Friday, 21 March 2008

enjoying tweetclouds

Hackneyed phrases and new and emerging hackneyed phrases

Recently I blogged a response to George Siemens' weariness of the concept of "Pedagogy first" and it made me ponder what I phrases feel weary of when I hear them. I find that these are particularly prolific in conference presentations, educational developer/learning technologist meetings and (increasingly) job interviews. Following George's example I'm going to endeavour that this doesn't become a rant but considers the "what lies beneath" of the hackneyed phrases.

1. "I'm looking forward to the day we can drop the 'e' and just talk about learning" usually followed by a mexican wave of nods around the room (and a sigh from me). To me this is a "so what" sort of comment, of course I recognise the sub-text of not treating e-learning as a novelty or needing special attention, but I personally think it is interesting enough to generate a rich seam of conversation in its own right - just before it starts to become ordinary something new and exciting come along to refresh thinking. This is not restricted to e-learning, I've also heard "let's stop talking about assessment/teaching/student support/transition and just talk about learning." Of course everything is a subset of learning but do we really want to just describe everything with one word and start every conversation with totality? Will that really advance our cause? Is it a good measure of impact? What's wrong with using language to shine a spotlight?

2. "technology is just another tool in the academic's toolkit that they may or maynot choose to use and I'm OK with that" this is usually an ed dev/learn tech comment and makes me want to ask a whole host of follow up questions - is technology one tool? in this day and age is there a legitimate opt out? in what circumstances might they choose not to use anything at all? and is it really OK to be OK with it? - where are the parallels? - would a librarian declare the same level of comfort if an academic opted out of using any information resources? I realise that I am going against conventional wisdom here, but I don't subscribe to the toolkit perspective. I think about living, learning, working in a digital age (in a world immersed in technology), I think about authenticity to discipline and/or professions, I think about the rich learning opportunities technology can offer and then I wonder in what context is it [yawn yawn] "just another tool"?

3. "technology is fine, but it isn't appropriate within my subject/discipline" obviously an academic comment (well, you know, ed dev/learn tech don't have the monopoly on hackney). I don't really have much to add to this one - its ??? is absolutely explicit. Is there really a subject or discipline in which learning cannot be enriched by thoughtful application of technology or that doesn't have a real world technology component worth embedding? If there is I haven't come across it yet, but if others have, please share...or (I like a challenge) suggest one and let's see if we can't prove/disprove this once and for all.

New and emerging hackneyed.... well "new and emerging" is probably a good candidate in itself, others might include "e-portfolios are the true personalised learning environments", "wikipedia is damaging students' ability to research", "we need to take learning to where the students are, Facebook, MySpace etc". The recent ELI Spring Focus Session with a focus on authenticity through "learning by doing or learning by thinking like.." offered a range of candidates for the coming soon "hackneys" (I even found myself trotting out a refreshed version of 1 above for which I am eternally sorry - "stop talking about them as students but as engineers, psychologists, nurses etc" - oh dear, oh dear) but for now, for the new and emerging ones, I'm not going to fret they are afterall not established yet and as long as they still offer opportunities for conversations and encourage everyone (whatever their role) to re-consider their practice to be more student-focused then I'll stick behind them for a while.

Your comments are most welcome on any of the above together with, if you wish, suggestions for phrases to put in the "Hackneyed Hall of Yawn"

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

ELI SFS: Authentic Critical Reflection: Critique_It in Second Life

Michael Connors (Uof Wisconsin-Maddison)

Digital Printmaking - student work exhibited in Second Life - aim to get critique from other students (and anyone else) across the world, virtual presentation before actually doing the final printing. Looks interesting, although the scanned logbook pages feels a little contrived (is this the easiest way to see the pages?) Keen to see the critique process - critique process have seven stages and is captured through a wiki so can use track back. (you'll need NMC membership to get to this)

Qus asked about students skill level/support for using SL - response that students don't find it that difficult and take to it quickly use NMC orientation island to get started.

