'sage on the stage' issue... all in all, a very worthwhile paper!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

1.4: Is this the future?

I received an odd RSS feed relaring to existing Beyond Current Horizons essays, once of whcih I hadn't blogged on before (see previous posts concerning these). "The digital landscape and new education providers" considers how digital technologies have lowered the barriers of entry to higher education and how many large corporates are making the most of the opportunity. The growth of home-schooling, blended learning and online question-and-answer sites is discussed, as are trends in ebooks, learning in virtual worlds and assessment. Inspiring stuff... if these trends continue, the future of education will be very different!

The article addresses the arguments of openness, quality, IP and the importance of revenue streams. Most interesting to me, though, was the very interesting section on "Lifelong learning and the learning society", which seems to emphasise training and workplace skills over classic liberal education. There are serious costs here; an industrially-based and pragmatic education is not the same thing as an emancipating, self-actualising one. "The Future" section (Part Three) ends with an excellent quote:

...we all value open-ness, participation, communication and collaboration, and that we value professional expertise and quality assurance. We value individuals and their free pursuit of ideas and interests; we value communities and the compromise that they necessarily entail. We value knowledge and innovation; we value health, the body and genuine sustainability. We value our economy and the role for education policy in ensuring a good fit between what is learnt at all stages of life, and what is needed to sustain a healthy economy run by competent, confident, adaptive people. We value the classics, the arts, and learning for the sake of personal development and wellbeing. We value diversity and flexibility; we value cohesion and manageability. We work together, with hope, towards a future of physical and social technologies that reflect these values.

Yep, I'm into that.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

1.5: The Horizon Report 2009

According to the latest Australia/New Zealand Horizon Report (International report available here), here are the things to watch along with their estimated time of impact:
  • Mobile Internet devices - one year or less. I think this is actually a wee bit optimistic; mobile Internet devices (with flexible features) are actually rather expensive to own and run, and I'm not sure that their uptake will become so ubiquitous as to make them a 'one year or less' call.
  • Private clouds - one year or less.
  • Open content - two to three years. Waaaaay too optimistic IMHO. Learning objects and open content have been available for many, many years... acceptance may well be growing, but whether the use of open content will be significant in two or three years remains to be seen. Hats off to those working on it and contributing to it, but I suspect that the level of systematic change and critical mass that might be required to make open content truly viable will take longer than two to three years.
  • Virtual, augmented and alternate realities - two to three years. Could be a bit soon... experiments are voluminous, outcomes from these are not yet, to my knowledge, convincing enough to establish whether virtual realities provide any substantial advantage over more traditional means of online learning and distance education. I'm afraid the word 'fun' is used too often in the studies I have seen. Another problem is that self-reporting surveys are often used, usually providing very predictable and not-too-useful results; another is that effective learning was limited to a few small outcomes rather than across an entire course. Perhaps the next two or three years may change this picture somewhat...?
  • Location-based learning - four to five years. Looks promising, but might become a supplement for more traditionally-oriented instruction.
  • Smart objects and devices - four to five years
The findings are based on a systematic review of literature (based somewhat on popular press releases) and expert opinion based on an Australasian Advisory Board that includes our very own Derek Wenmoth (one New Zealander...!) My interpretation remains as it was last year - some caution required, though it's always very useful to be informed about possibilities. The methodology seems a bit skewed toward the 'latest and greatest', and the cutting edge RSS sources are bound to overstate trends in a speculative way. Results might also be made more optimistic by the nature of the early adopters that the Advisory Board itself seems to represent. Still, this criticism (which may well be overstated and wrong!) does not detract from the balue of these sorts of activities... the next few years will reveal all!

Again I reveal my somewhat cautious approach to the future!

3.0: Instructional design for online courses

A link on IT Forum pointed to "An Instructional Strategy Framework for Online Learning Environments [PDF]"available from the University of Southern Mississippi. The article is, apparently, from New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 100, 2003, pp.31-43 (incidentally, I have two booklets in the series assoicated with my PhD studies relating to spirituality in higher education).

The article points out, quite correctly, that instructional design - well-established in distance education circles - must underpin e-learning design. The authors (Johnson & Aragon) also point out that the 'no significant difference' phenomena established by Thomas Russell cuts both ways; while e-learning and distance education have similar outcomes to on-campus education, there is no significant advantage to them (but note recent evidence Becta). This quote from the article is key:
The obvious conclusion from many studies in this field is that the technology used to support instruction has little impact on students’ attainment of educational outcomes. The primary factor in any instructional initiative, regardless of format or venue, is the quality of the instructional design that is ultimately implemented (2003, p.32).
I remember well when an e-learning colleague from another instution first discovered instructional design; [s]he recognised its importance straight away, even though it was a singnificant length of time after they became involved in e-learning!

Johnson & Aragon argue that effective e-learning practice begins with identifying and adopting "a philosophy of teraching and learning that is appropriate for online instruction", consisting of matching "their desired learning goals and instructional methods to the appropriate learning theories" (p.33). They suggest NOT becoming an avowed social constructivist, but rather a flexibel practitioner who is able to exploit whatever approach will meet the learning objectives.

Nice one.

