Is the Pad a Fad?

The only Apple device I own and use (reluctantly) is a very old iPod. When my mobile phone contract expired last month, I spent a whole weekend researching alternatives to the ubiquitous to the iPhone, so popular in Beyond Distance. My post today, therefore, is not meant to add another voice to the chorus of adoration for Steve Jobs’ toys. Rather, it is about the technological promise for learning which his latest device, the oh-so-discussed iPad brought. The Economist dubbed it the Tablet of Hope, Twitter is teeming with jokes about its name. In the midst of it all I came across two accounts which felt like glimpses into a fortune teller’s crystal ball – the future….:

Here they are, two generations firmly outside the scope of formal learning, discovering new information, using it in novel ways, creating and communicating, in one word – learning. And learning intuitively, seamlessly and enthusiastically. Now when the learning technology for learning technophobes seems to have arrived, we need to create and adapt pedagogical frameworks which will make its use meaningful and efficient. As to what exactly the windows for learning opened up by the iPad might be, my guess is to do with tactile learning. After the revival of voice, brought in by podcasting, learning by touch may be another of the very primal and early ways in which human beings learn to be rediscovered as a learning technology. Tactile learning will be more object oriented, with smaller elements, with a closer blend of content and collaboration and increased use of video stories and images. The two and a half year-old and the ninety-nine year-old from the videos above are happy enough to learn using a tablet. When enough research evidence accumulates, perhaps academics will be happy to teach using a tablet. Only the future will tell…

Sandra Romenska, 04 May 2010

Latest: the future of learning’s coming along (CALF)

BDRA’s Creating Academic Learning Futures (CALF) project, in collaboration with the University of Falmouth, is looking at the future of learning. If you’d like to know more, there’s a blog for the project, videos and a wiki.

Last December Sandra Romenska blogged about CALF at Online Educa in Berlin. She mentioned Lord Puttnam (Chancellor of the Open University), one of those behind an initiative to change how we think about education. There’s a We Are the People Weve Been Waiting For website. There’s also a 77-minute documentary. I watched it recently: it’s thought provoking but has too many of the great and good, as well as five children who speak up well about what they haven’t had.

For contrast, you may like to look at George Siemens’ 9-minute video, asking is it possible to de-school society? Across the water, Stephen Downes says that according to the New York Times, “an American kid drops out of high school at an average rate of one every 26 seconds. In some large urban districts, only half of the students ever graduate. Of the kids who manage to get through high school, only about a third are ready to move on to a four-year college.”

Efforts to use IT to upgrade education still fail catastrophically sometimes: in South Korea the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology thought it saw the future and spent about US$250 million to install 65-inch electronic blackboards in 256 middle and high school classrooms across the country, only to find they are little used. For 2010, Lev Gonick considers IT in Higher Education.

Maybe Harvard has a better idea for influencing the future of learning. Stephen Downes notes that to create a new generation of educational leaders, Harvard is launching a three year, tuition-free doctorate which will include a final year field placement. It will initially offer places on the Ed.L.D to just 25 candidates.

Have a look  at the Educause Magazine for January-February Innovation: Rethinking the Future of Higher Education.

The best news is that BDRA is aiming to launch an MSc in Innovative Education and Training (Learning Futures). More details soon.

David Hawkridge

Missed LFF10? Coming soon: LFF10 OERs as a download for you…

It’s been just over two weeks since the end of our Learning Futures Festival 2010 and I’m still riding high on the experiences and achievements of the festival, and also still working hard on the follow up to LFF10. 