Qus about whether it adds value beyond an exhibition website and wiki or a flickr site and discussion area

Few art Qus about size of originals, lighting, layout etc etc

Future plans for students to present portfolios and negotiate with galleries within SL - able to practice presenting themselves, explore different identities, get to work with "real world" (ie outside education) partners.

ELI SFS: Integrating Community History, Technology, and Service Learning: The Digital Durham Project

Trudi Abel (Duke)

fyi Community History is a big theme in the History subject group at SHU.

Students pulling together research project re community history to share with 8th grade students (similar to UoS English Lit dept work on kiddult fiction - worked particularly well because lots of the eng students were considering careers in teaching)

not much going on in this session - its good enough, but once you've got the concept (sentence above) you've got the concept... and the rest is, well you know, history.

the website is great, of course,

ELI SFS: Authentic Learning in History and Social Sciences: How "Real" Can We Make the Classroom Experience?

Scot French (U of Virginia)

Digital History project - the "old fashioned" way of presenting the student research projects was for students to develop websites (combination of digitised primary sources and student essays)
+ves - intro to rich archival holdings, collaboration, peer review, student work "published" for use by others - frequently used by others and for local researchers
-ves - access and preservation, little (or nil) interaction with professional historians

New version - partnership with cultural institutions, think like their real world partners who are "doing history" and learn new tools - strong point (as yesterday) of how the partners value the students' contributions. "Thinking like teachers" - as expected, we need to get more of this "thinking like..." into our SHU terminology (alongside learning per sq ft)

Useful resource link from the chat stream

Sample student video

Sample resource built re Jefferson's visit to UK in 1786 - collaboration between tutors, real world experts and student projects artefacts - check out Jefferson's mail (one student's project) - run the time line - click on an envelope - go on, you know you want to...

+ves: more sustained engagement with real world partners, high expectations, positive feedback from prospective partners
-ves: mixed results from students (some students didn't use their imagination, less reflection), partners reluctant to use sgc on their official sites (what a shame), no formal participation by partners in the assessment

Really good session - only small class size (approx 10) but could be transferable if group projects

Carie Windham post to chat "A good discussion about student motivation -- as a student, I think I fell into that, "Just give me the facts" mentality but really loved those courses that forced me to engage. Might have been stressful at the time but, in retrospect, that's when I really felt "alive" "

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

ELI SFS: Capturing the essence of the session so far:

Session resources from first day at:

ELI SFS: The New Virtual Field Trip: A Perspective from NC State's Entomology Bug World

North Carolina State

a NC farm built within ActiveWorld (it's got a very big barn).

Favourite chat quote "virtual walking is a real waste of time" discuss.

..actually this triggered quite a flurry of chat discussion culminating in "Actually walking is quite useful since there is some spatial mapping that occurs automatically that one can leverage to content learning"

ELI SFS: Using Computer-Simulated Case-Based Scenarios to Improve Learning

David Segal (Central Florida)

MyCaseSpace - a tool for diagnosing illnesses (I think) - small case study, differential diagnostics, additional information, medical history, physical exam, lab tests etc - of course very subject specific, but quite impressive (no cartoon in sight) - question again about maintenance and sustainability. Ask expert for help and all info linked to medical database. Score of performance on each of the stages.

Visual decision map for feedback and performance interesting (sorry screen grab so not the best - click on image to get a better look)

and then the words that make my heart sink: "I've built this myself for my own students and it runs from a SQL server"...just stopped short of - "under my desk". 15 minutes to develop/build a case. This is a really interesting tool but "enthusiast-dependent" and "high-tech staff member".

Keen to work with any participants to beta test/develop further.

Now here are a couple of interesting comments from the chat:
"This is a little unusual course development. You seem like a lone ranger with no collaborators, no other expert reviewers of your cases, no other technical assistance. Can you speak to how we might model your efforts in our institutions?"

