100 ways to use a VLE – #15 Keeping a learning journal

July 23, 2010

Learning can often be seen as a journey, moving from a to b. Though learners (and practitioners) often focus on the destination, the journey is actually the important part.

When it comes to look back on that journey, either for revision, assessment, moving onto a new journey (qualification), reflection on progress; it can be challenging to see where you have been, remember what you did, you saw, you heard, you challenged, you learnt.

Learners will often have a journal of some kind, usually a folder with notes, handouts, assignments. However a paper based journal requires paper! By placing the journal online, ie on the VLE, the learner suddenly has much more choice when it comes to recording their learning. They can type in text, record an audio file or upload a video. They can put in links to webpages, websites, different parts of the VLE, e-resources, e-Books.

The choice allows learners to record their learning at a time and place to suit them. If they want to quickly type something up they can, if they want to quickly record something using a mobile phone, they can and upload later.

Going online or using a VLE doesn’t stop learners handwriting their reflective journal, very easy these days to use a TabletPC to write, or more simply, write it out on paper, photograph it and upload. Digital cameras and most cameraphones are now more than adequate to photograph text and for it to be readable on a screen.

Learners can also tag their learning entries, making them easier to sort and search later. They won’t need to flick through a large folder they can just enter search terms and find stuff quickly.

So why put it on the VLE?

Well learning can be an individual process, but sometimes learners may want to share their thoughts, and read the thoughts of others.

Tutors may want to be included in the process to allow them to better judge progress been made on the course. Using a VLE allows these users to engage with the learning process.

Using the VLE also allows collaboration between users, so the journey need no longer be a solitary or individual affair it can be a journey with peers.

Another option is to use third party tools, such as wikis or blogs, and embed them into the VLE, this has the advantage of allowing learners to maintain their learning journal once they have left the college. The journal doesn’t need to be constrained by the size of a folder and so can contain a lot of content if required.

It is an expectation that learners will record their learning journey, by using an online journal on the VLE not only will their journal be richer in terms of content, but can be shared, searched and there is a lot less chance of it getting lost!

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100 ways to use a VLE – #79 Lesson feedback

July 16, 2010

In the long and distant past, getting feedback on learners was something that just didn’t happen… the only real feedback that any practitioner got was through assessment. Though assessment is useful to get feedback on whether learners have learnt anything, it doesn’t help very much in getting feedback from learners if the process of learning is working. Would learners who get a C grade have got a B grade if the teaching had been more engaging? Would the learners who dropped out (failed) been a success if the teaching was more suited to their needs?

Getting feedback is important part of any learning process to ensure future success.

In the recent past, feedback has often been obtained through end of year or course surveys, or slightly better end of term surveys. Problem with any paper based survey is that someone has to crunch the results. That can take time, so you probably do it rarely.

A VLE can be used quite easily to host a feedback survey. Many feedback tools can be replicated so that they can be copied (or refreshed) for each lesson. This means it can not only be easy to setup, but quick and easy to copy for each lesson.

The feedback can be on how the learners felt about the lesson or what they learnt. This can then be used by the practitioner to improve future lessons or to change activities and assessments. Aggregated feedback from all the lessons and across the curriculum area can also be used to feed into any self-assessment process.

Moodle has a Feedback module that allows a series of questions to be posed to learners. This will collate the responses that can then be exported to Excel if required. Another module on Moodle that can be used is EasyVoter for a more immediate response in the lesson itself. Though of course all the learners need to have a computer to take advantage of this feature. The advantage of the Feedback module is that it can be done later at home, in the Library, or in a coffee shop.

There are other uses for EasyVoter, Feedback or other similar tools within the VLE, but lesson feedback is a useful way of using the VLE to improve the quality of the learner experience.

100 ways to use a VLE – #57 Linking to a podcast

July 9, 2010

Podcasts are an effective mechanism to support learning. Due to the audio format, learners can download and listen to them on an mp3 player (such as the iPod) as they walk to college, or catch the bus. Likewise mp3 files can be burnt to CD and a learner could listen to them in their car, or on their home music system. Though portable, learners can also access podcasts direct through a computer and listen to them via the computer speakers (or headphones).

Teaching is an oral tradition, we have been “listening” to lectures and conversations for years; podcasting allows learners to listen when, how and where they want to. The other key advantage is that podcasts can be listened to more than once, enabling a learning objective to be reinforced or for revision purposes.

If you have a search of the iTunes store there are thousands of Podcasts on many different subjects.

There are also “podcasts” available through iTunes U.

There are also podcasts available from other sources that aren’t on the iTunes store.