As one of the Learning Technologists I was involved in the day to day running of the conference primarily keeping our conference environment up and running: http://atim.janison.com.au/ and I owe a huge amount of thanks to the team who supplied us with this environment for all their help.  It was my first experience of creating an online conference and I tried to make things easy to use but balance this with providing the necessary information.  The responses from the survey have provided areas for me to look at for LFF11 and to try and improve the navigation and layout of this environment, but for a first attempt I think it worked well and ran a lot more smoothly than I anticipated! If you would still like to provide feedback about the Festival and the Festival environment please fill out our survey:

As mentioned during the Festival we’re planning on turning as many live sessions as possible into OERs as part of our OTTER project: http://www.le.ac.uk/otter.  I’m currently transforming the sessions into video and audio files. How the sessions will be split e.g. presentation and questions into separate video will be decided on a session-by-session basis. As each session will be transformed into a reusable and repurposeable OER, you will be able to download and then, if you wish, edit the OER for your own preferred personal viewing and listening. This will provide delegates and anyone else who wishes to download the OERs with a chance to catch up with missed sessions and hopefully maximise the impact of LFF10 while still keeping costs and CO2 emissions to a minimum.

We’re still tweeting about the festival and our other upcoming events with the following hashtags:

  • #lff10
  • #uolbdra
  • #otteroer
  • #uolinsl
  • #uolmz

You might have noticed a recent tweet about one of our newest animals to the zoo, PANTHER. This might just be a fleeting visit, so make the most of it while you can!  PANTHER (Podcasting in Assessment: New Technology in Higher Education Research) is holding a workshop on the 3rd March 2010.  This will be both a physical and online event which you can register for here:

Keep an eye out for my tweets (http://twitter.com/emmafull) about the LFF10 OERs due for release in the next month and I look forwarding to seeing you all at LFF11.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!

Sesame Street is 40 years old this week. It was a surprise to me that Sesame Street was “born” in the same week as the internet. While I would not try to make the case that Sesame Street was as much of a world-changing force as the internet (please comment if you think it is), it certainly had impact on learning and teaching thought and practice.

What were the principles of Sesame Street? Noting that television commercials were very good at catching and holding children’s attention, producers of the programme decided to apply some of the same techniques for educational purpose: good music, easy-to-remember phrases, attractive images, and short film segments. While the programme was consequently blamed for contributing to children’s short attention spans, one can hardly fault the eminently practical approach. After all, little songs and rhymes have been a learning and teaching technique ever since anyone can remember. I still say to myself “I before E, except after C, or as sounded like AY as in neighbour or weigh” when spelling tricky words.

Another principle was the promotion of social values such as getting along with people different from yourself. Sesame Street was set in a multi-ethnic, friendly neighbourhood which did not look as affluent as did the settings of many American television shows. While much has been said and written about the political correctness of Sesame Street for good or ill, it was a refreshing challenge to television stereotypes and was therefore, if nothing else, a worthwhile experiment in encouraging children to think about such issues. I recently came across “The educational impact of Rechov Sumsum/Shara’a Simsim: A Sesame Street television series to promote respect and understanding among children living in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza” in the International Journal of Behavioral Development. To quote the abstract, “Exposure to the programme was linked to an increase in children’s use of both prosocial justifications to resolve conflicts and positive attributes to describe members of the other group.”  So the Middle East’s version of Sesame Street, which started airing in 1998, is seen as a positive influence, and while it has undergone various format changes, it is still on television.

But the most important principle of Sesame Street was FUN! Jim Henson’s Muppets were funny and clever and quickly became cultural icons. The little cartoons featuring the letter M were fun, as were the songs about “Chickens in the Trees.” I was already in primary school when Sesame Street made it to the airwaves in my hometown, and did not need it to teach me the alphabet or numbers. But I still remember rushing home after school to see it, and all my classmates seemed to be doing the same. We hadn’t seen anything like it before — it was educational and fun. What a shocking combination!

Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!

Terese Bird

Beyond Distance Learning Technologist and Assistant ZooKeeper

Happy Birthday, Internet!

Yesterday, 29 October 2009, marked forty years since the first pieces of data travelled via a computer connection between the University of California in Los Angeles and the Stanford Research Institute. The BBC published an insightful account of the fascinating early years of the internet, which by 1971 was already connecting universities on the East and the West Coast of USA. Looking at the two solitary lines on the map illustrating the early net I could not help but feel overwhelmed by the speed of the change which has thrown us into the super-connected super-fast world of today. And I wonder if in 2050 there might be someone, writing a blog or whatever the communication channel of the day is, reviewing technology from 2010 and thinking “If they only knew what was coming at them…”

Following the links on the BBC website I listened to the oldest computer music recording – Baa Baa Black Sheep - played on a Ferranti Mark 1 computer at the University of Manchester in 1951. Below is a photo of the “Player” followed by a photo of a music player of today. Can you spot the 7 differences?