"What kind of budget is involved in the creation of an application such as this, and did you face any obstacles in obtaining funding from your institution?"

His experience shows that the students respond disproportionately better to human avatars/photos rather than cartoons - find cartoons funny, unrealistics and don't have empathy with "patient" - so don't find it realistic/authentic. We should tell this to.....

As previous will add link to presentation when available

ELI SFS: Logistics

as part of the acrobat interface there's an on screen voting tool which looks interesting - but mostly intrigued by the choices for the intro "where are you logging in from?" question - Home, University, Starbucks, Other !

hmmm - more on the little quiz - you can see the totals dynamically updating and you can see that people are still prone to crowd following - of course, with this audience they are drawn to the "unlikely" answers which of course turn out to be the actual answers - success dependent upon writing good mcqs (no surprise there then)

online seminars very dependent on presenter skill of keeping track of all the different elements(and their level/speed of connectivity)

ELI SFS: Making Learning Real: Turning Sim City into "Sim Science"!

Diane Jass Ketelhut (Temple University)
Starting with a poll: When was this statement made: "If we are in earnest about universal education, we must...recognize that our education succeeds just to the extent that we make it focus upon the real activities of life?"
scroll right of this sentence for answer: Answer 1895

Not going to take copious notes as slides will be available after the event, what is most interesting as always are the side channels - fellow tweeters trying to find each other when tweet id not used, chat is full of questions about how chat works and, of course, the quality of the sound. An online session could do with a longer intro session to get past some of this stuff before the first keynote.

Demo of Chris Dede's River City - seen before, but it is interesting, and students like it "I felt like a scientist for the first time" - always wonder about maintenance and sustainability when I see it. It can look a bit like a "traditional" multimedia package designed to look like SL.

An interesting comment in the "chat" from U of Colorado: "I polled 500 university business students about using SL and the overwhelming majority did not want to use it - didn't want to learn yet another tool." What do you think about that statement?

Assessing student learning - methods of assessing change in the VE with assessment within the environment - River City - still use on online test but when compared to in situ assessment (eg letter to the mayor) no correlation between performance on each.

Now take a look at this comment in the chat: "I was at a conference last week where a private college had established a counseling center on SL- they actuall had a interactive tissue box for those encounters between counselor and client where tears flow. They are considering using the new tool in Sl that actually changes the facial expressions. This was a distance learning course for counselors in various locations in the US and globally." What do you think about it?

ELI Spring Session - Discussion questions

As part of the Spring Session, here are some starter questions for on-campus discussion, anyone want to provide some perspectives on any of these. (please include the Qu in your comment):

  1. Considering the needs of our students and the demands of the workforce, what key skills should we try to develop through the use of authentic activities?
  2. How can we adequately gauge the types of activities that students want in the classroom? Are there ways to solicit advice from our students?
  3. When working with faculty to implement authentic learning experiences, what key concerns should be addressed?
  4. When considering the implementation of an authentic activity, what partners should be brought into the initial planning process?
  5. Considering those partners—and potential roadblocks ahead—what key questions should we address during the planning process?
  6. How can we help faculty move past their initial fears when considering these activities? What arguments support the use of authentic activities in class?
  7. What does assessment look like in an authentic environment? What needs to be taken into consideration?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Pedagogy first? Whatever....and yes! whenever

Following a recent 140 character chat, George Siemens seems to have finally tired of the platitude "pedagogy first" (although in fairness 140 characters do lend themselves to platitudes). Also (and again to be fair, he didn't have a problem with using platitudes at all but the content of this particular one) To see what he thought check out his blog post Pedagogy first? Whatever

I admit I felt a bit attacked by the post, as I am firmly in the "pedagogy first" camp and had declared such in one of my 140 characters, but mostly I welcomed the opportunity to have the discussion and debate. But where to engage in the debate - as a tweet (bound to be over simple - 1-4-0-issue), as a comment on his blog (right location but moderated, and reluctant to start with a negative when I more frequently agree with his posts than disagree - hmmm), on my own blog (why? well why not? and mostly cos this is where I need to think aloud). So my comment submitted to his blog is produced below too, would welcome comments of others on this.

