Tuesday, 14 December 2010

There's blended learning and there's blended learning!

Wow, it's been ages since I blogged. Certainly, I've been busy (and ill) over the last few weeks but I need to keep in mind the value of this process.

Blended learning has lots of different definitions. In addition, there are the different balances struck between the face-to-face elements and the online elements. I've reflected previously (in Promoting Distance) about the different attitude with which students approach blended vs purely online learning. Here, I will examine how the structure of the course can have an impact on this.

I'll give you two scenarios in my higher education context:

1. The course begins with a face-to-face day or two - often the preferred term here is residential. The course is explained, the course begins, participant get to know eachother and bonds are formed. Importantly, the online environment is introduced with a hands on practice if necessary. More importantly, the educator can (and should) show commitment to facilitation of any communication/collaboration online activities. The rest of the course is taught online with perhaps another face-to-face event at the end of the course. So the only organised way students can interact or collaborate on the content is by engaging in the online activities.
2. The course consists of 8 face-to-face days that occur on a weekly basis. Between these days online activities are run. Each face-to-face session delivers the core content. The online activities build on this after each session or prepare them for a session.

There are various points to make about these two models of blended learning. Firstly, the latter is far more common. The reasons for this are wide-ranging but high up on this list is the fact that fundamental learning design issues are set up almost out of habit. Rooms are booked, sessions are numbered, this is how teaching happens. Afterwards, there is a vague notion and directive from some policy about e-learning. A Learning Technologist is consulted (sometimes) only for the functionality of a couple of interactive tools (usually the discussion board) and that box is ticked. As a result, even if the tutors are committed and diligent in their e-facilitation of the online element there are tumbleweeds blowing across the online forums. Let’s think why? There’s a clear message about the primacy of face-to-face. The online aspect feels and is subservient to this. You couple this with a blended learning student’s natural inclination to think this way anyway (see Promoting Distance) and you are left with what is essentially a face-to-face course.

Compare this with the first example. The key point is that at certain points the learning from a particular subject is delivered online ONLY. In this example, it’s most of the course. This makes is easier for the students to get used to this idea and just run with it. Give a student in 2010 the alternative and face-to-face wins most of the time (in my context anyway). Take away this choice and there might be a bit of grumbling but they soon get on with it.

Another crucial weakness of the second example is lack of time for the online activities to take place. There’s a conflict between the need to think in terms of time periods online and sessions lasting a few hours in face-to-face. If the face-to-face sessions are sorted out first, it’s common for an online discussion to last only a few days. Just as they get going they stop. So for effective blended learning to occur you want careful spacing in the learning design. This is easily achieved if each mode is given equal status in the planning.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Examining the lecture

Quite often the lecture finds itself under attack from people involved with learning technology. This is mainly because the lecture is often associated with rigidly didactic teaching and a lot of e-learning people have a constructivist pedagogical stance. I can see where this is coming from but I don't think it's necessarily the right way to go. The main problem is that a good lecture is an inspirational, high quality learning event. An event which doesn't stick to the powerpoint stereotype. Implicit in what I've just said is the notion that bad quality lecturing means a purely didactic pedagogy. I draw this out because I realise that this is a value judgment I am taking that some may not agree with. But this is not just a pedagogical stance, there is very little learning design in reading off the content of your subject matter. By designing in group and individual problem solving or discussion activities shows that the educator has thought about their teaching and their learners at least to some degree. So, in a simplistic way, I'm saying that part of the problem with a purely didactic lecture is the fact that it requires no learning design beyond a mastery and expression of the subject matter.

But does less effort necessarily mean less quality? It's not clear cut. My experiences of what makes a good lecture involve a mixture of both the delivery of content and the discussion of content in some form. However, I know student who prefer extremes of each with those that prefer blanket presentations in the majority.

One of the unanswered questions is exactly how much of current HE teaching is presentation only? I suspect it's a lot, but I don't know. Where can I find evidence of this? And even if I can find this out... so what? Others may say why is this bad?

There are more questions than answers when I reflect on this issue. I guess my conclusion would be to be against bad quality lectures (or bad e-learning for that matter) but what defines bad quality is up for discussion.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

One reason why Pedagogy doesn't always drive the technology

I've been reflecting on the relationship of technology in teaching and learning and pedagogy. It's right to have a strong link. It's right for the technology to have a pedagogical purpose, an identifiable reason for it's use which fits in with the pedagogy of the teaching and learning. The reality-check here is that (quite understandably) many educators' pedagogical knowledge is tacit or unconscious. All educators have natural leanings towards different pedagogies even if they don't know the particular many syllabled word. Also, there is often not the time to design the teaching and learning to such an extent so that the pedagogy is explicitly stated and identified.

Saying that the starting point is the pedagogy (in relation to technology) is correct. However, hand on heart do all educators start with the pedagogy? I'm not so sure. I think they start with the content, designing a lesson comes second and sometimes a distant and poor second. So where the pedagogy isn't really thought through, it's difficult to associate technology to something that isn't really there.

The context of the message about pedagogy and technology is often motivated by the desire to ensure that we are technology led. This is right and important. But if you are wondering why this utopian ideal isn't working, then part of the reason isn't evil technologists pushing technologies onto education. It's because knowledge and awareness of pedagogy isn't what it should be. There are a variety of reasons for this which I'm not totally clued up on. I'm just reflection on what I experience.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Proactive or reactive - the learning technology choice

How best to create an environment where educators feel comfortable and willing to embrace the use of technology in education is what my job is all about. There are various strategies you can employ. It's very easy to focus on the process of the particular project you are working on. So you prepare the environment (usually a VLE), show the tools, make sure everyone knows how to work the thing and look after the technical running of the space. It's important you do this for sure, but there are often larger issues that need to be addressed and it's important to establish yourself as a contributor to design, startegy and policy where this is coherent with other strategic areas of your organisation. This is difficult and messy and often fraught with problem and setbacks but it's necessary and the right thing to do. People in learning technology should not just be about processes. It can feel like tech support and, for the educator, this is exactly what you are.

I guess it boils down to a choice between whether you want to be proactive in your promotion of learning technologies or reactive. I like to be in the proactive camp but sometimes this is a hard stance to sustain for a variety of reason. One sad footnote is that there are often not enough people or enough time to be truly proactive.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Promoting Distance

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change journal

Recently I have arrived at the opinion that developing a viable distance learning offering is the way to go for Higher Education. Much of the e-learning I've been involved in has concentrated on developing blended learning where there was previous just face-to-face. This is largely like banging your head against a brick wall. This policy is often seen as a safer, less ambitious step along the learning technologies route. THIS IS WRONG!! It's wrong because most of the time the educators and the students don't really want to use technology. They'll do a bit for admin but for learning, no way. It's a face-to-face course. Why tamper with it. I am of the opinion that this is misguided but it's not a battle worth fighting (for now). Fighting this resentment is unnecessary. The most important point is that the participants have signed up a face-to-face experience. Some might not mind adding a bit of technology but it shouldn't take over. Shoe-horning e-learning into an already designed course is like swimming upstream with half the people not knowing how to swim. These metaphors aren't great but the sense is right.

