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.