An interesting post. I agree with much more of it than I disagree but I would still put forward a case to support the notion of "pedagogy first" or at the very least "pedagogy at all". Of course there is a lot more going on in any curriculum design/development decision than pedagogy alone...but hopefully it is in the mix and preferably at the begining of the mix. There are lots of other factors and context is as good a word for it as anything, it needs to be a holistic decision, and there are a number of instances where ease, efficiency, flexibility, convenience, skill levels are prevailing factors and that's fine but what a shame to miss an opportunity to discuss pedagogy in the planning. Seven or eight years ago there was lots of talk about "pedagogy by stealth" around learning technologies - by enthusing staff about technology it was an opportunity to discuss and explore their curriculum design, pedagogical models and, often most important of all, assessment strategies. With early adopters and technology enthusiasts (the ones for example likely to give teaching in SL a go) this is less of an issue, but for a lot of staff they look for the "pedagogy first" conversation to reassure them that this isn't about using students as guinea pigs, having their best interests at heart (and yes instructional designers use it exactly as you suggest - as some kind of entry fee - "please let me talk to you, I'm not just going to push technology at you like a travelling salesman"). Also in my experience, often the "pedagogy first" conversations are rarely about sticking with what we know or are comfortable with, technology opens doors to new pedagogical opportunities and some of the best conversations start with the staff member declaring "I can't use technology, it doesn't fit with my own pedagogical model"...

I absolutely agree that there are lot more factors than pedagogy when deciding what technology to use and they can be frustratingly chicken and egg decisions - for example if we want our students to use SL then we have to offer SL access on-campus (as a point of principle) and of course the technical people who need to be convinced that it is worth their while to do the work (and around we go). On the other hand, we have a small number staff who love a tool which is pedagogically interesting but can be confusing to students and expensive to administer. The decisions here are certainly not "pedagogy first". How about I propose a complementary consideration - it may not be pedagogy first in all decisions about what technology to use, but it ought to be pedagogy first when considering how technology is applied to a learning context but not about the pedagogical safezone about pedagogic opportunity. We need to think bigger and when there are opportunities for students to learn better we should not confine ourselves to learning differently.

[Then I spent some time contemplating the whole moderated comment approach to blog admin - and concluding that is not really my bag.]

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Future of student learning

All UK HEIs have to do a Corporate Plan for the funding council (a strategic document that sets direction for next five years). Please forgive the corporate language a necessary element of the piece. Here are some things we are kicking around in our drafting group comments/ observations welcome - Does it reach as high enough, too high, too tame, too jargony, ???

Firstly sometimes the most basic assertions can be the most powerful:
Students are our core business. Enhancing the student experience, with learning and teaching at its heart, is the foremost strategic priority of the new Corporate Plan.

What might it look like:
Engaging with the learning process
Learning opportunities are most effective when they are authentic to the relevant discipline or profession, underpinned by research and requiring active engagement by students. Wherever possible the curriculum design should encourage social and collaborative learning, recognising the importance of the cohort/course experience and the opportunity to learn, not just with, but from peers. The learning experience should be rich and distinctive, providing students with opportunities to engage in the process of enquiry and participate in a vibrant academic community.

