The Lecture is… ALT-C Reflections

September 11, 2010

The ALT Conference is always a good conference to challenge your assumptions, make new discoveries and question your practice.

This year’s conference was no exception, there was plenty to make you think, question, challenge and importantly learn from others. As with many conferences the discussions outside the sessions (either on the back channel or over coffee) are just as valuable as the content of the sessions themselves. However they can’t exist in isolation, the presentations and discussions are important and complement each other.

Last year, the VLE was a dominant theme, this year the lecture came under the spotlight. Donald Clark who opened the conference with his keynote riled people and annoyed them with a blanket attack on the lecture.

There are reasons to question practice, it is often too easy to fall back on what we have always done, because we have always done it that way. However while I think Donald was right to question the validity of the lecture, his approach was to attack, dismiss and offer no serious alternatives to the current lecture format. Donald’s only serious suggestion was to produce online learning packages. Yes there are historical reasons why we have lectures in the form that they are, however this isn’t necessarily an accident of history, it could be the evolution of a useful and efficient teaching process.

Having said that I do recall from my undergraduate days one lecturer whose lectures were word for word taken from his book. I bought the book and never went to the lectures. I guess at least I had a choice, though the book was very expensive as I recall! Though that was some time ago and you should never rely on personal experiences to reflect what is happening now across the whole sector.

After Donald’s keynote I was part of a session that gave delegates at ALT-C an opportunity to discuss and debate the keynote. One of the issues we did discuss was the impact learning spaces have. If we have lecture theatres then we have lectures and lecture theatres make it challenging to do other kinds of activities. So we hear lecturers saying they do want to do different kinds of stuff, but the space prevents it. Though it was interesting to hear from others that had created new types of learning spaces, lecturers complaining and wanting lecture theatres back. Sometimes it’s the space, sometimes it’s the practitioner.

The following day, Dave White, from TALL, gave a passionate defence of the lecture.

Dave with his extensive experience with TALL is certainly well qualified to understand the benefits and limitations of online delivery. However he discussed during his talk the importance of the social benefit that physical lectures provide for a community of learners. This is though not impossible to recreate online, is very challenging. Dave demonstrated through his delivery and content that the lecture in itself can be a useful way to stimulate discussion and debate.

I should also at this point congratulate Dave and the TALL team on winning the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year team award.

In my opinion for some learners the lecture can be a useful method of learning. The problem arises when you start to rely heavily on the lecture as your main method of delivery. Using a lecture can be great for learners, only using lectures is not. It’s the same with any kind of learning activity, just using one type of process is not going to be effective, for most learners it will become boring and tedious.

There are other challenges facing the sector with the question of whether universities should focus on research or teaching and whether we should split the sector up into research universities and teaching universities along models found elsewhere in the world.

Another challenge is obviously funding and the inevitable cuts we are facing over the next few years. It will be seen as easy and “efficient” to give lectures to hundreds of undergraduates rather than break them down into small groups for other activities in order to save money.

Overall the conference did succeed in getting the delegates taking about the issues, the challenges and the possible future role of the lecture. I do believe as learning technologists we should question the effectiveness of not only what we do, but also look at existing practices to see if they are still valid and useful.

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100 ways to use a VLE – #28 Classroom Study Task

September 10, 2010

There are various ways to set a task for a lesson in a classroom. You can do it verbally, which means that most people will forget what they need to do by the time you have stopped talking! You can do it on the whiteboard, but this could mean wiping off valuable notes that others need. You could do it through Powerpoint (or similar) but this does mean that the amount of information you can display is limited. You could always give out a printed handout with the task on, this does mean using paper and restricts you to mostly black and white and if you have the budget colour; of course no media such as video or sound.

Using the VLE to “host” the task allows the learner to have access to the task itself as well as any resources (such as video, images, text or audio) needed to complete the activity.

You can also use the VLE itself to be used to submit the responses or answers to the activity. You could use the assignment module or even a discussion forum.

It wouldn’t be necessary for some activities for all learners to have access to a computer, one laptop per group for example. Though if it is an individual task then one computer per learner may make sense. The task could also be completed by remote learners or those on placement or in the workplace.

Learners can then always at a later date refer back to the task if they need to, for example to help them complete an assignment or for revision purposes.

Of course also by placing the task on the VLE it makes it much easier to use the same task the following year or making a copy for another group.


Just for fun…

September 10, 2010

Just for fun…

I was going to do more with this, but my editing skills and lack of useful photographs, as well as not wanting to offend too many people, means that this is it!


The end of MoLeNET?

September 9, 2010

Today was the third MoLeNET conference, a celebration of mobile learning and the MoLeNET programme.

There were a few presentations, but lots of demonstrations, discussions and workshops.

I was quite reserved this year and let others do a lot of work.

There were lots of lessons from the conference that I and others could take home and use with our institutions. The key here was that even someone like me, who is well versed in the potential of mobile learning, can learn something from a mobile learning conference.

I hope to over the next couple of weeks bring some of the highlights and thoughts from the conference. There are some really interesting thoughts and lessons about cultural change, sustainability, technical issues as well as people and training and development.