You can link to a series of podcasts on the VLE quite easily by just adding a link to the podcast homepage. From there the learner can just click on the link for any of the episodes available. This implies that all the podcasts are easily available from that homepage, this is not always the case.

What is useful now is that many of the iTunes podcast pages will open in the browser, so the learner won’t need to install iTunes to see and play the podcasts.

You could link direct to an episode of the podcast, by linking direct to the audio file. Though this is in theory “okay” it is considered poor internet etiquette as it is deep linking. Most podcasts should have a webpage for each episode; the e-Learning Stuff Podcast does for example and you could link to that page. This method is most useful when you want to link to a specific episode of a podcast.

Another more efficient way is to embed the podcast RSS feed direct into the VLE. This way, as episodes are added, they are automatically added to the VLE page, and the learners can click on new episodes as and when they are published.

One problem you may come across is if you link to a podcast like the BBC podcasts, is that previous episodes are “removed” from the web. This generally isn’t a problem for casual listening, can be an issue if the podcast is considered to be a core part of the course. You would think you could just download the podcast from the original source and upload to the VLE, wouldn’t you? Well life is never that simple. Though you can download the podcast, keep it, play it back in a classroom for the purposes of instruction; there is a problem with some podcasts if you upload it to the VLE, as this can be considered to be “re-broadcasting” or distribution which would be in breach of copyright. For BBC podcasts of radio programmes, the solution would be to record the BBC Radio broadcast, and then with an ERA+ Licence you would be able to then allow learners to access the recording through the VLE.

Many podcasts are licensed under a Creative Commons licence, these generally can be uploaded to the VLE for re-distribution.

Linking to podcasts through the VLE is one more way in which you can use the VLE to enhance and enrich learning.

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100 ways to use a VLE – #70 Hosting video

July 2, 2010

Though there are video sites out there on the web that will host video. Sometimes you may not want the video to be public out on the web. In that case hosting video on the VLE may be an ideal solution.

If the video is of a presentation on a tricky subject, or contains licensed content that you can place on the VLE, but are not allowed to freely distribute, or has the students in and some don’t want to be publicly online; then place the video on the VLE may be a better option than uploading to Vimeo or YouTube.

Video can be useful to enhance and enrich learning, one lecturer I know films his quiz questions, as the learners find this more engaging than reading them on paper, it also allows him to ask questions about practical stuff more easily than trying to explain a process on paper. Recording debates and discussions, allows learners to reflect and review them at a time and place to suit the learner, rather than just relying on notes and memory. Video analysis of sporting techniques ensures that learners can improve their technique through the video as well as verbal feedback.

By placing the video on the VLE, you can place it in the context of learning, enabling learners to clarify how the video works in respect of the rest of the course or topic.

For ease of access, by placing the video on the VLE, the learners will be able to click and download the video.

Generally though it isn’t perfect, the server may not be configured to deliver or stream video, likewise there may also be storage issues, as video files are generally much larger than text or Word documents.

This is fine if the learners click to download the video inside the college on the fast network connection, but less fine if the students are at home on a slow broadband connection, or more likely on a mobile device.

The key here is to encode the raw video file so that the resulting file is small in size, but not so compressed to be unviewable (very important if there is text in the video).

There is also the question of what type of file format you should upload. Should it be WMV, as everyone runs Windows? What about learners on a Mac, well they should be able to cope with extra software. However WMV is less useful for those on mobile devices or using non-traditional computers like the iPad or a gaming console like the PS3.

Similarly, if you using a Mac to edit the video, h.264 MP4 files are excellent quality for small file formats. However you do need to be careful about file formats so that it will play on most phones, the iPhone, the iPad, PSP, etc… If you are running Windows, after many years of “ignoring” h.264 it looks like that Windows PCs (well newest ones) are able to play h.264 video files.

One option you may want to consider is placing a few formats on the VLE, so giving learners choice on which to download.

From experience, videos should not be too long or too big. In terms of file size try to keep under 50MB, with 100MB being a real maximum, and less than 10MB is better for mobile devices (even on WiFi). In terms of time, I wouldn’t put any video longer than 10 minutes on the VLE. Anything longer, I would put on DVD so that it can be watched on the TV over a computer or mobile device. As with any guidance or advice, there will always be exceptions.

Hosting video on the VLE is sometimes the only option, but with the right amount of compression, it will result in an engaging and enhanced learning experience and not a frustrating annoyance.

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100 ways to use a VLE – #24 Course handbook

June 25, 2010

One of the things that Ofsted often look for when inspecting courses is a course handbook for the course. The idea behind the handbook is to provide students with all the information they are going to need for the course and to provide help and guidance while on the course.

