Thursday, June 25, 2009

VLEs and real learning

Over on Learning with 'e's: Another nail in the coffin?:
"Is this yet another nail in the VLE coffin, and should we now be looking toward more simplified, personalised learning environments based on individual needs?"
... some useful reflections on VLEs' worth or otherwise.

I guess I'm a bit torn on this one. I use a VLE as part of my work and my studies. I support and develop others in their use of VLEs and yet I also see them used so statically, so badly, so linearly, so sporadically that they also frequently make me question their worth. I sometimes wonder if the drive to have an online presence is worth it, if that online presence is only going to be an online document dumping group? So often a VLE becomes a place to put all the PowerPoint slides which have already bored your students in their face-to-face lecture (Mann and Robinson, 2009). Where is the educational worth? Where is the research that shows how effective and enhancing a VLE can be? Where are the models of really good VLE practice which can be adapted and adopted as with effective face-to-face teaching? Would you think a VLE was a good thing if you were a student and all it ever did was bung online the things which have already bored you once? Would you want to engage with it further? Would you rather go elsewhere?

VLEs are often packed full of 'worthwhile' tools. But, institutional VLEs can take on an appearance of a kitchen which, while having some useful equipment, has become filled with the kitchen gadgets you buy because you think you can see a value in them (fondue set, avocado slicer, icecream maker, cappuccino frother etc)... but actually, they sit and moulder at the back of the cupboard. More useless than useful. We describe the various bits of a VLE as 'tools', but in reality, we don't want to use 'tools'. We're not bashing together bits of furniture... we're after creative spaces for learning and thinking. "Tool" is a hard word. A working word. A functional word. It's awkward and not terribly aesthetically pleasing. Deep learning can be a soft, woolly, wonderful, messy, exploratory, meandering thing. How do virtual learning environments really encourage that sort of learning?

The VLE concept - a safe space where we get on with learning - sounds like it works and should work. But our online lives aren't like that. Where physically we attend (or used to attend) physical spaces our online world is free of the constraints of requiring a physical presence in a single location... and yet... the VLE seeks to provide us with that constrained world again. It jars. VLEs don't have to be used in that way. Learning doesn't have to be like that.

I don't know whether the VLE is having nails hammered into its coffin as Steve suggests in his blog posting... but... summat's up with it all. Technology should be enhancing and empowering. VLEs, so often, are not. I don't know if blame lies with the VLE or with the culture in which it sits? Change is happening amongst learners, society, cultures... everwhere. What happens if we don't find ways to be creative, to support and exist with that change? Will we look back at VLEs in a few years time and say 'did we really think that was the way to go???'

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Multiple-personalities and making connections

The Ed Techie: Riffability and MPO:
"Of course, many people do this very well at the moment, and some environments (virtual worlds in particular) actively encourage a separation of 'real' identity and online one. My conjecture is that it will become the norm, and take place in more publicly social spaces. And it is likely people won't stop at two identities, but have many. When you add into this that people find you in different spaces and so may have one facet of your personality exaggerated (eg if you follow someone in LastFM but not twitter, you would have a different impression of them), then defining what exactly is 'your identity' becomes increasingly difficult."
As ever, an interesting one from Martin's blog. I understand what he says about the difficulty of understanding your identity from contact from just one account... but I tend to think that that's just life... and is like everyday life generally. We only know people from the particular contact we have with them. Work colleagues. Neighbours. Friends who share a leisure interest. Family. We see that facet of them. In many ways having lots of online versions of you is better because should you want to track down a more complete version. The 'you' who likes taking photos and appears on Flickr. The 'you' who communicates with old school friends on Facebook. The 'you' who connects with professional colleagues on Linked-In. The you who shares resources and snippets of communication on Twitter. This isn't a new thing, it's an old thing in a different space. Are you the same person in the pub with your friends as you are during a committee meeting? Are you the same person chatting about your kids as you are talking about your projects? Nope. The ones who have been able to act and be the 'right' version of them in whichever space they find themselves tend to be the ones who cope best. Online, offline. Real, virtual.

PS I think the more identity-savvy are aware that there is an additional ease of traceability and jigsaw assembly of your online personality than there is your face-to-face one. Maybe it's not the multiplicity of personality which is new or heightened, but is instead the ease of making connections between your multi-faceted life which has changed?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The copyright dance and making a video

Often people post resources online and I think "Oooooh, that's good... I wonder how they did it". Well, I thought that I would share some of the stuff I put together about creating the copyright-happy video I did recently on RSS but also give it a bit of a copyright-aware focus too. The RSS stuff I presented recently at work (in front of the Uni's librarians - who will jump on you at even a whiff of a copyright infringement) and at the time I heard a few murmurings about whether or not I'd infringed copyright by including audio and images... and the answer was... no.

The way I did it was as follows:

1. The audio is provided using the YouTube service "AudioSwap"

More details of it are available on YouTube, but a quick summary of the service is that it allows you to replace or add an audio track with any item from YouTube's library of authorised music so that copyright is not infringed - a brief further explanation of this is available in the Copyright section of YouTube. Not only that, but it can look at the length of your video and suggest tracks of a similar length to make video editing extremely simple. Handy!