Johnson & Aragon proceed to offer seven principles for "powerful online learning environments", as follows:
  1. Address individual differences.
  2. Motivate the student.
  3. Avoid information overload (follow 'The Rule of Seven').
  4. Create a real-life context.
  5. Eencourage social interaction.
  6. Provide hands-on activities.
  7. Encourage student reflection.
Grab the article and have a careful read. It's excellent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

3.0: A designer's log

The latest eBook from AU (Athabasca University) Press is "A designer's log: Case studies in instructional design", by Michael Power. It's a very readable and insightful volume, and there is a free PDF download available... an excellent glimpse into an instructional designer's world!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

E-Primer series now complete

All five E-Primers are now available from the Ako Aotearoa E-Primer page. The series:

#1 - E-learning in context - An introduction to e-learning and the international experience; definitions of terms; a theory for e-learning; technologies; benefits

#2 - E-education and faculty - Education theory and e-learning; the changing role of faculty; workload issues; quality

#3 - Designing for e-learning - Instructional design; learning objects; constructing a hybrid course

#4 - Online discourse - Synchronous and asynchronous communications; designing online discourse; online facilitation.

#5 - E-xtending possibilities -  Web 2.0; ePortfolios; virtual worlds; lifelong learning.

It's been quite a journey for me. I have learned a lot, and taking the time to review substantial literature in the field has greatly assisted me in digging deeper into my own pespective as an e-learning practitioner. This has provided an excellent platform for further research in adult education, which is where my reading will now tend to go as I work toward completing my PhD

More attention will be given this blog once I finish the third Ako Aotearoa project I am leading, now close to its write-up stage. In the meantime, enjoy E-P 5!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

3.4.6 & 5.1.2: Diana Laurillard at ALT-C

A session at the 2009 ALT-C in Manchester by Dianna Laurillard discusses, in part, how wikis, blogs and forums; virtual adaptive immersive environments; and user-generated content sites sit within the Conversational Framework. The Elluminate session (available here) is concerned with learning design from a practical perspective, going beyond principles of good teaching. For me, the CF has always been a useful model for contextualising formal education; it is an excellent foundation for practice as well.

Some excellent discussion and illustrations relating to instructional design here, too... but there is still work to be done to assist with finer distinctions between different learning approaches.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

3.1.1: Getting to the HEART of things

An article in the latest Distance Education 30(2), called "Approaches to learning design: past the head and the hands to the HEART of the matter" by Donald et al (pp.179-199) makes an excellent contribution to instructional design theory and practice. Donald et al accentuate the differences between learning design considered as a product, and learning design as a process. Essentially:
  • learning design as product assumes the primary importance of distribution channels;
  • learning design as process reveals matters of the "ill-structured/belief-driven" (p.184) approach characteristic of "real, messy" (p.183) learning design activity.
Right away, this distinction makes it clear why efforts to re-use learning materials across institutions is problematic. The questions usually addressed assume that learning design is defined by its output, and not the processes that generated the output. The results of learning design are highly contextualised and "driven by individual pedagogical beliefs" (2009, p.179). Learning object and reusability enthusiasts tend to focus on learning design as product, leading them to focus on the representation, storage and accessibility of learning designs rather than pedagogical transferability across different contexts (something that hasn't really changed since Littlejohn's 2004 Reusing online resources).

However the real reason I am impressed with the work of Donald et al is because they approach learning design in a way that acknowledges the value of the teacher. Their work is empowering to the teacher, recognising an aspect of e-learning that needs to be restored (their citation of Palmer certainly helps with this!) The HEART (HEaring And Realising Teaching) model they describe place the focus on teachers' (and instructional designers') epistemological, pedagogical, curriculum and CAL ('computer assisted learning') beliefs as a diagnostic and reflective tool that no doubt assists with conversations and collaboration between member of faculty and instructional designer. This article will certainly influence the way we approach learning design projects at our College!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

*.*: Open access journals in e-learning

Some recent exchange in ITForum included this editable compilation of "Open Access Journals in Learning Technology", initiated by George Veletsianos of the University of Manchester - a very valuable resource.

There is a truly staggering availability of literature available in e-learning. Conversations are diverse, paradigms are many. The purpose of the E-Primer series is to help provide some sort of orientation to the major themes in literature, and to serve as a foundation for further investigation.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

5.3.4: Virtual world accounts reach 579m

The SLENZ blog is one worth subscribing to. Posts are always full, informative and well written! Number 121 includes reference to reports from kzero, a UK consultancy concerned with "the marketing dynamics relating to virtual worlds". The results are very interesting - and re nicely presented in a "Universe-graph" (here). The graphs show registration numbers for various worlds across different age groups (target audiences) over various years. Registrtaion growth is particularly high across the 9 to 12 and 13 to 18 age brackets.