With the changes in funding recently it is looking like that we will not see anymore MoLeNET funding for projects. This doesn’t mean that this needs to be the end of MoLeNET as a community.

It’s obvious from the work of MoLeNET projects that mobile learning is here and is here to stay. Learners are using mobile devices for learning and institutions need to be ensuring that they have the infrastructure to support this.

Where MoLeNET comes into this, is by providing a community of expertise, knowledge and guidance. As I said above, we can learn from each other and there is always something new to learn.

Today should not be the end of MoLeNET, merely the beginning…


ALT-C 2010 Day #2

September 8, 2010

So it’s day two of ALT-C here in Nottingham. It’s another very busy day with lots on.

First up I am going to attend the New Bottles, Old Wine? Symposium.

Educators have started using popular digital technologies, including mobile phones and media players; social networking sites like Facebook; blogging sites such as Twitter, immersive virtual environments, mainly Second Life; and online gaming platforms such as World of Warcraft and connected mainstream console based games. This is a significant development, a distinct departure from the use of technologies that are purely educational or institutional such as e-portfolios or VLEs, where educators and their institutions control the technology and impose the rules. Where popular digital technologies, are used beyond the walled garden of the institution, other rules have already begun to emerge. These technologies are creating more places and modes that people can inhabit, where communities can form and disband, where ideas, images and information can be produced, stored, shared, tagged, discussed, transmitted and consumed and where diverse expectations have developed about language, humour, posture, taste, fashion, etiquette and behaviour. They are like foreign countries, ones where we take our students or ones where we hope to find students, ones where we must learn the rules, where the inhabitants and communities each have their own ideas of what constitutes ‘identity’, ‘consent’, ‘privacy’, ‘harm’ or ‘risk’. There are no easy ‘for’ and ‘against’ formulations; different technologies are used in different ways with different students and in different contexts. The speakers come from social media, gaming, immersive virtual worlds, mobiles and transnational perspectives. This debate draws on a range of strongly held opinions emerging from within a newly formed HEA SIG exploring the ethics of educational interventions, both teaching, evaluation and research, in popular digital technologies. We hope delegates will join the SIG and continue to be involved as discussions and understandings evolve. We hope to identify important and over-arching issues and approaches for educators, in order to support and protect their students, and to enhance their institutional procedures and inform the development of relevant professional frameworks.

I think this may be the debate of the conference and certainly one to come to.

After the coffee break I am helping to run a workshop, Guerilla Narratives of Media, with the wonderful Helen Keegan, Frances Bell and Josie Fraser.

Mobile devices in educational settings are powerful tools for supporting and recording learning, but have had mixed reactions from students. Some students see educational media such as podcasts as an intrusion into their personal use of technology; others who are given standard mobile devices for a project don’t relate to them as ‘personal’ devices. Staff wishing to harness mobile learning technologies in their productive engagement with students can get distracted by the provision of technologies rather than focusing on learning outcomes. This practical workshop will introduce participants to a range of ideas for using personal technologies to enhance the teaching and learning experience through student-generated content production and geo-location services. The emphasis is on pragmatic and resourceful practice by students and staff in using platform-agnostic media and services to support the learning process. Participants will be introduced to new narratives using the mobile phone as a tool for data recording, media production and content sharing, and emerging web services as means of aggregating content from multiple platforms. Geo-location services will be introduced from the perspective of using hyper-local mobile phone applications in education, in order to give participants an idea of how these techniques could be used more widely in a learning context. Taking a ‘guerilla narrative’ approach to rapid learning design, participants will then work in groups to produce learning activities which take advantage of the devices in students’ pockets. Each group will produce 3 ‘snapshot’ ideas – audio, image and video – for using mobile technologies in the classroom. Using their own mobile phones participants will record their snapshots/ learning activities, producing media artefacts which can then be uploaded and shared with the wider community via the session wiki. By the end of the session participants will: have developed a conceptual understanding of a ‘guerilla EdTech’ approach to activity design; be able to upload media from internet mobile devices to web sites, including geo-location services; have acquired a range of sample media artefacts and learning activities for their students.

I then intend to listen to David White, who is one of the invited speakers.

Earlier this year my group at the University of Oxford were commissioned to undertake a study of online learning for the HEFCE Online Learning Task Force. Our research showed that the vast majority of online distance learning provided at higher education level is in postgraduate ‘professional’ courses which in these Return-On-Investment times offer an attractive income stream from employers and employees alike. Increasing activity in this area could lead us to believe that we are in danger of generating a parallel ‘training 2.0’ HE sector but the reality is far more complex. Using evidence published in the study, this presentation will explore how the emergent culture of the web is encouraging online students to expect a form of engagement that many in the HE sector have been advocating for years. It will discuss how this is challenging the role of the academic and what strategies institutions are taking to meet the demand for discursive, activity based pedagogies. The presentation will also discuss the need for non STEM disciplines to move online to maintain a balanced representation of the character of our university system in the mêlée of course offerings from around the globe.

Over lunch it’s time to re-visit the posters before attending the keynote from Sugata Mitra.