Becoming effective learners
Successful study in higher education is primarily about engaging with learning and scholarship. Students will be supported to develop the skills and attributes of learner autonomy and digital fluency that enable them to engage actively and creatively with their learning. The University's pioneering learning centres serve students' needs, delivering access to books, journals and online information sources. The University will continue to respond to the changing balance between information sources providing a rich range of resources in a variety printed and electronic formats.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

My twitter experiment

Last year I dipped my toe into twitter (well OK, I signed up, posted a message and then didn't know what to do next) - fast forward six months and I attended ELI in San Antonio and twitter was everywhere. This time I play the role of lurker watching the conversations as they unfolded although I didn't get really into it until it was almost too late. I loved the way it created an added sense of community to the event (even for lurkers like me) and I definitely got an extra multi-dimensional experience of the event (although the twitter around the final keynote was an interesting departure into mob-culture that felt uncomfortable looking in).

My conclusion about twitter at that time - great accompaniment to a large event or community gathering, definitely enabling participants to get more out of the event than the straight non-twitter version, but not something you could do during normal life - that would just be a bit weird, wouldn't it!?

Fast forward again a couple of weeks and I have a week of self-managed time (some scheduled time to think/read/write) and I decide to give this twitter thing another try. I had a nagging doubt about my original assessment - perhaps if you make an effort to get involved you get something more out of it that I might anticipate. So, I passed my 100 tweets today (one of the benchmarks I set myself for concluding my "experiment" ....the other benchmark being just getting bored with it) and I think it is time to reflect on what I know now that I didn't know a couple of weeks ago.

Firstly, and most importantly, let me be clear - I'm totally hooked! I love it, I love the community and I definitely get something from it that was unanticipated - so the end of my experiment just means I move into doing it for real from now on.

So what did I learn?

Yes, you need to put some effort in, you need to make a conscious effort to try to post regularly - advice from a good friend and experienced twitterer @bryanalexander helped with this.

You need to actively build your network, you're invisible at first (although in some ways that feeling can linger - more later), so I used the twitter blocks and looked at who people I followed spoke to/shared with and tried to add them. Of course I added a few people I knew in real life (or had met sometimes only briefly/heard speak at conferences) - opportunities to sustain the connection over a longer period of time is such a bonus (I often feel that conferences, even the very best of them, are charaterised by a series of snatched conversations without the opportunity to discuss in depth)

The community is very generous in sharing resources - it can be hard to keep track of all the things shared but it has definitely given me access to (or reminded me to access) some really interesting thoughts of others. Particularly as many of my twitterii are in the US and so regularly accessing different resources from our usual haunts. I also enjoyed following other people's participation in events - I managed to piggy-back a few great sessions that there is no way I could have attend thanks to @cmduke.

Some people have way more interesting lives than me (and get to do way more interesting stuff at work), but then again one of the things I love about twitter is the mixture of styles, comments, approaches etc - I enjoy (obviously) the US elections discussion, I like the fact I know what the weather is like in Vermont both of these thanks to @bgblogging, what @jpostonday keeps in her basement and that @GardnerCampbell students are looking in to say "hi". Not to mention that I know what @ginsoak gets in the post before she even gets to work. There are such a diverse group and all bringing something interesting and extra to my life (but I don't want this to sound like an oscar speech so I'll stop now).

It can be a bit weird when you reply to someone you don't know and get silence a bit like the "who is she and why is she talking to me" party moment. Some people talk to each other (a lot and only to each other - more like IMing) and you feel very much like you're eavesdropping (v strange feeling). I felt obliged to add a photo in case people I followed knew me by sight - but that meant using that horrible photo as it is the only one I have :-( Will sort it out soon, I promise.

For work (which can often get a bit corporate, implementation driven and "managed", thus making a community of "like-minded" people even more important to me) it gives me rich, diverse observations and thoughts that are prompting in me more thoughts, some lateral thinking and even actions!! @intellagirl asked in her blog/podcast recently "how to reach past the converted" who are using these tools, well perhaps it is in the scatter-network - certainly I am convinced that my engagement with twitter (and therefore my continued interest in the discussion of experts) has influenced contributions I have made to the drafting and discussions around developing our institution's Corporate Plan (a five year business plan required by UK funding council of all HEIs) - this is not, in general, going to the read by the "converted" but the connections are being made!