The difficulties with the number '579 million' are primarily twofold:
  1. Registration is not a good indicator of actual activity, and
  2. Individuals can have multiple registrations across different virtual worlds.
The leap from marketing potential to higher education potential is also not very clear from the statistics... particularly when the various virtual worlds are broken down by 'sector'. The genre of higher education is not well represented, though gaming, social chat and TV/film/books are. It is important that the significance of growing registration is not blown out of proportion as an indicator that such contexts are ready for higher education to exploit, as the use of virtual worlds for the purposes of academic learning is not as simple as having technically savvy users! Rather, what we ought to be considering is whether the genre of academic learning can be facilitated through such environments.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

5.3.5: Raising the standard of research in m-learning

Image by MichaelMarlatt via Flickr
In E-Primer 5 (still in draft form) I note the difficulties present in literature relating to what exactly is meant by the term, and the limitations of studies to date. In "A review of research methodologies used in studies on mobile handheld devices in K-12 and higher education settings" (AJET 25(2), 153-183) [PDF], Cheung & Hew (2009) provide an excellent precis of the problems and make insightful suggestions as to what ought to be done. In particular they point out the nature of the devices themselves. "Mobile" includes all handheld PDAs and all portable wireless devices and, of course, mobile phones. With this definition in mind, any specific mention of 'mobile' use in higher education needs some unpacking as it may imply anything from SMS to sharing multimedia to playing back MP3 files.

Cheung & Hew (2009) overview literature in m-learning with a particular focus on methodology. Their conclusion: the results of many studies need to be treated with some caution as most studies they exmained "used a weak experimental method that utilised a one group pretest design to examine student learning outcomes due to use of mobile handheld device use" (p.168). Tere is not enough comparable study being done witin the same context. Effect size estimates are also lacking, and there is a realiance on self-reported data. Cheung & Hew (2009) also list the short-term duration of most implementations as a barrier.

Clearly there is much more work to be done on the subject of m-learning; researchers would be best to consider the work of Cheung & Hew (2009) before getting started. An article in the same journal ("Advancing the m-learning research agenda for active, experiential learning: Four case studies" [PDF]) exemplifies the sort of research and transferability that is needed.

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5.3.2: The wiki way of knowing

In their article "The wiki way of learning" (AJET 25(2), 135-152 [PDF]), Ruth & Houghton (2009) make a clear and useful distinction between wikis as 'coming to know' and wikis as 'reproducing knowledge'.

In the case study, Ruth & Houghton demonstrate how a wiki can be used effectively in both undergraduate and postgraduate contexts by focussing on the process rather than the product (though, it seems, the proiduct was also quite good!) The article emphasises the need for careful structure as novice perspectives are blended in with those of experts.

Ruth & Houghton (2009) seem to have achieved the ultimate goal for progressive educators - a 'community of practice' within a tertiary course setting. Part of the reason why the case was successful rests on what drew them together - the creation of a course text. The nature of the subject ("Mobile Workforce Technologies") is such that any text prescribed would be quickly outdated: "In the course, the catalyst is, in part, the lack of a defined textbook and the desire to have the latest information" (p.146).

In some ways it is frustrating that Ruth & Houghton do not provide an actual evaluation of the course, but their case does illustrate the 'wiki epistemology' of collaboration, construction/co-construction, different ways of learning, egalitarian participation (a term I prefer to their "the authority of 'the expert' is undermind", p.148), and a constructionist orientation.

Critically, Ruth & Houghton point out that "Collaboration and construction/co-construction are useful where definitive knowlegde is not available, or where processes are in stages of development" (p.148). Such is the case with their course. It is also clear that the lecturers themselves were motivating and dedicated to the outcome, and gave careful consideration to the role the wiki would play. An excellent example of how extending tools can extend!

5.3.2: Wikis, engagement and learning

By now, you may have noticed that the last few posts draw on the latest issue of AJET... Neumann & Hood (2009), in their article "The effects of using a wiki on student engagement and learning of report writing skills in a university statistics course" AJET 25(3), 382-398 make a wonderful contribution to the literature surrounding the use of wikis in HE. Significantly, the study compares an indivdual version of an assignment with a group-based (of between 4 and 6 members), wiki-facilitated version.

Neumann & Hood do an excellent job of clearly contextualising their study, and are robust and honest in their analysis of findings.Overall, while the wiki-using students reported more engagement with other students and perceived higher levels of cognitive engagement to the individual students, there was no real difference in terms of learning outcomes. However it must be pointed out that the perceived "more engagement with other students" must be understood in the context of poor overall participation from the wiki groups. Neumann & Hood also found that wiki groups tended to not complete the tasks assigned to them (probably not surprising, in that their efforts were not directly assessed). Significantly, some respondents in the wiki groups "expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of effort and participation from other members of the group" (p.395); the authors conclude that "[t]he outcomes of the present study seem to fall in between prior reports of wholehearted success... and disappointing failure" (p.395). Neumann & Hood highlight the importance of incentive for use and the variability of the student experience when wikis are applied in higher education contexts. Wikis, it seems, have their place - but in that place a pancaea will not be found.

2.3: Good news! It gets better!

In their article, "Staff and student perceptions of an online learning environment: Difference and development" (AJET 25, 3, 366-381: PDF) Palmer & Holt surveyed students and faculty regarding their importance-satisfaction ratings as it related to their institutional OLE(! - Online Learning Environment... otherwise known as an LMS or VLE). While students consistently value the, err, OLE more than faculty across the various measures surveyed, staff were better able to recognise the OLE's(...) contribution to teaching and learning once they had experienced it. This has implications for change management; early on, full support and nurturing is necessary; over time, these become less important. For folk in my position, it means that over time I can expect my role to decentralise over time as faculty become more aware of how the system works and gradually take more responsibility for it.