Pushing to develop a number of quality distance learning offerings is, I think, the way forward. Certainly, for any educational institution is a way of seperating you from the competition. I don't there's enough market research in this area but I am convinced there are more and more people out there who can't attend face-to-face but still want to study. With distance learning, the learning is only delivered online. Therefore, the students will engage. They have no choice. But feeling towards this mode of learning is largely eradicated past the the few couple of weeks. For this to work in HE, you need entire MAs offered online, not just one or two modules. This way the market you want can be tapped into to. It's pointless having the odd module online. If a student can attend one module face-to-face, the chances are he/she can, and will want to, attend the others face-to-face. The main problem we face with promoting distance learning is convincing academic to teach in this way. Unfortunately, I fear this problem is underestimated. There's also the issue of whether to run it in parallel with the face-to-face. What about the capacity for this? It's a bold move - one that is hard to take.

I'm pleased and excited that the Institute of Education (my place of work) is pushing the distance learning agenda and working towards increasing what we offer at a distance - we're using the term "Open Mode" (which I like). It's the first step on an important journey in an uncertain time for HE.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Time and Space for learning design

A mantra you often here with regard to technology in education is designing the learning first and then using the best medium to deliver this learning be it technological or not. Clarence Fisher puts this better:

"We cannot choose tools and then find ways to use them. We must consider the skills and abilities that we want our students to have and then choose the paths to help them get there."

Of course, I agree with this and I think I've said so on this blog many times. The gap comes with the fact that many educators simply don't know what tools are available and what they can be used for. I am often surprised by how seemingly established online tools have not penetrated into the real world of education.

One relevant issue here is the problem of allowing our educators the time and the space to think about their teaching. The profile of this activity isn't high enough. If it was, showcase events of new tools would occur as a matter of course; pedagogical discussion and debate in relation to such tools would be standard. Instead, such activity is anecdotal and the domain of the enthusiastic few.

My observation, therefore, concerning the above quote is that it applies only to a utopian educational system. I'm not saying learning design doesn't happen, but it's our system is not designed to accomodate assimilating new tools into our teaching and learning. Such tools therefore go unnoticed and become subject to misinformation and misinterpretation.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Formal/Informal learning

It's been a while since I last blogged. This is mainly due to getting married and going on honeymoon. A welcome distraction from my Learning Technology Learning.

Recently I've found myself reading more academic articles than blogs. I aimed to catch up with my blog reading but it's been enlightening to gain some academic perspectives. Overall, blog reading is easier. It fits in with my informal learning ethos and lends itself to the extraction of ideas which I can then weave together as I reflect. Academic article reading is hard but rewarding. Hopefully I can achieve a good balance of learning from both in the future.

A recent bit of learning has been around formal learning on reading the paper Theories of formal and informal learning in the world of web 2.0 by Charles Crook (2008). He says:

"It is the act of deliberate teaching that ‘formalises’ learning. But deliberate teaching is complemented by deliberate learning. Ideally, both parties in the
educational contract have a degree of this intent – albeit not equally well or equally enthusiastically developed."

It is easy to bash formal education but the above reminds us that, in essence, its a wonderful thing. It's about deliberately engendering learning and this should be celebrated. So what's the place of informal learning? I promote informal learning because I know how powerful it can be and I would disagree with the notion that the only "proper" learning is done through formal education. Where it's good quality a formal course is the best and easiest way of accelerate your learning in a certain subject. But such instances are not always available when, and where, you want them. This is where informal learning comes into play. It's take a certain skillset and mindset to do it effectively but these can be learned. And certainly from my perspective, technology is fundamental to being able to realise it.

The above quote hints that motivation isn't always there with formal learning. Essentially in schools, we are forcing people to learn whether they want to or not. Or, at least, we are trying to. Informal learning only exists where there is motivation to learn. But if we took away formal education I'm not so sure that everyone would jump into doing it themselves enthusiastically. The learner control aspect is often mooted is a big plus the informal learning and that this can aid with learners who are disenfranchised from formal education. Here there is a clear role for informal learning and what we need are processes and support mechanism in place to help learner get started.

Friday, 13 August 2010

In Learning Design, Pedagogy First, Medium Second

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

It's common to hear the argument "we need to use social media in learning because that what the kids are doing." This position has merit but there's a lot that's packed into statement and this can sometimees cause confusion. The sentiment is correct in that there is a desire to engage with school age students on their terms. However, often this gets wrapped up in intentions for more learner centred and collaborative pedagogical stances. That's fine (if that's what you want), but it's important to make a distinction between the medium and the pedagogy. Although the affordance of social media to clearly towards to collaborative.

It's also interesting that this statement is often tied in with increasing the engagement of learners who are not engaged. It's almost like we are saying "let's speak their language." Again, this has merit. But it's important to understand that this is part of a bigger picture. Choosing the right communication channel is important if it will mean greater chance of validity with a particular group of learners. However, this will only take you so far. What most important is good learning design. Take your pedagogical stance, design the learning, and choose the mediums to deliver this learning appropriately. If you are taking a participatory or collaborative stance this could well involve internet based tools. I won't go further on this track as I've been this road before.

What I will say is that it's easier to talk in terms of communication channels. Teenager are communicating through facebook because they can. We now have additional communication channels. These supplement what we had before - talking, telephone, email. They allow people to be in contact in times and places where they couldn't before. We should be interested in using such channels for learning. Expressing the issue in this way takes the edge of statement: "we need to use it because they are using it". It also takes it away from merging it with the pedagogical debates.

Overall, I think it's useful to seperate the tool you use to deliver the learning away from the learning design process. Starting with the medium in mind is dangerous in that it can determine how you teach.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Acquisition or Participation

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

When you think about the various options for using technology in teaching and learning there is a stark contrast between those that come from the Web 2.0 movement which are often free/easy to use; and those that come from the commercial software companies - expensive and often cumbersome. Overall, you can also draw a pedagogical dividing line between these two areas - acquisition or participation.

Acquisition is all about preserving what we have, transmitting the knowledge in the way we have done in formal education. I'm talking here about web conferencing system, Learner Management Systems (I mean the core products not the added on interactive stuff), Lecture capture systems. They are complex, bandwidth heavy and are usually accompanied by a manual or require expensive training and support.

Participation is about... well participation, collaboration, knowledge construction, all that stuff. The tools to achieve these are usually stand-alone, free, easy to use, graphically impressive, and have build in communities of support to draw on.

I wonder why this is. Perhaps it's because commercial companies know they can make money from building a product that fulfills what the customer wants rather than what some people think they should want; it might be that it's more natural to make a tool about communication and collaboration online than it is to build something that is all about preserving the face-to-face lecture, it's certainly easier.

Whatever the reason, it feels from where I'm sitting that acquisition stuff is made the priority. No matter what it costs we want technologies to preserve what we do already. Ok, there is all this collaborative stuff but we can think about later once I get my head around this LMS control panel!