In the past this may have (and may still well be) a physical handbook. Today much more likely to be an electronic Word document that may well be uploaded to the VLE. This will probably be referenced once by the learners and possibly ignored for the rest of the course, which is a pity.

By using something like the Book module on Moodle, it would be possible for the student to have much more accessible course handbook, one that has live links and could also use audio and video to enhance and enrich the information. Why have a written overview of the course, why not create an audio recording? Instead of pen pictures of where students go after the course, why not video recordings of past students? Making it real and more relevant to the learners.

Handbooks often are “ignored” by learners, by making reference to the online version on the VLE, tutors can ensure that the help and advice is referred to on a more regular basis.

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100 ways to use a VLE – #9 Peer Assessment

June 18, 2010

We are often fearful of getting our peers to judge us, is that because we fear they are incompetent at assessing us, or that they are so much like us that they will do it honestly and openly and notice all our hidden flaws?

Probably for the latter reason peer assessment by learners of learner is such a valuable method of assessment. Learners giving each other formative or summative feedback to each other can be a very positive activity, even if it is (to the learners) somewhat daunting.

There are many advantages to peer assessment. It can enhance learning through learners having to not convince you that they understand a topic, but also ensure that their peers understand the topic too. It allows for a greater depth of self-reflection by learners on the learning process. Peer assessment is daunting, but as a result can increase the confidence of learners as they need to work with each other. This working together builds social interaction across a group of learners and a support mechanism.

There are some issues and fears in regard to peer assessment. It can be an administrative nightmare. It is dependent on learners all taking part and not all will want to, some may not want to give the same level of effort as others. Conflict and arguments can arise, unlikely to happen with other forms of assessment, and will the learners have the skills and the confidence to resolve these conflicts. Some staff think that it will be challenging to do and that “exam boards” may object. Even some learners may object as they see the assessment process as an end and not as a learning process in itself.

One of the key features of peer assessment is communication and though e-mail and SMS is one way, the VLE allows for the communication to be more easily aggregated, sorted and assessed.

Any piece of peer assessed work, like any other piece of assessed work, needs a detailed briefing, time to discuss, both face to face and online, and guidelines and rules need to be in place. Once more the VLE is an idea vehicle to provide the online space for the briefing, online discussions, guidelines and rules. Providing a dedicated space on the VLE for the assessment will make it easier for learners to compartmentalise the assessment from other parts of the course.

Using the VLE allows learners to undertake parts of the peer assessment at a time and place to suit them; in college, at home, in the workplace or drinking coffee!

Peer assessment offers a different process of assessment that engages learners, builds relationships and improves learning. By undertaking that peer assessment through the VLE ensures that it is easier for learners to work together, discuss, share and refer to in the future.

100 ways to use a VLE – #5 Having an online debate

June 11, 2010

Debating  is a really useful way of enhancing learning, whether it be a formalised classroom debate, or an informal discussion arising from a presentation or a video.

How many though consider the needs of different learners and learning styles when organising debates? Some learners are reflective and they need to time to think and reflect on the debate. Some learners may be working or on online courses won’t be able to join a face to face debate.

A live debate using a chat facility on the VLE is one option that facilitates a debate in a way which allows quieter learners to contribute. A live online chat facility is a useful tool, and as the VLE itself handles the authentication process, learners needn’t worry about creating new user accounts or remembering passwords for when chat is used.

A moderator (or chair) may want to be appointed to allow learners an opportunity to make their point, to avoid the chat becoming a free for all. This is similar to the role of chair during a face to face debate.

Another way of undertaking a debate on the VLE is through a discussion forum. As with the chat, the VLE itself handles the authentication process, again learners needn’t worry about creating new user accounts or remembering passwords. In many ways this can be a different debating experience with the opportunity for all learners to make their point.

You may want to indicate how long the learners have to make their points (over a week for example) and close the debate with learners making a summary of the debate’s key points.

It is not an either or situation, it’s not about having just online debates in the same way as it is not just about having all face to face debates, it’s much more about allowing a range of debates using different mediums to reflect the different needs and learning styles of different learners.

Online debates are not difficult, but do require (in the same way that a face to face debates do) some planning and facilitation. It also helps if you try out a debate as a user first.

First you need to decide on a motion and nominating specific learners to put forward a view that supports the motion and learners to argue against the motion.

You may also need to put down some guidelines on how the learners should participate to ensure that the debate doesn’t degenerate into personal attacks. Also you may want to provide guidance on how learners should participate and what expectations  you have for those learners.

Debates are a great way of discussing topics in many subjects, an online debate on the VLE is just one way in which this can be facilitated.

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