5.3.5: Podcasting - a great article

Oliver McGarr gives a great overview of the potential for podcasting in his contribution to AJET 25(3), 309-321 article, "A review of podcasting in higher education: Its influence on the traditional lecture" (PDF). Surprisingly, though (or perhaps not...) McGarr cites research indicating that most students who use podcasts tend to do so at their desk, during study time and not on-the-go. Most users, it seems, do not multitask when listening to podcasts. In other words, podcasting is not generally considered an m-learning solution. It seems that making lecture podcasts available does not adversely affect lecture attendance, and that students appreciate such podcasts being made available. Most usefully, McGarr sugegsts three broad categories of podcast use in higher edcuation:
  1. Substitutional - the lectured podcast is a substitute to attending the class itself.
  2. Supplemental - summaries of lectures and additional (but optional) materials.
  3. Creative - students generating their own podcasts for sharing with others.
We have considered podcasting lectures here at Laidlaw College. Unless it can be easily facilitated and add clear value, it is probably more than we can handle for now. Still, with cheap portable digital recorders able to record one hour's audio in only 10MB or so of file (or even less), it is not difficult for faculty to do this themselves... the extent to which this might substitute for the actual lecture or provide primary materials to distance students is probably minimal (particularly the latter!)

4.3.1: More on methodologies

When researching E-Primer 4 I was fascinated by the considerable debate about methodology for studying online discourse. In a contribution to ALT-J 17(2), 101-113, Judith Enriquez takes issue with content analysis ("Discontent with content analysis of online transcripts"). Basically, content analysis involves feeding message transcripts into a qualitative research application (Enriquez names NVivo) and assigning codes to different message parts.

Among Enriquez's concerns is that analysing message 'chunks' means that the wood can be missed for the trees. While the data itself might be readily available, it needs to be treated in its overall context and from a number of different levels... in fact, as Enriquez suggests, contextual factors may well be too much for content analysis to be of any use whatsoever. 'Genre' analysis is the approach promoted by Enriquez; I, too, am of the mind that genre is an avenue of extreme importance to online discourse (particularly as it relates to Web 2,0 tools).

4.3.2: Good, honest chocolate

Not all chocolate is the same. Scratch beneath the surface (figuratively speaking only) and you may find that a slight change to the recipe can result in some nasty backlash and the need to explain yourself. Incidentally, it can also make the competition look good...

...which is a highly tangental way of introducing Skinner's (2009) article, "Using community development theory to improve student engagement in online discussion: A case study" ALT-J 17(2), 89-100. Skinner found that students who were late starters or who did not find relevance in online discussion opportunities were unmotivated to participate. Skinner's contribution underscores the importance of effective discussion topics and good technical orientation to forum tools... and proves, yet again, that using an effective framework (Salmon's) is only part of the story. Hanging the right stuff on it is what counts.

[Image "Moonstruck chocolates" uploaded November 28, 2005 by eszter]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

5.3.3: Brochures for embedding ePortfolios

A helpful collection of brochures released by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework, with thanks to Ako Aotearoa.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

1.4.*: Evidence on the impact of technology on learning and educational outcomes

The title says it all... another helpful report from Becta. The theme of 'e-maturity' links in with some earlier work I have done relating to e-learning diffusion. The report is an interim one (and Becta's activities are aimed at the school sector) however the findings and lessons are directly transferable to the tertiary environment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

5.3.4: Second Life proving its worth

This from the SLENZ blog demonstrates how, with the right subject matter, Second Life can enhance learning.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Chocks away!

The IT Forum discussion relating to the E-Primer 5 draft is now underway. It is summer holiday season in the northern hemisphere however I am still hoping for some thoughtful exchange from both the northern and southern hemispheres of the Wide, Wired World. This is the introduction:

There are many opportunities for formal education to use e-learning outside of the LMS or VLE. But what are the issues to be considered? In this, the last of a series of E-Primers introducing e-learning to higher education practitioners, Mark Nichols (E-Learning Specialist with Laidlaw College, New Zealand) considers peer-reviewed research for blogs, wikis, ePortfolios, MUVEs and m-learning. Considered in context of Web 2.0’s potential contribution to formal education, “eXtending possibilities” provides an orientation to five areas of e-learning and guidelines for their use.

Mark Nichols has a BMS (Management Studies, Hons) and an MA in Open and Distance Education (Distinction) from the Open University, UK. He has worked as an e-learning specialist in New Zealand’s polytechnic and university sectors, and is currently working on a doctorate establishing whether theological students at a distance are disadvantaged in terms of spiritual formation. He is published in the fields of distance education and e-learning, edits The Journal of Distance Learning, maintains a series of E-Primers about e-learning for Ako Aotearoa (the New Zealand Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence), and is on the Distance Education Association of New Zealand executive. In 2005 he was recognised as a flexible learning leader in New Zealand.
A reminder that the draft of E-Primer 5, "eXtending possibilities", is now available from the IT Forum Website here. The online event takes place for one week, commencing July 6. To join the discussion, simply subscribe to the forum. All it requires is a valid email address.