Then I have decided to attend the Meeting changing student expectations session.

After the ALT General Meeting I will be in the presentation of the Jorum L&T Awards (as I was one of the judges).

Of course in the evening it is the ALT Gala Dinner, which has a lot to match up to the last two years, which were fantastic.


Pages – iPad App of the Week

September 7, 2010

Pages – iPad App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone and iPad Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive. Though called iPhone App of the Week, most of these apps will work on the iPod touch or the iPad, some will be iPad only apps.

This week’s App is Pages.

Pages is the most beautiful word processing app ever designed for a mobile device. It’s the application you know and love for the Mac, completely reworked from the ground up for iPad. Documents look stunning on the bright, vivid iPad display. And writing is a dream with the large onscreen keyboard. You can use Apple-designed templates and Multi-Touch gestures to lay out letters, flyers, brochures, reports, and more. With Pages for iPad, it’s never been easier to create great-looking documents, all with the touch of a finger.

Pages has everything you need to create and share documents, including beautiful Apple-designed templates, easy-to-use formatting options, and advanced layout tools. Start with the perfect template and its matching styles. Or personalize your document using your choice of colors, fonts, and textures. Pages makes it easy to format your document. Style text, insert tabs, and set indents and margins with the streamlined style ruler. Use the Media Browser to add photos and videos from your Photos app. And make them look great with masks, shadows, reflections, and picture frames. You can resize, rotate, and move images around the page, and dynamic word wrapping automatically flows your text around them. Touch and tap to convert your document to multiple columns and insert tables to organize your data.

£5.99

Though it was always possible to type stuff on your iPhone or iPod touch, it was never really a wonderful experience and you wouldn’t want to use it for writing long documents.

When the iPad was released I was very keen to see if it could be used as a laptop replacement, especially during conferences and events. I do actually write a fair bit at conferences and events, either short articles for the blog or stuff for work. So I knew I would need a word processing app of some kind, as the Notes app wasn’t really going to hack it. Of course at the iPad release Apple also released their iWork apps, including the Pages word processing app. I do like Pages on the Mac so was interested to see if the iPad version would be any good. I actually purchased Pages (and the other iWork apps) before my iPad had arrived so I could use these apps straight away.

Rather than do an immediate review I decided to wait a few months to see how it fared. I have used Pages at home, work and at various events and conferences.

At the end of the day the key question is do I use Pages to write documents?

The answer is yes. I have used Pages to write a fair few documents and blog articles (including a first draft of this posting). I have also used it to draft e-mail and blog comments to avoid “losing” any text in case I needed to swap between Safari and other apps. I have used both the on screen keyboard and used an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.

As I attend conferences and events this academic year I expect the iPad to be my main word processing application.

Pages though is a lot more than just a simple word processor, if all you need is a simple word processor then the included Notes app is probably just fine.

With Pages it is possible to use different styles, fonts and weights. Allowing you to create formatted documents very easily. Though you will have to use the built-in fonts and you won’t be able to use your own.

Like its big brother on the Mac there are various templates to get you started, though nearly everytime I start off with a blank document.

Where I think Pages falls down is on document management, specifically getting documents on and off the iPad. For example in getting documents off the iPad you have three quite limited options.

You also need to remember to Export your document if you want to remove it via the file management part of iTunes! Sending via e-mail is often the easiest option, whilst iWork.com is really in my opinion still in beta and you will need a MobileMe account to use this option. There are three Export options, Pages, PDF and Word.

Once you have exported you can share that exported file via one of the file sharing Apps such as AirSharing.

Getting files into Pages is not that simple. Even if you copy files over through iTunes, you then still need to import them again into the Pages App.

Not sure why and not sure why it doesn’t do this automatically. You have to specific Pages in iTunes!

Import and export aside, the Pages App is quite powerful allowing you to bring in images, shapes and create graphs for your documents.

Overall I do like this App, it’s powerful, it’s flexible and it’s easy to use. I know some people will baulk at the £5.99 price tag for what is an iPad app, but come on lets be realistic, £5.99 for a word processor, that isn’t that bad. If you have an iPad I would recommend this app.


The lecture is dead

September 7, 2010

Donald Clark opened the ALT 2010 Conference with a controversial keynote on the lecture.

This keynote certainly got people riled and discussing the lecture on the Twitter back channel. I do think that Twitter has changed how we discuss keynotes now. In the last we would have discussed the keynote after it had finished, either over coffee or a reflective article like this one. Twitter allows discussion during the keynote itself and brings in people who are not even in the auditorium or at the conference.

So what was the gist of the keynote, well the lecture is dead!

Donald gave us a history of the origins of the lecturer, attacked the value of the lecture and showed us a clip from Ferris Bueller. He talked about the culture of research which pervades HE and that good researchers don’t necessarily make good teachers. I didn’t feel though he offered us any real alternatives though.

In my experience there are good lectures and there are bad lectures. However it would appear that the good inspiring lectures are rare. The key question is the norm of the lecture so ingrained into the culture of our institutions that any one questioning their value is seen to be questioning not just the value of lectures but also the value of the institution. Do we lecture because we have always given lectures?