I'm simplifying things of course. The divide isn't that stark and in reality you need a combination of both. What's interesting is that if ever we want evidence for the dominant pedagogical model we only need to look at how we are using technology. Despite all the affordances for collaboration and communication it's the transmission we want it for.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Word Cloud of this blog

I did a wordle of this blog which is now sitting on the front page. There are no real surprises. Learning is the biggest word which makes sense. I always intended this blog to be about my learning so I use this word in this context and in the context of using technology for learning. Technologies is second which is an obvious dominant theme. The important point for me is that when thinking about technology in education thinking about the learning should always come first. Any technology is there to act as an appropriate communication tool through which the learning can take place. It's all about informed decision making when it comes to choosing the right tool (be it online, offline, face-to-face etc). This is where educators need help. Making an informed decision is hindered by lack of training, training that concentrates too much on how to use a technology or a pedagogical model, and not having the time and space to undertake reflection and course design.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Accelerated learning

It feels like the last few weeks I have experienced accelerated learning. This is mainly because I've had to create a lot of bespoke content for consultancy work lately. In many ways, this is the most rewarding work activity I have. I love to create and in my subject area I feel like I often have a blank canvas on which to draw together my experiences and knowledge. The creation process is about getting the message right - which is about broaching the subject at the right level - the subject being using technology in education.

I've always been a big picture kind of guy and recently I've been bolder in talking about the big picture with clients. This is vital and will never teach again without some reference to this topic. The big picture is basically about how the reality of the educator changes when delivering learning at a distance or through blended learning. When addressing nervous and disorientated educators this is good place to start because it shows empathy with their situation. In addition, I run through the basic arguments for using learning technologies. This is important because it forces them to reflect on why their company or educational institution is going down this road. The answer to the "why" question often gets lost. I also ask "how ready are you to teach using technology?" It's a good way of teasing out the problem areas and tenor of the group.

Much of what I offer to the educational world is still about giving people an opportunity to practice using different types of internet based tools which they may not have encountered and discussing their potential for teaching and learning. Where I feel confident of value is that much of what I see out there is either too technical or too pedagogical. I try to find the middle ground in an attempt to always be relevant.

This sounds like a sale pitch but it's written for me to help articulate my thoughts.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Levels of learning

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

I'm doing a lot of consultancy this month in various contexts under various titles designated by my clients. These include etutoring and master class in blended learning. The latter of these is good for my ego but is perhaps a bit grandiose. The content is never exactly the same as different emphasis is required with changing contexts. As long as my overall message is the same I am happy.

Titling is an issue I need to get to grips with. I haven't hit upon a one that I'm fantastically happy with. I've been using Web2.0Learning a lot but I don't want to be totally web 2.0 tool focused and the content often reflects this now. One important development has been that I've introduced a section which broaches the subject of practical issues surrounding teaching at a distance or blended. I find that there's a black hole of practical issues that don't get accounted for. Educators either get taught how to use a technology or something on the pedagogy - so more theoretical stuff. The praciticalities get left behind. Recently, I've been shoehorning in content which covers the reality of what changes in the life of an educator and organising oneself is so important. It's all pretty logical stuff but important nonetheless. I will reflect here on how things go in a few week.

What I wanted to record here today is how valuable the creative process is for me. What I learn through social media and my experiences at work get reflected on in this blog. I'm lucky that when called upon to deliver a consultancy session it involved crystallising my thinking from this learning for a public audience. It feels like a two stage process - writing down my thought forces me to clarify my thinking (and that's the first level of learning) whereas designing and delivering a session crystallises it even further (this is the second level of learning). I guess the third level is analysing the respective success or failure of the output!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Spreading the word

This year, more by luck than judgement, I've started doing consultancy in the broad field of e-learning. I hope to continue and grow this strand of my work. It's good to bring money into the IOE and it's really rewarding to construct and deliver something myself. The variety is interesting and challenging. As I teach in the various setting I am gradually seeing the wood from the trees in how best to structure what I do.

The first thing to say that it's hard - very hard. The first challenge is knowing what the client wants. Usually it's about wanting their trainers/educators to know how to teach online. To approach it the right way, you have to get a feel for the culture of the organisation and the context of the proposed use of learning technologies. This is vital so that what you say is relevant. I have always been heavy on the practical. I've come from a job where showing VLE navigation and usability was a core task and explaining things clearly is a skill that I have. The first few days were very Web 2.0 tool dominated. This worked well but I now feel there is a need to balance it more with pedagogical discussion and practical considerations.

I've been reflecting on my teaching style and, although there has been a lot of hands-on using the technologies sessions, my style is pretty didactic. I prepare slides to talk around and, although I invite discussion, I don't programme in much group discussion time. This will change in the future. I guess this is partly confidence but it's also a desire to practice what I preach. There's no point banging on about the evils of didactic dominance if I don't practice a more participatory pedagogy myself.

What's exciting about this type of work is the lack of precedence. There is no established right way of doing this. Making sense of technology for education is relatively new and companies are looking for someone to come in and give them some answers. So my job is to give a balanced, informative picture based on my experience of working with learning technologies in Higher Education and all the learning I do here and in the blogosphere. Interestingly, it's the latter of these elements that is often the most valuable.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Conversational Framework - why I like it

When imparting the message of learning technologies, I am often asked to fulfil a more practical role than I would like. There are many reasons for this. One is my inclination to steer clear of models. I have an almost subconscious feeling that in the real world your average educator won't be interested in some complicated diagram that takes ages to understand. Maybe this reflects the lack of time/lack of value we have in education for learning design in general. Models are supposed to help with this process but if you don't value or the system doesn't value the process then they serve no purpose.

However, I've been reflecting that perhaps it's irresponsible to ignore and not promote aids to the adoption of learning technologies that are also often aids to learning design in general.

The conversational framework has emerged for me as the most useful for my context as someone promoting the use of learning technologies. It's pretty comprehensive and seems to sum up the situation pretty well whilst giving a useful checklist to the educator.

What's important to realise is that that many model seems to involve taking a pedagogical stance. I'm happy to do this but it's not always an easy sell for others if they don't agree or don't really know what pedagogy their teaching philosophy fits in with. This is where the converstaional framework is good because, by catering, for a great variety of all different teaching and learning methods it not championing one pedagogical stance over another. Instead it caters for the key elements of a number of different ones. It also seems to have a logical inclusion of every common sense and established way of teaching and learning. I guess to be receptive to the conversational framework you just have to agree that including all these thing in teaching is a good idea. Not many would disagree.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Balancing theory and practice in e-learning advice

Recently I've been involved in a project where I seem to have assumed the role of balancing theory and practice in the context of the design and delivery of educational use of learning technologies. It's not surprising that my natural tendencies have let me to fulfil more of the practical side of things rather than the theoretical pedagogical. This is partly because this is where my skills mainly lie although I am developing my pedagogical knowledge (what I call the academic underpinning). But it's also partly because I think this is the area that can often get lost where theory gets overplayed. In a course situation, you need that balance as there is a tendency to concentrate on the theory without allowing the participants the time and space to play with the various tools. In one-to-one consultation with educators approaching learning technologies from scratch you need a bias towards the practical. This may seem wrong but here's why:

I work in an academic culture where teaching is part of what the researchers do. You would think that such people would be minded to treat the use of learning technologies in an action researcher capacity (in the way put forward by Laurillard, 2008). But they don't. Teaching and the design of their teaching isn't something that your average HE academic will approach by reading about the pedagogical underpinnings or recent research into this or that use of a particular tool. They are more likely to ask their colleague what they used and what for (if anything). This is not criticism of them. It's a reflection on the culture surrounding all teaching I think.