Friday, July 3, 2009

5.3.3: Becta "Impact of e-portfolios on learning"

Becta reports on a study of "the impact that e-portofolios can have on learners in schools, further education, higher education and work-based learning".

The key findings are not really a surprise, but a useful confirmation of how e-portfolios should be grounded.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

1.4.2: No significant difference!

Many thanks to elearnspace for this link: A meta-analysis of comparative studies has concluded that, "on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction" (p.ix). Blended learning, with the additional work it tends to demand while combining face-to-face and online work, emerged as much better however here the influence may well be on the additional time students spend on learning tasks. Indeed, time on task and the use of different educational approaches emerged as two of the 'secrets' to the online experience.

The K-12 situation has not yet been adequately studied, so the meta-analysis draws on results from results noticed in medical training and higher education. The definition of 'online' applied is just that - Web-based instruction only.

Other findings:
  • Video and online quizzes in online courses do not seem to influence learning in online classes
  • Courses that emphasise reflection and student control of media enhance learning
  • Guidance for groups online is less successful than guiding individuals
The findings also emphasise that "the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages" (p.xvii).

There may well be concerns relating to completion; I am aware of some evidence (Dutton et al, 2002) that online learning students tend to get higher than average grades because only the best of them actually complete their courses (see also Angelino et al 2007). That retention rates are not typically reported on is a weakness of the various studies in this area (p.xvii). Further work on retention is neccessary before online advocates can break out the bubbly!

More from Beyond Current Horizons

Some additional reports are now available from the Beyond Current Horizons Web site:
  • The schooled society and beyond: the modernizing role of formal education as an institution - considers the growth of formal education, and celebrates the success of formal education; theorizes that formal education largely determines society, rather than prepares students for society. Schooling doesn't prepare; it transforms. Rather than being oppressive, schooling is founded on principles of egalitarianism and actualisation; where schooling is genuinely oppressive, it is usually so because of suppressive political influence. Formal education focuses on "academic intelligence", defined as "those cognitive skills needed to do abstract reasoning, problem-solving, higher order thinking, multiple perspective taking, and effortful thinking"; this increasingly replaces the "more traditional academic skills such as recitation, disputation, memorization, formalistic debate, formulae application, accuracy, and authoritative text reading and exegesis". As a result, fluid IQ (thinking) scores are increasing significantly while crystalised IQ (recall) scores are increasing moderately.
  • Knowledge, creativity and communication in education: multimodal design - with a focus in particular on the evolution of textbooks, in terms of style, content and participation.
  • Summative report: Identity, communities and citizenship - a wide-reaching and well-grounded consideration of issues; the 'potential for schools' section has much in common with that of Gilbert (2005), who argues for a focus on training for thinking. 
I particularly enjoyed the first of these three contributions, not least because it portrays formal education as being on the right trajectory for the future. Formal education is working, and that, well. Continuous improvement is a part of that success.

5.1.2: PLEeeze...

George Siemens' post, "Beyond management: Personal Learning Environments" overviews Stephen Downes' latest presentation on PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) at ED-MEDIA 2009. As explained in the E-Primer (draft for discussion next week in IT Forum), there is a flaw here; higher education is not about fact-filling. It recognises that knowledge is adaptive and emerging, and complex. Is the system "out of touch" and risking "irrelevance"? Is "reform" necessary? Might PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) create more problem than they solve? Is the curriculum an enemy to learning? Is learning equated to 'memorisation' in higher education?

I find myself with more questions than assent. Is 'connecting across a network' the same as 'knowing'? I do struggle with the assumptions beneath Siemens' post, and just can't help thinking that I'm missing something...

Friday, June 26, 2009

5.*: More on the Net Gen

This from Net Gen Skeptic.

The finding that "Although young students are technologically increasingly well-equipped, they do not exhaust the potential of their devices or the potential of common Web 2.0 applications" is fast becoming representational of the Net Gen in the research cited in E-Primer 5. As is pointed out by Mark, though, the paper still calls for a fundamental shift in HE structure. If a shift is necessary, it is becoming increasingly difficult to muster any evidence for it based on any particular strengths inherent to the Net Gen. Overall it seems the Net Gen may well have the tools, but they're using them like toys.

[Image "Toys Misbehaving" uploaded March 24, 2005 by Cade]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

5.*: Will Facebook kill blogging?

Interesting question... see this story in Stuff.co.nz before it is removed. I have noticed a significant drop in blogging traffic across the various ones I have subscribed to. A sign of the times? If so, no doubt more research attention and activity will go toward trying to exploit Facebook and MySpace for educational purposes (said with a hint of cynicism). However, as I mention in E-Primer 5, the issue of genre is an important one. It could be too late to redeem the likes of social networking for the purposes of educational discourse. Consider this quote from the Stuff article:
...the online network is like a virtual pub, where you and your chosen "circle" can share photos of your weekend shenanigans, look up old classmates or simply waste time on trivia quizzes that prove your pop culture mettle.
Sounds like promising stuff for academic learning! Now, where can I get me a research grant...

