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Friday, November 14th 2008

7:00 AM

This is broken

This morning I was asked to register for a couple of events, being run by my own section. I assumed I was going to both as I am involved in the organisation of one and I was told to participate in the other. But, like so many of us I am busy, and did not know I needed to register for either event. Having just finished teaching eMarketing this semester, I was reminded of one of the questions I asked my students about the shortcomings of 'Automation'. So much online can be automated it is easy to forget we are just people sometimes. Being the good, conscientious employee I am though I complied. I went to our web page and perused the menu. Home, About IPOL, Leadership and Professional Development, Higher Education Development, Research Development, Development Directory, Resources, News & Events, Other UB contacts and Contact Us. Where was the button for Conference registration? Perhaps News and Events? No. Or perhaps Higher Education Development? No. By a process of elimination I found the right button (Development Directory). In time I expect people will learn that to register for an IPOL event that is the button to push, but it is not intuitive, it is in fact broken.

From an eLearning point of view I am constantly told - 'the students should know how to do it' - the reality is they often don't. Intuitive design, clear explanations, ability to ask questions, all of these things are critical in an online environment. Online automation of processes such as registration for events is useful, but it also needs to be complimented with traditional marketing and a personal touch.

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Wednesday, November 5th 2008

10:38 AM

Face to Face Vs eLearning Update

Well I am pleased to advise that the situation did change and I received great one on one training. Except....... I still couldn't do what I wanted to which was... find my classes and enter my results. This was because my name had not been included as the teacher of my classes so the information was not available for retrieval. I have a feeling that in 2 weeks time, when everyone should be entering their results they wont be able to and we will be reduced to paper and administrators will enter results for us. Not that I mind, but it was an opportunity to introduce new technology, and get people on board to work through issues as they arise. The second option is to do nothing then clean up the mess. I will watch with interest.
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Thursday, October 30th 2008

8:26 AM

Face to Face Vs eLearning

I attended a training session recently for the Universities new Student management system. It took about 2 hours and I left knowing very little, but with a training manual to work on (I thought). We have all attended training sessions I am sure with similar outcomes. There was too much of too little. It was a session for academics. We (the collective we) wanted to know pretty obvious things. Like how to logon. How to find our class. How to enter results. How to look up a student. That sort of thing. But no, we got a walk through of the whole platform all of its features whether we wanted to or not. To make matters worse we logged on to a training environment not live. Then the session ended. The training manual is comprehensive but not easy. It does have a link to training support which was something. I dutifully followed the link and it led me to the University Help desk (no longer called a help desk, but rather Service desk). Well that was 4 days ago and this morning my problem has been resolved because I got an email that said it has. Well in fact it hasn't. I requested some one on one help and expect 10 minutes or so would just about answer my questions. But according to the service desk the matter has been resolved because they have referred it on to someone else who to date has not contacted me.

My point is that learning has fundamentally changed. Yes I would like to know all the ins and outs of every software solution that comes my way, but that is just not possible. We need a combination of deep learning and problem/solution based learning. Yes give me a 100 page manual that I may or may not read, but also give me a one page sheet that tells me the basics. How to find my classes, find individual students, and enter results. Now this could be achieved face to face, or remotely. What about a trainer talking to me on the phone and having remote control of my desktop? I personally think the original workshop needed to be changed to meet the needs of the learners and that would have been easy to do. Then there should have been the chance for individual follow up and help.An eLearning solution would be useful. An interactive Q and A page perhaps  But no. I have been trained and ticked off. My service desk logged 'job' has also been ticked off as another happy customer. The reality is I am not, but I will make another entry if the situation changes

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Tuesday, October 7th 2008

11:55 AM

Lifelong learning or sentencing learners to life?

The actual title of the keynote address by Professor Erica McWilliam from QUT was Todays Kids, Tomorrow’s Creatives but the title above was used in her opening address. The focus of the address was the challenges educators face in preparing students for a very different world. She presented an interesting chronology of teacher resistance to change, dating from the use of bark to slate, slate to paper, pencil to ink, sliderules to computers all leading to the question – ‘what are we meant to teach them now?’

Some of the key themes were the need for comfort with ideas and abstractions with the observation that creativity and innovation are the key economic drivers. At the same time Erica considered there was a common perception that creativity was only for ‘little kids’ and the idea that ‘everything is correctable’ is bad.

A contrast was made between first and second generation creativity. The table below is taken from my notes so it is my interpretation.

First and Second Generation Creativity






Hard/productivity based



No rules



Good constraints

Non assessable



Some throw away lines I liked were ‘when teachers sit down students lie down’, and ‘there is no I in team but there are two I’s in salary differential’.

The discussion on ‘Flocking intelligence’ led to research Erica is involved with using sociograms to ask ‘what is the value of networks’ and ‘what is the value of groupwork’. There were lots of graphs and lots of lines which tended to show high achievers communicate the most (with other high achievers) and low achievers communicate the least (and with other low achievers). Teachers were also two times more likely to interact with high achievers. That is a pretty rough recall on my part, so I hope I interpreted the results ok.