In this regard, I would always advocate a practical approach when advising people about using learning technologies in their teaching. Using the phrase "this tool lends itself to..." is better than "this tool has the technological affordance of..." which in turn is better than "the pedagogical underpinning of this tool is..."

When I say better I mean in the context of talking to a sceptical, slightly negative academic who has been told to talk to you about this e-learning "thing".

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Taking the ego out of education

There are a number of barriers when it comes to approaching the tricky subject of converting an existing face-to-face course to being purely online. I want to concentrate in this post on what motivate thes teacher/educator to do the job they do. I touched on this in my post from last Nov – Lecture Your Way to Stardom where I put the case that, for some, the performance involved in teaching has a certain appeal. I raise this point again because I think it’s often an unspoken aspect of the teaching profession. Changing the mode of delivery from face-to-face to online (using whatever technology) has an emotion bite to it that is often underplayed and I think part of this is that the teacher doesn’t get to “perform” in the traditional sense of the word.

Or at least that is the perception. Whatever pedagogical stance you take, the educator has a vital, fundamentally important role to play. For me, there is no threat to the subject expert in formal education whatever the future holds. Online, there is ample opportunity to be the centre of attention, to perform. It may feel different but it’s there.

But why is this important? It’s important because I have a hunch, a strong hunch that many educators like the sound of their own voice, they like getting up and being the centre of attention. This is especially true if you’re good at it. Learning technologies are a threat to this position. But education should be about what’s best for the learners not the educators. We need to take the ego out of education!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Making sense of e-learning strategy

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

It's very common for the message to get confused or diluted when you try to introduce and encourage the use of learning technologies/VLEs into the Higher Education world. The main reason for this is that the message is inherently confusing. Ask two people tasked with encouraging their use and you'll get two different answers. There isn't a dominant reasoning across the sector. I have mine, but I know it's at odds with what others say. For me, there is a belief in collaborative pedagogies over the transformative/didactic mode. The learning is simply better, the teaching is simply better and the resulting graduate is a person better equipped to keep learning throughout their career. The problem with this is that I can't prove it and it would be fruitless to try. I just believe it and certainly it's true for my learning.

I'm not convinced that many of those who are prevalent deliverers of lectures with little or no interaction necessarily believe that this is the best way - although certainly there are some. It's just that lecturing and passive learning are, in the short run, the easiest options for both faculty and students. It's just easier, take less effort. They prepare the content and just speak it. I tweeted the other day "If you don’t ask questions, learners aren’t doing anything. Lots of questions, variety of questions." to advertise the blog post Key Steps to Preparing Great Synchronous Interactions. I don't think it's as stark as that but the sentiment is true.

Back to the confusing message. The pedagogy argument is difficult to make and obviously confrontational. Far easier to talk in terms of efficiency saving and money saving. So this is often where we end up and, for many, this is all we should legitimately seek to use learning technologies for. On this path, the result is often a simple case of e-administration.

So you have these two schools of thought. But what often happens is a illogical blending of the two. It doesn't work and it doesn't make any sense. One challenges the status quo, the other enforces it. They don't fit together. It's a tough one when you think about it because by exposing this tension I make my job harder. On the other hand, I'm not doing my job properly if I don't. And on a third hand, who am I to try and influence pedagogy!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Casual community building

Casual community building is something that I've encountered a lot over the years. Often people come to me wanting help in starting something online where a particular group of people can exchange views and share resources. Now this is a core activity of social media and one that can work well in a work related special interest group. However, mostly they end up being empty spaces of little or no activity, sometimes after great expense and frustration.

I've been reflecting on the issues behind this after reading Don't blame the technology on the excellent Learning Journey blog. The following extract rings true with me:

Sometimes I hear people saying: “I created a blog, but no one joined in”. Or “ I have just set up this network site…seemed to go well at first as some people joined, but now no one is doing anything in there”.

My first reaction is to ask, why did you set it up in the first place? What was the purpose? The answer usually is: for people to come together… to create the community! That’s fantastic…but then as we analyse the situation a bit further I am usually tempted to ask if they intend ‘to join the communal activity’ too or if their role was just to offer the space?!!! It always puzzles me!

What I still see most often is individuals creating a space in the hope it will just take off by itself – as if people would adhere to their brilliant ideas for no reason. The fact is that there isn’t lack of brilliant ideas in this world… we all think we have them! Creating spaces for people to congregate is definitely one of them…(we are always complaining about the lack of opportunity to network and share stuff, or that we don’t know what other people are doing and how much we would benefit from it… so it must be a terrific idea…!) but what makes brilliant ideas materialize in something really meaningful is the effort we ourselves put into it for it to develop and grow coherently.

The most important point here is the issue of devoting time yourself to the endeavour. It's something that nearly always isn't thought through or put into action and is the biggest single factor affecting community participation. Without a driving force, no social network or online community will take off. It doesn't matter how appropriate the space is to the needs of the group - it won't run by itself.

Unfortunately, I can predict all too easily whether such an online space will work or not and it's sad when people have spent time, effort and sometimes money setting something up only for it to fail. Even with this time and effort, there is no guarantee that a particular group of people will engage with it as there are a miraid of other factors to take into consideration. But it's safe to say without it there is no chance.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Teaching with technology isn't easy to arrange

It's been a while since I posted to this blog. Largely, this is due to moving house and not having the internet until today but also things have been more hectic than usual at my work. It would be impossible to capture all the learning I've been doing here but an important teaching experience I had recently need attention on this blog.

I guess the biggest challenge I faced recently was delivering a session where the working title I got was Delivering Content with technology. It was an important learning experience and one that deserves reflection here.

I'm working as part of a team charged with teaching all things e-learning to a particular set of trainers. Delivering half of the first day, my aim was not to challenge their pedagogy but showing tools (Web 2.0 or otherwise) which allows them to present content in different ways to the norm of powerpoint slides and talking.

As with other similiar teaching I've done, the preparation centred around what to include and what to leave out. This involves updating myself in what's out there and making informed decisions on where to focus my attention. What's important is giving the right context and provide intensive and reasoning to take any alternative provided seriously. As always, there's a bit of soft-sell marketing to be done. This might seem wrong but it's a fact of life with Learning Technologies. One of the things I showed prezi and that went down well especially as we could do some practical work on this. The other big winner was screencasting where Jing was demonstrated, unfortunately we couldn't do anything practical with this. So that it wasn't just showing different tools, I used the excellent Onlignment document Media Chemistry which presents checklists of pros and cons for each media element. This provided context for the session.

As well as the content, the other major learning point was all the issues around negotiating the room setup and equipment/software availability. Knowing exactly what I can and can't do it vital for teaching of the kind I do and it's always a challenge in a new venue getting what you want. To some extent, the quality gets diluted when you can't do what you want and I need to think about how best to deal with this. Certainly, when you try to do anything requiring audio devices and software installation things get complicated very quickly.