5.1: Becta links: "Digital lifestyles" and "EU kids"

Becta links to two reports about online media use:
The EU report points out that Internet use seems to be spreading, in that most age groups are now using the Internet and gender imbalances are correcting. Socio-economic status is the real differentiator now between those with access, and those without (this is also mentioned in the Ofcom report). The EU report specifically notes that higher education is increasingly requiring online access, so there is a call for improving connectivity.

Neither report is specifically prepared for educational purposes however they do give some reliable insight into accessibility and online behaviour that is of relevance to e-learning.

E-Primer draft now available

The draft of E-Primer 5, "eXtending possibilities", is now available from the IT Forum Website here.

The online event takes place week commencing July 6.

To join the discussion, simply subscribe to the forum. All it requires is a valid email address.

I'm looking forward to the discussion; the IT Forum is made up of very insightful practitioners, many with extensive publication histories (some may have been cited in the E-primer itself). The 'wisdom of this crowd' will be of great benefit to the final version of the E-Primer!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

E-Primer 5 for IT Forum review and discussion

E-Primer 5, "eXtending possibilities", will be peer-reviewed during a one-week online discussion through the IT Forum. The IT Forum is a listserv with members from across the globe.

The online event takes place week commencing July 6.

To join the discussion, simply subscribe to the forum. All it requires is a valid email address.

The paper will be uploaded by the end of the week, and will be avaialble from here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

5.*: Balancing the faces of ePortfolios

Thanks to Hasmeeta for alerting me to this... Helen Barrett, an ePortfolio pioneer, has an online work in progress called "Balancing the two faces of ePortfolios". In this paper Helen models how apparently competing aims of ePortfolios for learning and reflection and ePortfolios for showcase or accountability can be complementary. Helen's three levels of ePortfolio use also helps put them into perspective.

As with most tools outside of traditional LMS or VLE systems, their use can take place at different levels ranging from the most basic (usually just using the most fundamental functions of the tool) right through to the deeply invovled (which requires a much more ambitious pedagogy). Helen's work continues to inform ePortfolio progress in education.

E-Primer 5: Draft ready

At last. E-Primer 5, "eXtending possibilities", is drafted. It's taken a while, and it's already under some pressure to include the latest ideas (see previous posts on m-learning, the Net Generation and MUVE alternatives), but it's still a pretty solid piece of work.

Table of contents:

5.0 eXtending possibilities

5.1 Web 2.0 and the Net Generation
5.1.1 The phenomenon of Web 2.0
5.1.2 Web 2.0 and education
5.1.3 The Net Generation

5.2 The Conversational Framework

5.3 eXtending tools
5.3.1 Blogs
5.3.2 Wikis
5.3.3 ePortfolios
5.3.4 MUVEs and Second Life
5.3.5 M-learning

5.4 Designing for eXtended tools

5.5 Summary

I'm reluctant to give away too much for the moment, as I am seeking potential ways of peer-review. My hope is to make it the basis of discussion for an online community of peers; I received a positive response today to a request from one online community, so watch this space...

...in the meantime I'm going to be making progress on my PhD!

5.*: MUVE alternatives

Are Second Life's days numbered as the experimental base for formal education? The most recent SLENZ update suggests that they may - and provides a great list of alternative MUVEs that might provide a less proprietary future. Cobalt, an open source application, could be the way of the future...?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

5.*: Educating the Net Generation

I'll leave it to Net Gen Skeptic to provide the overview... A previous (2008) publication from Kennedy et al, "First year students' experiences with technology: Are they really digital natives?" is included in the draft of E-Primer 5 (coming soon). The fuller 2009 handbook "Educating the Net Generation: A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy" is available online in PDF format.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

1.4: It's all about flexibility and pedagogical progress

The latest ALT Fortnightly News includes a link to a UK market research presentation entitled "Examining e-learning in higher education: Perceptions and reality". Apparently the results were used in a Times Higher Education story headlined "Questions of cost and usefulness dog e-learning".

The comments on the article make better reading than the column itself; it is clear that the author put a very unusual spin on the research findings. The survey is actually focused on the use of lecture-capture technologies, a rather small part of 'e-learning' as a whole. Additionally, one thing that does come out very clearly in the survey is that e-learning is perceived as primarily providing a more flexible education. This is to be applauded. That e-learning is not seeing many lectures placed online is also to be applauded!

E-learning, 'pedagogy empowered by digital technology', is concerned with far more than making lectures available outside of class time. Indeed, using e-learning for an online lecture-repository lacks a certain imagination and pedagogical progressivism and betrays a class- or teacher-centric orientation. The survey correctly identified that e-learning is concerned with flexibility; it is also concerned with new ways of teaching and learning. Derek Rowntree, many of whose books adorn my distance education shelf, comments thus on the article:
Putting lectures online is scarcely e-learning. It's just a new way of delivering the old forms of mass communication. For e-learning to be worth bothering with it needs to be interactive: it may enable students to interact with learning materials, e.g. medical students may be diagnosing a patient, deciding on what tests to make, responding to the results given them from those tests, and so on. But effective, interactive e-learning is not dependent on materials and certainly does not require them to be presented online. Instead it can work by enabling students to engage in discussion with tutors and one another about what they are learning (even from materials presented in print) and to collaborate in carrying out group learning activities. By such means e-learning students may learn more from one another than they can in much of today's over-crowded face-to-face teaching.