2. All photographic images had a Creative Commons license and were sourced via Flickr

Within Flickr you can easily search and find relevant images to use for a presentation, but one thing to be aware of is that if you just carry out a normal search you won't necessarily be pulling up images which have a Creative Commons license. Instead, click on Search and then select "Advanced search". Within the screen that follows just scroll down and find the section labelled "Creative Commons":

Select "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" and when you carry out your search you'll find your search only looks within the millions of Creative Commons-licensed images on Flickr. Adhere to the Creative Commons' license and you're sorted.

3. The video itself was created using free online tools

The rest of the video was put together using a PowerPoint presentation I'd created (you could use OpenOffice for this quite easily if you wanted the 100% free version!) and then captured using a tool called "ScreenToaster". You can then save your video and upload it wherever you want. If you want to put it on YouTube, use the option to save as a .MOV file and upload that (as it's more reliable than ScreenToaster's "Upload to YouTube" feature.

4. The full presentation I gave was made available on SlideShare

The presentation included not only the PowerPoint presentation which I'd uploaded but also the video on RSS and can be found here on SlideShare. The advantage with this is that the service allows you to easily combine PowerPoints with YouTube videos with none of that horrible clicking between applications which so often happens when someone's delivering a presentation which includes a vid.

Hope my little guide on how to put together a video which will keep the copyright bods happy! Okay, I'm sure someone will point out a flaw in the above, but y'know, a gal's gotta keep trying with this stuff don'cha know.

For some far more reliable Web 2.0 legal wisdom, there's a great little checklist available from JISC Legal which you might like to take a peek at too!

Twitter Search by CommonCraft

New CommonCraft video on using Twitter Search...

Great timing because I've just got to put together some information on Twitter and how it can be used. Gotta love internet serendipity!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Boredom x 2

On my list of quotes to remember...

Why do 60% of students find their lectures boring? | Education | The Guardian: "
One of the main contributors to student boredom is the use of PowerPoint. PowerPoint slides are a powerful aid to today's lecturer, who can use it to easily prepare dozens of slides to accompany a lecture. And that is the problem - lecturers tend to prepare too many slides, pack them with too much information, and whizz through them in a manner that obliges students to spend most of the session attempting to copy copious amounts of text from the screen, while bypassing active processing of the material."

Q. What's worse than a boring lecture, filled with PowerPoint slides?

A. A VLE crammed with PowerPoint slides from a boring lecture.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The price of 'free'

... and *ping* they were gone!

All podcasts uploaded to Switchpod, gone in an instant... and because I only had a free account, no notification that this was going to happen.

Ah well, being a mug, I've signed up to Podbean and will start again from scratch there. Obviously this time it'll all be different. *hollow laughter*

A few questions. What would you do if your free Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, Google Docs / Reader etc site disappeared overnight? How much of a pain would that be? How much of an impact might it have? What if you'd encouraged students to sign up for those services and the work was to be assessed?

What can we do to balance web 2.0 free-goodness with the reality that we're trusting something we have no financial stake in?

No such thing as a free lunch, huh?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Potted Guide to RSS

My quick guide to using RSS feeds... am still faffing about with it but wanted to test it out by uploading it here!

I did do a voiceover for this - but since I have a chest infection, the whispery, cough-infested version wasn't great, so I replaced it using YouTube's very handy AudioSwap facility!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Notspots and control

Interesting one on digital exclusion...

BBC NEWS | Technology | Need to tackle 'social' notspots:
"The latest research from the Communications Consumer Panel, set up to advise government on broadband issues, has found that nearly three-quarters of Britons think broadband is vital to their lives. Not everyone in the country agrees.

Some 17 million people in the UK - 30% of the population - are estimated to be offline because they simply don't want it.

Some have opted out for economic reasons while others believe broadband has no relevance to their lives.

It is a problem acknowledged by government, as it realises that social and digital exclusion are increasingly walking hand in hand."
Worth tracking down the original report from the Communications Consumer Panel too if you've got time. Some of the stats and quotes make for interesting reading, but you gotta admit... the following doesn't really come as a surprise...

"There is a continuing desire expressed in the qualitative research for people to control the technology (and not the other way around), and for a balance between technology and 'real life' to be struck."
Ownership and control are important issues in terms of adoption of all forms of technology - whether it be educational change or technologies in the home. Will have another ponder on that article later!

Things I discovered on the web this week...

Another week... another trawl through Google Reader after I'd let it's aggregating goodness get on top of me so had to do a massively quick skim through. And here are the resulting finds:


Monday, June 1, 2009

Rev it up, baby!

The Hype Cycle is in full effect!

Google Wave and Microsoft's Bing (hate the name for some reason) are both hot topics at the moment in 'shiny-new-stuff-world', although the shine seems to be brighter where Google Wave is concerned. Here's Google Trends take on it in the UK over the past 30 days. You can see where both technologies appeared and the sudden whoosh of interest:

Compare this to the Gartner Hype Cycle:

Looking similar, no? Google Trends as Hype Cycle spotter? Will keep an eye on this as the flurry of Google Wave / Bing-related stuff settles into some kind of real understanding / use.

I wonder if these cycles are getting shorter and shorter? Within a week or two, Wolfram Alpha is already old news. I suspect that there are different hype cycles which exist in different groups of Adopters: for the Innovators, the Early Adopters, the Early Majority etc. Twitter had been getting people interested long before the celeb-fuelled boom which has happened in the last 6 months or so... and just as those early adopters are questioning whether or not it's going to die a death.

If we're in a time of exponential change, then how on earth do we ever like and use something long enough to really understand it?!?
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