So what are some of the questions the idea of flocking intelligence raises? What if P2P is providing bad advice? How can we broker across voids? What can be measured? What can be characterised? What if highest achievers are not the best learners (shock, horror)?

Near the conclusion of the keynote (it went for an hour and a half – how can we lecture undergraduates for two????) Erica attributed the historical success of the Chinese in part to the ability to sleep anywhere and to eat anything. She concluded that a ‘high flying’ learning environment should include –

Connectivity and diversity
Co-invention and individual invention
Leading and following
Enhancing constraints and removing inhibitors
Brokering across structural holes (voids) e.g. talking across schools

In an eLearning context, ‘who has the right answer’ should become ‘who has a great problem’. Do you get wetter walking in the rain or running in the rain? I wonder.


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Tuesday, October 7th 2008

9:31 AM

The University of Canterbury LMS Review

The University of Canterbury is currently carrying out a review of Moodle/Blackboard. The comments sections are closed to outsiders, but they have a video on Youtube and general information here.

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Monday, October 6th 2008

11:16 AM

Moodle Moot Brisbane 08

Last week I attended the Australian Moodle Conference in Brisbane. The conference was held at the All Hallows School, an all girls school in the middle of Brisbane. The school was a beautiful venue, set on several hectares near the Brisbane river. One of the highlights for me was the hosted breakfast which included a panel comprising Martin Dougiamas the founder of Moodle, Helen Carter the Director of the Teaching and Learning Centre, University of Canberra and Vivienne Counter the Project Manager, who managed the implementation of Moodle at USQ earlier this year, where over 1500 courses and around 23000 students have an online presence in Moodle. The moderator was James Strong from Netspot a LMS hosting provider from Adelaide. Much of the discussion was around why the University of Canberra and USQ had chosen to go with the open source learning management system Moodle and this was what I found most interesting. Helen and Vivienne had very similar views but had arrived at them from quite separate perspectives. USQ had the support of senior management for the change and opted to host themselves. Interestingly there were pockets of Moodle users in Schools around USQ already who had been bypassing the propriety system.

Helen Carter as the Director T & L had a really interesting perspective. They consulted with Charles Sturt University as they had done an extensive evaluation of LMS. Helen said they chose Moodle for two main reasons, namely -

1) Moodle allowed teacher control of Style/Content and
2) Ability to respond to change - the ease of implementing new technology because Moodle is open source

Whilst a 12 month roll out was seen as desirable, it finished up being 6 months because of delays getting approval. UC is using Netspot so their former WebCT licence fees will be used for service.   Vivienne Counter as an IT project manager was more pragmatic, and hers was a really large project. She said that some of the ket elements were the use of -

- Moodle mentors
- A test site
- Advisory group
- A Moodle matters website
- Senior management support
- Staying close to core i.e. not too many third party applications used

The USQ student and lecturer adoption numbers were amazing. Apparently there are now 28,000 registered users four times the number that were using Web CT.  Vivienne said they had over-engineered to the extent they were running at about 2% of capacity, but they certainly have room for growth.

My hand is certainly well known as a fan of Moodle, but my interest is as an educator rather than as a technology person. I hate the template generic approach taken by some organisations so really like the ability to control my own style and content in Moodle. Its easy to use, and sits well with a constructivist approach.

Netspot played a series of videos at the breakfast that they had produced. They were brilliant, and I am really sorry they didn't make them available but they said 'they didn't want to be sued'. I will try to describe installment one. Please excuse my lack of littery merit -

Scene: A woman walking her fluffly white dog. A Porche (or similar!) screeches to a halt and a man bounces outand approaches the woman. He is replete with, suit, blue tooth ear piece and intense american accent.

Man: Well hi. What sort of a daawwg is that?

Woman: Its a Moodle.

Man: What kind of a name is that? What breed is it? How much did it cost?

Woman: It is a Maltese/Poodle cross and it was free. A friend gave it to me.

Man: Free!! Ha. I have a dog. Spot. He cost $100,000. Our dog club licences them.

Scene: Zoom to Moodles collar - home made with a big red bow.

Man: Did you make that collar?

Woman: Well yes. Do you like it.

Man: Well as a matter of fact my dog club has taken out a patent on collars so you are in breach. Who do you pay your fees to?

Woman: Oh. Pardon? We don't pay any fees. We have a Moodle group and we just help each other.

Man: Sounds weird. Look, I will let this go this time, but don't go sharing collars with anyone else OK?

It was much better than I have recalled here, but the point was certainly made well. Martin Dougiamas also made the observation that with the current global meltdown of the financial systems, if he died tomorrow, Moodle as open source would just keep going but could the same assurance be given for any proprietary solution? There is a whole series of Bollywood style video parodies as a (poor) substitute for the Netspot one at Metamedia.
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Monday, September 29th 2008

3:10 PM

Android: It’s not (just) about Sex, Excitement, or Cool

Well perhaps it is. I read a recent article on ZDNet which discussed the lack of sex appeal embodied in Android, the new mobile phone OS released by Google. Just how important is style? While many would argue that Apple has been the benchmark for style in all things gadget, it could also be argued that Apple is a slave to its own style. Give me flexibility and simple functionality over style any day. Probably just as well with my fashion sense. So what has this got to do with eLearning?  Not that much in the short term perhaps, but the impact of mobile learning will be huge. One reason is that Google sees mobile contributing billions of dollars to advertising revenue so vast resources will be thrown at developing mobile applications. Its the software that matters, and in the longrun the most stylish hardware will look dated.