The important issue thing about this isn't that you often have/don't have a particular bit of equipments or software but that most training facilities aren't set up for using learning technologies in anything more than a symbolic way. This symbol often takes the form of a computer room - mostly kept locked and hidden away and usable in special, carefully controlled sessions. They are viewed more like a security risk rather than a learning aid. I think this is generalisable statement for much of education and shows we are still, as a sector, missing the point.

Largely, this particular experience was a positive one. It's always tough when we got to a new facility and teach to a new audience as you are never quite sure what to expect. But this is part of the challenge.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Social Media doesn't threaten literacy!

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

You can read a lot about the threat of new media to literacy and the printed word. Harold Jarche blog post Literacies is an example. Often there is a link made between an ability to engage in deep and meaningful understanding and learning and reading large bodies of text. Or rather, a link between an inability to do this with the fast-pace of linking between different media in the Web 2.0 world. Well, I just don't buy this. In fact it's rubbish.

Firstly, literate doesn't just mean reading large bodies of text, you can be literate in a number of diffrerent communication tools. Not just the one that dominated by necessity being the only means of mass media distribution available for a while. Now the oral tradition is making a comeback and I have no real problem with that. It's the way it was done before books were on the scene and its still the dominant way in many non-western societies who can now take advantage of what's on offer. Also, text literacy isn't threatened by social media it's enhanced by it. Facebook and messaging forced teenagers to use words and sentences for their communication where previously it was only speaking (I never wrote a letter to a friend when I was a teenager). Ok, it's short but what the matter with that. I'm more in line with Negroponte on this issue. He says:

"Reading and writing are going to be around forever. The word is not going to go away and collecting words into bodies of thought is not going to go away." and

"There is no question that words are powerful, that they always have been and always will be … But just as we seldom carve words in rocks these days, we will probably not print many of them on paper for binding tomorrow."

Let's not confuse reading with publishing. Publishers want reading to be synonymous with books. But it doesn't have to be this way and it really isn't now.

The ability to quickly reference, aggregation, annotate and manipulate text is a massive, massive plus for learning and understanding. It can be done and was done in the old way but not by nearly enough as we'd care to admit to ourselves. Often the book champions are avid readers. What about those that don't read much. Surely, engaging in social media is plus for them. There exposure to words goes up drastically. Now the conditions for learning (admittedly only in computer rich societies) are far more desirable. Thinking about how I learn, I like printing and noting, but I also like RSS, online note-taking, bookmarking, and blogging. There things are fundamental. These things facilitate my learning and democratise it for all. The single biggest factor in helping the quality of my literacy is this blog (please don't comment on my grammar, it's improved a lot)!

The biggest barrier to this is learning how to learn this way and an obstacle in the way of this is the negative light social media is painted in.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Ebook readers/Ipad for education?

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

I'm doing a project on Ebook readers at the moment and it's led me to follow closely the advent of the iPad and the ebook reader developments. My interest is the potential impact on education. At the moment, the contest is in the commercial/entertainment market. Once things settle down education will be looked at. From what I've been studying, you can't just give students and educators an ebook reader as it is right now and expect it to transfer across to education successfully. Looking at it just from a book replication point of view it has to, at least, perform the tasks students need from any text well and efficiently. Principle amongst these is taking notes and flicking back and forth through the pages. It seems that, at the moment, Kindle and co. don't do the annotation and navigation well enough for the devices to sell themselves in an educational context. This is crucial because, for learning, you have to be able to personalise the resource in some way and, for the classic textbook, this is done by scribbling in the margin, underlining, highlighting. A recent pilot programme using ebook readers showing these issues is discussed in the article Highlighting E-Readers by Steve Kolowich.

Alongside this, you have the easy sell of the storage saving and long term cost saving together with the environmental plus point. This last issue is a complicated one but I come down on the plus side largely because of the article Ebook readers greener than books, study says by Martin LaMonica. However, I've heard some awful things about the black market that exists around the disposal of old hardware.

When the time comes for educational use, the selling point be with the textbook. The classic ebook reader will not challenge the didactic pedagogy and therefore has a chance of success - as long as it can be seen to do what is done already better. The biggest obstacle in the way of this will be publishers jockeying for position to control this market. It's annoying but inevitable.

Now to the ipad. One impact will be making Kindle look horribly out of date. Even though they are not doing exactly the same things, they look and seem comparable and the ebook reader pales by comparison. I suggest Kindle sorts out it's web browsing and lack of colour pretty damn quickly! Looking out of date shouldn't matter, but this is always a valid bullet point when you approach the whole issue of e-learning and "connecting with the kids." Still this is the important point. What's important is the impact it will have on mobile learning in general. Yes, e-reading can occur, but being a suitable, valid, legitimate devices to house to house mobile learning could be its biggest legacy. It's far too early to say but my instinct tell me so.

When it comes to pedagogy, whereas the ebook reader will reinforced the didactic, the ipad would challenge it by offering such a vast array of features and media options any educator who teaches with one would be foolish not to explore what's available.

Now I know none of this will happen any time soon. But the potential is there. Having said that the potential is there to do a lot of things with technology and it doesn't happen, but you know that right.

Friday, 26 March 2010

New Personal Knowledge Management

I've been reading a lot about Personal Knowledge Management and Personal Learning Environments recently and I've recently made some changes to my PKM which I thought I'd share in this space.

Previously, I learnt mostly from reading the blogs. I tagged them in google reader for reference and, every do often, I would blog myself here to reflect on what I was learning. This has worked fine but there are two things which I'm not happy about:

- I've found my blogging to be a little sporadic and random at times.
- Tagging doesn't often result in much reference afterwards

A few weeks ago I discovered the awesome highlighter. Immediately, I incorporated this into my daily practice. Now, as well as tagging in google reader, if I read something I like I use the awesome highlighter to highlight the best bits. Then, every few days, I revisit what I've highlighted and tweet the best bits. I can tag things as well which is useful. This is a whole extra layer of reviewing and sharing. A whole extra layer of learning which didn't previously exist. The final stage is the blogging. My plan is to blog about what I was tweeting now that I am doing this regularly. I feel that there will be value in looking at my twitter stream and reflect on themes or key tweets. As I haven't done this, I can't say for certain how valuable this will be. However, if I can do this regularly then my blogging will also become more regular.

What's been excellent so far has been the ability to mine the best bits of the blog posts I read. Usually, there is a sentence or a phrase that really sticks out. Now through highlighting and twitter I am able get right to these gems - regularly.

If you have been here before and find value in reading this blog, I would suggest you follow my twitter account - TomPreskett.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Real Openness

I took a lot from David Wiley's post on Openness. He outlines what openness represents at the moment and where it should be:

For over a decade, openness in education has been an adjective describing educational artifacts.

Open content, open educational resources, open courseware, and open textbooks all mean teaching materials that are shared with everyone, for free, with permission to engage in the 4R activities.

The 4Rs are reuse, redistribute, revise, remix. Openness is about overcoming your inner two-year-old who constantly screams, “Mine! Openness reminds us of what we knew intuitively before society gave us permission to act monstrously toward one another.