Well said.

Friday, June 12, 2009

1.3.*; 5.*: Solid stuff on the future

The "Beyond Current Horizons" research programme was established to "examine how social and technological change overthe coming 20 or so years may present new challenges or opportunities for education". The Futurelab project has just released some interesting new insights into what the future may hold.

Usually I am skeptical of such reports, but there is a depth to the analysis in the "Beyond Current Horizons" work that stands it apart. The quality of the Expert Advisory Group demonstrates the level of expertise the project has drawn on, adding significant depth to the analysis and findings. The six proposed scenarios have not been merely brainstormed; rather, they have been carefully fashioned from the results of clearly documented evidence (over 60 papers written by experts, also available from the site).

The six potential futures (and their implications for education) are:

World 1: Trust yourself
  • Scenario 1: Informed choice - Learning is a bespoke, life-long journey that develops and builds upon your unique strengths. Educational providers work with you to tailor education to your needs.
  • Scenario 2: Independent consumers - Learning is an individual responsibility, educational providers are suppliers responsible for ensuring quality of delivery.

World 2: Loyalty points
  • Scenario 3: Discovery - Education helps you to understand and develop your capacity to make distinctive and useful contributions to a range of different communities, organisations and networks.
  • Scenario 4: Diagnosis - Education is about organisations diagnosing learners' pre-existing strengths and determining where they will fit in future.

World 3: Only connect
  • Scenario 5: Integrated experience - Learning is a process of participating in meaningful activities and developing competencies and knowledge to better contribute to the wider community.
  • Scenario 6: Service and citizenship - Education is a process of learning about the skills, competencies and roles that individuals play in the 'real world'.

The beauty of these scenarios is that they are realistic, discrete, and are not driven by any sense of technological determinism. There is plenty to muse on here, and plenty to study; the various papers I have scanned (such as "Learning to learn", "Digital natives and ostrich tactics?", "Reworking the web, reworking the world: How web 2.0 is changing our society", "Argumentation and dialogic teaching: Alternative pedagogies for a changing world") that inform the scenarios are all worthy of deep study in themselves. This study provides a good, substantial reference point that acknowledges the complexity of the issues involved as well as the fact that the future can often be anticipated but not pre-determined.

A must for anyone considering the potential futures of education wanting to engage with a serious consideration of the issues!

Monday, June 8, 2009

5.*: Mobile learning in higher education

An eBook, "New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning in higher education", is available online from the University of Wollongong. The introduction explains that
While mobile technologies such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and digital music players (mp3 players) have permeated popular culture, they have not found widespread acceptance as pedagogical tools in higher education.

The eBook contains various exemplars associated with the use of PDAs and MP3 players in higher education, based on a project at the University. The project case studies aim to demonstrate how 'ubiquitous' mobile devices can be "legitimately" used in higher education. The project provides the following recommendations for using mobile devices in higher education:

  1. Real world relevance: Use mobile learning in authentic contexts
  2. Mobile contexts: Use mobile learning in contexts where learners are mobile
  3. Explore: Provide time for exploration of mobile technologies
  4. Blended: Blend mobile and non mobile technologies
  5. Whenever: Use mobile learning spontaneously
  6. Wherever: Use mobile learning in non traditional learning spaces
  7. Whomsoever: Use mobile learning both individually and collaboratively
  8. Affordances: Exploit the affordances of mobile technologies
  9. Personalise: Employ the learners’ own mobile devices
  10. Mediation: Use mobile learning to mediate knowledge construction.
  11. Produse: Use mobile learning to produce and consume knowledge.
I'm not certain of the absolute value of the principles however in my view the report is a good summary of where m-learning is 'at'. I have difficulty in leaping from 'mobile devices are ubiquitous' through to PDAs being used as the basis for experimentation and case study; this highlights one of the difficulties with m-learning, that of diversity of device. A standard mobile phone is a far cry from a fully featured PDA, and it is the latter that tends to be the backbone for most m-learning case studies. So the ubiquity argument does not, in my view, provide a sound reason for using m-devices in higher education. Many of the educational benefits are also somewhat marginal, which, for me, reveals a tension between wanting to use the devices and needing to use them for educational purposes.

So, the report is a good contribution to m-learning... but the concept is still, in my view, mired by a need to honestly answer the question, so what? Evaluations of (yet more) case studies are not what is needed; objective, control-comparison research is what is most needed in the field of m-learning. There is plenty of enthusiasm and creativity already at play. Where is the research focussing on comparative learning outcomes, rather than student experiences? Until m-learning advocates are able to take a more objective, more self-critical, less exploratory and longer-term approach to m-learning, I trust that little real progress will be made for others to sit up and take notice of. For a start I suggest a change in methodology, away from the case studies and action research projects that dominate this field, more toward large-scale and cognitively comparable results.