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Wednesday, September 24th 2008

10:34 AM

ePortfolios - Are they worth the effort?

This will be the first of a few posts I want to make on the theme of ePortfolios. What are they and where do they fit in the 21st centaury educational landscape?


One of the most commonly cited authors on the topic is Dr Helen Barret, now semi-retired, but still active in research. An ePortfolio can serve as a CV, but its use goes well beyond this. Helen Barret contends that a key feature of the ePortfolio is reflection: the activity of analysing and owning lessons learned from experience. My colleagues in the UB School of Education often use a paper based portfolio for development and assessment. It can be used to provide evidence of competence, reflecting on learning, projecting (demonstrating achievement) and celebrating achievement. A move to electronic portfolios could add  extra dimensions to a paper based portfolio. 


On Helen Barret's web page, she describes an ePortfolio developement as -

....a content management process with reflection on learning represented in the stored artefacts. There are two major directions in electronic portfolio development..... One path uses generic tools (GT) such as word processors, presentation software, HTML editors, multimedia authoring tools, portable document format (PDF), or other commonly used productivity tool software found on most desktop computers. The second path uses an "information technology" customized systems approaches (CS) that involve servers, programming, and databases. In an article by Helen Barret and David Gibson, published online, they discuss the pros and cons of each approach and the quality issues under each environment.


It is fair to assume that an ePortfolio system should be flexible, allowing learners to achieve their goals, whilst still meeting the needs of educators. Many Web 2.0 tools would be useful for the task, but when asked 'what should we use to build an ePortfolio', my current response is that I do not know. My extensive reading on the topic has not given me a definitive answer either. My (personal) hesitation is aligned with my previously declared interest in cloud computing, which is evolving rapidly. Because Barret’s (early) work dates back to the 90's available content management choices have expanded to include many online solutions including wikis, blogs, and complete office applications such as Google Apps. There are an increasing number of commercial ePortfolio solutions as well, but to date I do not think they offer the transferability or the convenience of the free online solutions. I would welcome any thoughts or comments. While I am excited about the possible use of ePortfolios in education, I am only starting to explore the opportunities and challenges. The technology questions are easy enough (technology solutions are getting better all the time) the main debate will be around pedagogy and assessment. Ultimately the most important question overworked, stressed educators will need to address is  Are they worth the effort?


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Monday, September 15th 2008

11:47 AM

Download limits for online students - Video downloading

There is a lot of talk about the need for Australia to embrace high speed broadband. Slowly it is happening, but are we keeping up with download limits applied to students? UB currently has a download limit per student of 100mb a month. I struggle at home with 4GB a month on satellite. I use a lot of rich media, including videos in my online courses, so I am faced with a dilemma. Do I compromise my courses because students complain about the excess fees? In short, no I can't be expected to compromise my content. Ironically it is the students that live on campus that are the most effected by high fees, as most students who live off campus have high speed (often unlimited) Internet access at home. There are a number of options. It would be ideal if the university lifted download limits (or removed them altogether). Failing that there are a number of video downloaders available, that students could get friends to use.

There are lots of options for downloading files from sites like Youtube. ZDnet has and article on Flash Video Converter which works really well. This is a work around, but at least it means that students can make copies of videos to watch. There are lots of alternatives available for either downloading or converting file formats. Some online and some desktop applications. I found this one to be easy to use and you can pick the file output format. The native output format is flv which won't work on some video players so it is probably better to select wmv, mpg4, or mov.

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Friday, September 12th 2008

10:47 PM

Some call it Learning 2.0

Some call it Learning 2.0. Others call it informal learning or Alternative learning. It is now clear that the impact of new technologies is driving change in the way knowledge is transferred. The need for students to regurgitate content can also be questioned.  Learning 2.0 includes the use of wikis, Podcasting, blogs, virtual worlds, collaborative technologies, video, forums and other emerging learning technologies. Rather than being an extension of distance education of old, which relied on the provision of content,  Learning 2.0 relies more on discovery and collaboration. Networks, of information, people, ideas. Is this what connectivism is about?

I am not sure. But whether for business or education, social networking applications are slowly being adopted. Forrester research has coined the term social technographics to describe peoples use of social software and there a book Forrester have published on the topic. The title is Groundswell. I have just ordered a copy so will post a review when it arrives.  The concept of social technographics is explained below and there is an interesting social profiling tool that is great to try. It calculates probable social computing behaviour based on gender age and country. Try it with a typical age of academics you know, then try it with the typical age of the students you teach; the digital divide is not just economic!

Social Technographics Explained
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: social media)
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