What is the appropriate role of openness in education?
The question is deeply insidious. The question implies that openness might play any of several roles in the educational enterprise. The question distracts people from seeing that openness is the sole means by which education is affected, and that education is inherently an enterprise of generosity, sharing, and giving.
we see technology being turned against it potential and made to conceal and withhold. For example, a course management system like Blackboard theoretically has the potential to greatly improve educators’ capacity to share. But instead CMSs takes the approach of hiding educational materials behind passwords and regularly deleting all the student-contributed content in a course. If Facebook worked like Blackboard, every 15 weeks it would delete all your friends, delete all your photographs, unsubscribe you from all your groups, etc.

Education finds itself using radical new technology in backwards ways, reinforcing those outdated ways of thinking with law and institutional policy, and unable to satisfy rapidly increasing popular demand.

Education has to some degree lost its way; forgotten its identity. We’ve allowed ourselves and our institutions to be led away from our core value of openness – away from generosity, sharing, and giving, and toward selfishness, concealment, and withholding. To the degree that we have deserted openness, learning has suffered.

The spirit of teaching is openness; sharing your knowledge, guiding the learner and hopefully teaching how to be a good learner. But we made learning a commodity; something that can be packages and sold. This is actually one big trick. Learning can be done by anyone at any time and now this is easier than ever before. The threat to formal education is this packaged, controlled, guarded and expensive world is being challenged by the very notion teaching was founded on - openness and the instinct to share. If institutions continue to scream "Mine!" Then, ultimately they will suffer.

Brain changing technology

I found some interesting quotes about the impact of digital media on our brains. Oppenheimer paints a negative picture:

My concern with this digital media is that it’s such short attention span stuff that they get bored. It’s what I call instant gratification education, a thought comes to you, you pursue it, you see a web site you click on it. You want to hear music while your studying you do it. All this bifurcates the brain and keeps it from pursuing one linear thought and teaches you that you should be able to have every urge answered the minute the urge occurs (Todd Oppenheimer, Author, The Flickering Mind).

I don't see it like this at all. Having lines of thought answered or satisfied instantly is a good thing. We'd have always done this if it were possible. And why is linear necessarily good. Life isn't linear, life is complex and every-changing. The learner needs to learn this way and cope with it. Why learn for a world that doesn't exist. I don't see this as a barrier to deep and meaningful thinking. On the contrary, we now have better tools to do the job properly.

So I prefer this quote:

There was always gains and losses … when print replaced aural culture, when writing happened there was certainly things we lost, one of them was memory. You think of the Homeric poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Homeric singers could produce thousands of lines of poetry out of their own memory. We’re not good at that any more because print took it away. Is it a loss? Sure. And to a certain extend getting people to be contemplative and a little bit slower; not to multi-task all of the time, paying avid attention over a long period of time to a certain extend might be lost. But that’s the price of gain. (James Paul Gee, Arizona State University)

Sure, I'd like a better memory and if we are naturally less adapt at this then it's a shame. But memory can be improved if you really want to. The important different is that we have greater opportunities to realise different pedagogies in an increasing number of ways. We are changing who we are for the better. Interestingly, the aural culture which was replaced by printing can now make a resurgence thanks to the ease with which podcasting/videoing can be done.

The point is that this is a problem that we as human beings have coped with throughout most of the 20th century and into the 21st century and the good news is we survived it. As a culture we learned how to adapt to it … so we are seeing this period of evolution and at the end of the day we’re better off as a society if we go at this with a sense of open mindedness and exploration. (Henry Jenkins, University of Southern California)

This is spot on - open mindedness and exploration.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Stock and Flow

I'm always interested in new ways of describing things to perhaps give greater clarity.

Stock and flow by Lee Lefever (mentioned in Harold Jarche's blog) is a way of describing digital media contrasts the products or finished entities of stock with the interaction and communication of flow. YOu need flow for context, flow for the learning conversation. Jarche characterises Open Education Resources as the stock. For the flow, you need the teacher.

Thinking about the current predicament of Higher Education, fighting against the openness, fighting against the freedom and the knocking down of the walls. Its useful to show that having open content need not destroy everything they own of value. The message is very clear:

If you teach well, then it is of value to learn within your institution.
If you present content and call it teaching, then it is not.
If there is only stock - get some flow.

Unfortunately, I can't see myself talking about stock and flow in my Higher Education institution. It wouldn't work.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Dealing with Information Overload

George Seimens elearning space blog is good because it's always short and sweet. Like this one:

Obviously, any tool or innovation that permits increased connectivity between information and people will not result in a dumbing down of humanity. Initially, there will be (or currently is) a period of feeling overwhelmed and distracted. That’s an incidental effect of increased access to creation and consumption tools. Information abundance has been a key concern of humanity for centuries. First we need the content and conversation connections. Then we devise strategies and methods to prune and make sense of the chaos.

People construct a reality for themselves where they are comfortable based on the options available. When you suddenly have way more options things get disorientating; things get confusing; and, above all, things get annoying. In education most people are annoying by the new possibilities. To become less annoyed they first need to understand and then learn how to assimilate and utilize this new world, for themselves and for teaching and learning. This is huge! This is a big challenge. But it's also a natural process which I hope to contribute to speeding up.

Web 2.0 Description

I had to record here this description of Web 2.0 I found by the great George Seimens

Saying web 2.0 is easier than saying “the means by which we alter the existing mindset in computing from centralized broadcast services subject to hierarchical authority structures to open, distributed, read/write methods that permit end-point users to contribute to and even direct conversations and content through social and technological networks”.

My main attraction to the concept of Web 2.0 is what it represents and what it can teach us about how we can evolve education. I guess I'm hoping the evolution from broadcast to collaboration on the web is mirrored in education.

"Innovating the 21st-Century University: It’s Time!" - Tapscott D and Williams A, D (2010) Review

Originally published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

I've read and re-read Innovating the 21st-Century University: It’s Time! by Tapscott D and Williams A, D (2010) published within Educause to try and absorb it's key messages.

What I'll do here is quote some of the key messages and make comments:

Universities are losing their grip on higher learning as the Internet is, inexorably, becoming the dominant infrastructure for knowledge — both as a container and as a global platform for knowledge exchange between people — and as a new generation of students requires a very different model of higher education.
The important point here is that the internet has taken away the power of the monopoly of information away from all the previous custodians. Universities are one example. This has to be a good thing for learners and learning. If it's bad for the educational institutions in their current model then they have to change.

We need to toss out the old industrial model of pedagogy (how learning is accomplished) and replace it with a new model called collaborative learning.
This is an argument often made (particularly in educause). I've often talked about how it's really all about pedagogy not the technology. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement but the debate is very difficult to have and even more difficult to win. Firstly, because of the "no significant difference" argument, i.e. it's impossible to win a pedagogical argument. Also, in my institution (and I suspect elsewhere) there is no didactic mantra and code of conduct that everyone lives by. Sure, it's the default style but there are instances of collaboration, discussion, groupwork etc in many places. The point here is that much of higher education can make a case for innovative, collaborative pedagogy already existing if the need arises. So a "model of collaborative learning" would be difficult to implement not least because a "model of broadcast learning" doesn't officially exist. There are many other barriers but this is important.