Most of the cases I have reviewed for the next E-Primer have student samples of about ten, with provided PDA devices... hardly a representative or transferable set of studies. This is a real problem, one that will hinder the serious uptake of mobile devices in further education.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

4.3.2, 3.4.6: Social presence through MP3 recordings and online discourse

Robinson (2009) overviews a startlingly simple yet effective means of increasing social presence in formal education at a distance: recording interviews in MP3 format with experts (a "practicing professional" in Robinson's case), uploading the audio file to a virtual learning environment (VLE), and having the guest facilitate a two-week online discussion relating to the topic discussed.

Simple. And, as the results of Robinson's article in Open Learning (24:2, 127-139), effective.

Robinson proposes the approach as a viable one for a 'virtual residential school', essentially a replacement for block courses. Itis hard to be enthusiastic about this based on the survey results provided in the paper. Although the exercise was optional, the student survey results only permit a "tentative" (p.136) equivalency to a residential experience, and there was a high instance of lurkers. This aside, the pedagogical approach is commendable.

This paper highlights again that distance education need not compromise its place flexibility to be an effective means of education. The approach isn't rocket science, but it works. It's beauty is its simplicity and accessibility.

So, why the link to 4.3.2 (Social presence: the basis of community) and 3.4.6 (Topic design)?

Social presence is linked to community; Robinson (2009, p.128) mentions Hillery's (1955) identification of "locality and a sharing of common interests" as core aspects of community. If the VLE serves as the 'location', and if students are engaging in a discussion of mutual interest, then community can be said to exist. However Robinson also differentiates between 'community' and 'belonging', the latter requiring a psychological connection with the membership of community. This is an excellent differentiation; it is one thing to be 'in' a community, quite another to sense one's belonging to it. With this distinction, it could be said that online tutors ought to consider how to develop a sense of student belonging in a course, rather than establish community (which is rather automatic in Hillery's view). Robinson's article also finishes with a reminder that not all students are 'into' online community; some just want to get their qualification, without any fuss.

Why topic design? Well, the beautiful simplicity of what Robinson has proposed lends itself nicely to a 'supplemental resources' or 'interpersonal communication' approach to instrcutional design.

A timely reminder that simple yet thoughtful use of technology can engage students.

[Image "Universe of the floating Rocks: Rocket Launch Rock" Uploaded on March 2, 2009
by T.Oechsner]

4.4: A review of social learning theory and Web-Based Learning Environments

The latest American Journal of Distance Education features an article by Hill et al called "Social Learning Theory and Web-Based Learning Environments: A Review of Research and Discussion of Implications" (23:2, 88-103). The article concerns itself with formal, rather than informal settings (great to see the distinction being made in literature) and seems to assume engagement leading to community rather than the "must develop community first" emphasis that underlies other perspectives outlined in the E-Primer.

The paper follows a very useful structure relating to key variables, and their application:

  • Provide opportunities for creating and sharing in-depth messages
  • Enable support by more knowledgeable others
  • Encourage interaction by the instructor and peers
Group and class size
  • Monitor group size to enable support from more knowledgeable others (i.e., peers)
  • Monitor class size to enable consistent and engaged interaction
  • Encourage effective use of postings and other resources
  • Provide strategies to identify, interpret, and utilize resources

Culture and Community
  • Facilitate online interactions so they meet the needs of learners from a variety of cultures
  • Provide multiple formats for communication to meet differing cultural needs
  • Facilitate connection-building in small and large groups
  • Support collaborative activities

Learner Characteristics
Epistemological beliefs
  • Take into consideration reflective thinking abilities
  • Gain an understanding of epistemological beliefs of students to guide design
Individual learning styles
  • Gain an understanding of learning styles to guide design
  • Enable different levels of interaction to accommodate individual learning styles
  • Enable choice in interactions to minimize social anxiety
  • Promote self-regulated learning
  • Incorporate authentic activities
  • Send messages regularly to motivate learners

This is, in my view, an excellent overview of issues and a good structure for considering online discussion.

Mention is made of Angeli et al's (2000) 'starter' and 'wrapper' technique, one not mentioned in the E-Primer but one worthy of note here. The 'starter' is a nominated student who frames a discussion based on a particular reading, setting the scene for the online discussion to follow. The 'wrapper' is another student who provides an effective summary of the conversation once the exercise is completed. The 'starter' and 'wrapper' tend to respond deeply themselves, and as the technique is used across a course the overall level of interaction also increases. We use this technique successfully in one course at Laidlaw College, where a student will take on the role of both 'starter' and 'wrapper' for one particular topic of the overall course.

Another key lesson from the paper concerns the dangers of being too prescriptive when designing online discourse opportunities, which can stifle new ideas and rob motivation. There is a real tension here, one mentioned in section 4.1.1 of the E-Primer. The problem is that setting up an online topic that is too loose can result in a perception that the instructor is distant, and the conversation itself too unstructured. This tension also applies to the actual role of the online instructor, as stated in the E-Primer (p.43):
There is a tension, a balance, a restrained enthusiasm required for success in online instruction. Evidence suggests that instructors should err on the side of enthusiastic participation rather than absenteeism.

Modelling is also identified in the Hill et al article as a key success factor, and is mentioned in sections 4.5.3 and 4.5.4.

Overall the paper reinforces the accuracy of E-Primer 4, though the link to student's own epistemological beliefs and learning styles (see also previous entry) are both avenues worthy of further consideration.