With technology, it is now possible to embrace new collaboration models that change the paradigm in more fundamental ways... this represents a change in the relationship between students and teachers in the learning process.
This relates to the previous point and there's lots more like this which reads like a advert for collaborative pedagogy. I agree with it but there's not much to add.

We like the direction of Vest's thinking. For universities to succeed, we believe they need to cooperate to launch what we call the Global Network for Higher Learning. This network would have five stages or levels: (1) course content exchange; (2) course content collaboration; (3) course content co-innovation; (4) knowledge co-creation; and (5) collaborative learning connection
The main point of this article proposes this Global Network for Higher Learning. The stages are pretty self-explanatory. I'm not sure they really need 5 stages.

The lowest level in the Global Network for Higher Learning is simple content exchange: colleges and universities post their educational materials online, putting into the commons what would have traditionally been viewed as cherished and closely held intellectual property. MIT pioneered the concept with its OpenCourseWare initiative (http://ocw.mit.edu), and today more than 200 institutions of higher learning have followed suit.
This is the first stage. I've includes this to mention how far away we are from making this a reality. In the UK, we have the Open University and tiny, tiny amounts of a couple other institutions. As everything in this model flows from the free exchange of content it's hard to see how such an system could get off the ground. You would need a big sea change for it to be considered. Realistically, consortiums could spring up making a mini-networks. Consortiums set up for survival. The end result could act like a regional network and snowball from there.

What higher education desperately needs is a social network — a Facebook for faculty. But it shouldn't be a standalone application; it should be integral to the Global Network for Higher Learning.
My initial reaction to this was "no way". But we've seen how quickly such networks can explode. Perhaps an education only network is the answer and a valuable plank in this idea. At the moment, informal learning happens in an infinite variety of places (e.g. the blogosphere) but for formal education a truly collaborative communication platform is mouth-watering and I guess the obvious opposite of the closed VLE discussion boards.

Why not allow a brilliant ninth-grade student to take first-year college math, without abandoning the social life of his or her high school? Why not encourage a foreign student majoring in math to take a high school English course? Why is the university the unit of measurement when it comes to branding a degree? In fact, in a networked world, why should a student have to assign his or her "enrollment" to a given institution, akin to declaring loyalty to some feudal fiefdom?
I have mixed feeling about this but they have a point. At the moment, you go where your subject is strong. Is there enough of a need for variety to demand a piece from here, there and everywhere? This challenge the whole notion of a degree in one subject in favour of a variety of different one. I'm not sure this is really an issue. Certainly, all the identify that you are supposed to have with one institution is challenged in the Global Network.

Next-generation faculty will create a context whereby students from around the world can participate in online discussions, forums, and wikis to discover, learn, and produce knowledge as networked individuals and collectively.
I guess the logistics of this worry me. How will this happen? Who will look after it? Certainly, a global network will caters for all HE is far fetched. But an initially small scale one which gradually gathers pace could happen.

As the model of pedagogy is challenged, inevitably the revenue model of universities will be too. If all that the large research universities have to offer to students are lectures that students can get online for free, from other professors, why should those students pay the tuition fees, especially if third-party testers will provide certificates, diplomas, and even degrees? If institutions want to survive the arrival of free, university-level education online, they need to change the way professors and students interact on campus.
I think current survival is based on this generation of learners not quite being able to tap into what's out there and the quality and quantity of what's out there not quite being enough. This will change and it will be shock when it hits. I'm been saying this in my place for a while now.

Many will argue: "But what about credentials? As long as the universities can grant degrees, their supremacy will never be challenged." This is myopic thinking. The value of a credential and even the prestige of a university are rooted in its effectiveness as a learning institution. If these institutions are shown to be inferior to alternative learning environments, their capacity to credential will surely diminish.
Credentials is an area which I've seen argued as a area HE can effectively focus on in the future. This paragraph threatens this notion in an interesting way. Certainly, reputation is vital in this world and it's true of HE as much as anything else.

As part of this, the academic journal should be disintermediated and the textbook industry eliminated. In fact, the word textbook is an oxymoron today. Content should be multimedia — not just text. Content should be networked and hyperlinked bits — not atoms. Moreover, interactive courseware — not separate "books" — should be used to present this content to students, constituting a platform for every subject, across disciplines, among institutions, and around the world.
Some of this stuff is almost apocolyptic! I'm not totally on board with this. Yes, ebook readers will have an impact on how text is presented, structured and mixed in with multimedia but there will always be a place of text and books of text.

In this structure, students would enroll with their "primary" institution, which would handle the disbursement of their tuition fees depending on what other courses they study. The value of, say, a second-year psychology course at Stanford would be determined by market forces, not by some central bureaucracy.
This is key to the global network and feel like a utopian ideal fraught with danger. Still, I like the message it sends to the learner - "whether you like it or not you're in charge of your learning."

If universities are to become institutions whose primary goal is the learning by students, not faculty, then the incentive systems will need to change. Tenure should be granted for teaching excellence and not just for a publishing record.

The analogy is not the newspaper business, which has been weakened by the distribution of knowledge on the Internet, he notes. "We're more like health care. We're challenged by obstructive, non-market-based business models. We're also burdened by a sense that doctor knows best, or professor knows best."
The article finishes with some interesting statements about the reasons nothing changes.

A powerful force to change the university is the students. And sparks are flying today. A huge generational clash is emerging in our institutions. The critiques of the university from fifteen years ago were ideas in waiting — waiting for the new web and for a new generation of students who could effectively challenge the old model.
Ultimately, the change will come from the students. Government talk about e-learning without really understanding what's going on but the students will demand this pedagogy. What we need is a clear choice. The model proposed here is a second stage structure. Initially what we need is a good HE example where all that's best about Learning Technologies is embraced. Someone needs to stick there head above the water to give the students a clear choice. After that market forces will take care of the rest.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Communicate not Broadcast

This is going to be my new mantra. Following on from my previous post, this is my message to staff in my place of work - the Institute of Education, University of London. I want colleagues to see the VLE as a place to communicate and not broadcast. Or communicate as well as broadcast. If you don't like the communication tools within our VLE, I can help you look elsewhere. But all this follows from the principle of wanting to communicate with your students and not just disseminate information.

I think this applies across education, and indeed businesses. This may be different way of approaching things to my normal "use the learning tools as part of your learning design" but it amounts to the same thing and it might be more successful.

Anyway, now to practice what I preach.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Learning Technologies promote conversation

I stumbled upon How Managers Learn by Good Practice for Leaders and Managers. Although aimed at businesses rather than education there is one very interesting finding that's obvious when you think about it:

The most-used as well as the most effective informal learning method was: informal chats with colleagues... Conversations carry news, create meaning, foster cooperation, and spark innovation.

The excellent Harold Jarche observed

There are many great tools and technologies to facilitate conversation... but the key is having a culture of conversation.

Think about education, think about the pedagogy. Facilitating conversation is really what social media is all about; it's what a lot of Web 2.0 of all about; it's what many learning technologies try to do. Maybe describing things in this manner will be useful when describing (sorry selling) learning technologies in my work context. The more I think about it, the more I believe it. It's difficult not to reveal a bias towards the active/communicative pedagogies as a natural consequence of being a Learning Technologist (at least for me anyway). The problem with this is that it's open to question/debate particularly in the academic world I inhabit and rightly so. For some reason, it seems less controversial and more valid to talk about things in terms of promoting conversation. Even though it's feels more facile and too simplistic.

Anyway, this feels quite powerful and I can here myself saying it and hear it sounding ok.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


I delivered a new training event for the first time on Wednesday. I called it Web2.0Learning - Using Web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning . The aim is to teach educators about the principles of Web 2.0 and get them using some tools. The idea is sound and I had bits of content that I was going to use. However, it has been a challenge creating it from scratch. A much larger challenge than I anticipated.

It was ok sorting out what I wanted to say about Web 2.0 and education and VLE and all that interesting stuff. But when it comes to a hands-on session involving Web 2.0 tools, the practicalities and logistics bring their own challenges. Firstly, you have to decide which tools you want to showcase. This is hard. I had a day or actually 5:30 of teaching time. So it's a question of what do you leave out and why is one tool better than another. I had a principle of only showing one instance of any particular type of tool but it's difficult to be sure you are showing the right one. I don't profess to be familiar with everything (it's impossible) but if you are going to do something of this nature you have a duty to be up to date and clear why you are showing one thing over the other. I'll need to upskill in this area as I probably made a couple of wrong choices. Overall, I'm happy with what I put together but there was a lot of learning having delivered it.

For the delivery, I was in an unfamiliar ICT setting and largely, things went smoothly. However, when you are working with a variety of different tools with different requirements you are likely to come up against some problems if you in an educational setting with all their blockage and rights issues. The learning here was to check thoroughly beforehand what they have and what you need. I thought I'd done this but had assumed some basics (like audio) which I shouldn't have. In a session like this, when the technology fails you are stuffed. Luckily, if it failed for one tools it was ok for others. Also, there's always a couple of machine which don't work properly - it's the law!

For those that are interested, here are my session titles:

What is Web 2.0?/How does this fit?
Imagination Cubed
Finding Web 2.0 tools for education

If anyone wants to know which sessions went well and which didn't go so well and for what reason then make a comment and I'll let you know (I don't want to do a massively long post here).

What's important is that I did a surveymonkey at the end where I gathered views on their attraction to the types of tools on offer. The more I do of this the better so that I can get a feel for what educators want and are interested in.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Mapping Web 2.0 tools onto Higher Education

I wanted to post something that got back to the purpose of this blog - my learning experience. So I thought I'd reflect on what happened last week and how my thinking moved on. Here at the Institute of Education (an HE college in the UK) academic individuals are more inclined to seek my help than previously. Mostly this is to do with increasing financial pressures which mean that distance learning is a logical way to tap into overseas and long distance markets. I think this is true of HE everywhere. So what I need to do is make sure that what I say to them is at the right level and steer them in the right direction with the result being good quality use of learning technologies. If we end up offering something substandard then it's better not to do anything at all.

Broadly, I want to give educators the understand of the pedagogical values behind any particular tool and the skills to use it. My first thoughts were to present to colleagues my vision of Web 2.0 and hope they could interpret this and map onto their own learning design. I created a voicethread on the subject and a prezi which give some examples of tools that fits within these categories and could be of use within education. I thought that this could be my opening move which gives the big picture from which I could then focus on different areas.

However, in presenting this to be few people, it became clear that I needed to simplify things. I need to speak the language of an HE academic trying to grapple with learning technologies. To do this, I need to stop focusing so much on Web 2.0 and its ethos and get straight to the tools themselves, mapping their use onto the practical consideration of a typical educator in my context. To this end, I created this prezi. Essentially, my previous concept maps were too big with too much information so I've simplified this. Also, people no longer have to understand Web 2.0 and its ethos at the same time as seeing a number of tool names to which they are unfamiliar. Instead, they just see the tools and which activity of their learning design it fits in with. So now there is only one layer of newness instead of two. The next step will be to create a voicethread to get some audio onto this and to start showing people the tools.

You will notice from the prezi that each category includes the relevant blackboard tools. What I'm not doing is getting educators to shun our VLE. However, if there's an outside tool that does a job that the VLE doesn't, or does it much better - we should be tapping into that. I'm not sure that this a majority viewpoint but it's certainly mine.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Value Learning Design not E-learning Design

Originally published in the Educational Technology & Change Journal.

I've been reflecting over the last few days on common questions I get asked as I go about my job as a Learning Technologist. Questions like "I don't have time to think about this" or "why should I use this?" come up a lot. It's clear to me now that a key skill in my role is to be able to respond to these questions effectively, in such a way as to cause the questioners to rethink their position and begin in open up to a new viewpoint. I can tell you now that this isn't easy. Here are some pointers:

- In my education context, the worst thing you can do is throw blame around. Talk about "what we need to do" rather than "it's terrible that we don't do."

- Another important point is don't just talk about the technology. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, in education in 2010 understanding of learning technology is low, so talking about technologies they don't have any experience of and don't know anything about is confusing and off-putting. Also, you want to be talking about processes and value they understand and can relate to. Further, it should always be about how the technologies fit into the bigger picture and it you just bang on about the ICT it's feel alien to their world.

- I also like to stress the the possible incorporating of learning technologies is an element of the learning design process. So, as an organisation, the key is to value learning design; to value giving time and space to reflect and think about how you teach. The potential use of learning technologies is part of this process in the sense that they exist as tools in the toolbox from which you pick and choose. I spoke about the tools in the toolbox metaphor a few days ago. Valuing learning design is key and it comes from the educators themselves and the management of organisations. So the subtle difference here is that you are NOT pushing e-learning because it ticks a box that needs to be ticked, but you ARE promoting good teaching and learning by engendering a culture of giving time and space to reflect on learning design.

- Yes, there is learning to be done. But I think a good quality educator should be prepared to continually learn and adapt. Learning and adapting is an important part of living.

- The change isn't so drastic. Learning online isn't different to learning offline. Learning is the same as it's been forever. Learning strategies may change as we have more options (more tools) but the end result is the same thing you have always been asked to deliver. All you need to do is understand how to work the new tools and, more importantly, understand the values behind each one.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Web 2.0/Social Media overview

I've created a presentation which gives an overview of Web 2.0/Social Media and framed within the structure I introduced in the post Structuring Web 2.0. I haven't been creating presentations in this way for long so my technique needs a bit of work.

Anyway, I thought I'd share it here:

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Tools in the toolbox

Tools in the toolbox is a phrase I use a lot when I talk about learning technologies. The basic message I want to get across is that there's no imperative to use these new tools but you should at least know about them. I've been mulling over whether I can stretch this metaphor.

If you have a toolbox (which I don't really) I would guess that you would want to know how all the tools work. For any DIY job you don't necessarily need to use all the tools but you can make an informed decision about which tool to use if you know how they all work or at least what they are and what they do. As time goes by new tools come out and you have to adapt because that's how life works. Often new tools perform the same functions as the old tools so they act as alternatives. So learning about new tools is a fact of life. For education the toolbox is the toolbox for learnign design and the tools are the ways the educator can deliver the learning.

I will probably soften this slightly if ever I voice this metaphor so that it's less threatening but I think the bulk of this could be a useful way of explaining where learning technologies fit into education.