 Manchester's Baby

ipod_shuffle3

In coverage of the other astonishing talents of the machine, a BBC reporter breathless with excitement revealed that “the electronic brain” could tell you whether 2 to the power of 127 is a prime number in 25 minutes, compared to the 6 months it would take for the human brain to make the calculation.

Every time that I get reminded of the amazing progress that has been achieved since these early days of computer technology, I ask myself – what could possibly come next? Can a music player become even smaller? Or bigger? Or disappear completely and leave the music streaming through the air? Sometimes I discover I sympathise more than I would have liked with Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of the US Office of Patents who said in 1899 that “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

 Any trip down history lane would be wasted if one comes back without a lesson or two for the future. One of the comments in the BBC material on the early net could turn out to be just that. It is about the initial reaction to the idea for a computer network – “A horrible idea” people thought. Larry Roberts, the MIT scientist who was working on the project said that institutions were opposing the concept because they wanted to keep control of their resources. Now that objection suddenly does not come across as outdated and archaic as the Ba Ba Black Sheep music player, does it? Blackboard, anyone? Are there ground-breaking, rule-bending, mind-blowing innovations at the door step of higher education institutions today that are being shunned because people want to keep control of their resources?  What can we do about it?

Sandra Romenska

30/10/2009

BDRA

Virtually Futuristic – Attention, Spoilers Ahead…

In line with IMDB’s message board etiquette  I need to warn you that you may find spoilers in the remainder of this post – “remarks or pieces of information which reveal important plot elements, thus ‘spoiling’ a surprise and robbing the viewer of the suspense and enjoyment.” The Creating Academic Learning Futures (CALF) project here at Beyond Distance Research Alliance is all about spoilers. It is attempting to get a glimpse of possible futures of learning and teaching, and “to reveal important elements of the plot” for higher education with the help of students.

All scenarios that students participating in the project have created so far envisage some form of teaching and learning in virtual worlds in the future. Even students, who did not know of Second Life prior to their participation in CALF, believed that in the future people will learn in “worlds in the computer” as one student put it, as much as they do today in the physical world. Is this shared anticipation a spoiler, a signal of a very possible future? I consider it to be.

Recently there has been a wave of big budget Hollywood films about virtual worlds. There was the premiere of the trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar (it will be the most expensive film ever made, apparently) and this week in theatres on is Surrogates with Bruce Willis. Both films are set in futures where humans live their lives through representations of themselves.  Could these movies be the “spoilers” of possible futures?

 If they are, it will not be the first time that something predicted in a sci-fi movie has come true. In Johnny Mnemonic  humans could have their memories removed to free up space within their brains or so that data can be locked in the brain with codes to protect it and only last week the CNN posted a story about a researcher at Microsoft who is converting his brain into e-memory. In Surrogates people live confined in their rooms while controlling through the nerves of their eyes their robot representations in the outside world – recently it was reported that MIT has developed technology that can help blind people see again by projecting visual input directly onto the brain.

 Perhaps the question then is not “If” there will be teaching and learning in virtual worlds, but instead “What if” there is, how will the world change? In getting me to think about this “ripple” effect of new technologies, I found the Surrogates movie to be well worth the £5.50 I paid for my ticket and I recommend it to anyone who is working on virtual worlds. In the future of Surrogates mortality of contactable diseases had dropped with 90% – because people were not in contact with each other anymore. So had mortality of accidents and crime – everyone was safe in their fortified homes. Birth rates had also fallen for obvious reasons and that had solved the overpopulation problem which would have otherwise loomed because of the increased longevity. The movie focused a great deal on the issues to do with identity and identity theft and while these diversions into causes, consequences and possibilities may have diluted the plot, they made for a very inspiring experience from a futurist perspective.

 In the CALF project, analogy has proven a powerful tool for idea generation for “spoilers” for the possible futures ahead. Encouraging students to seek analogies with things they are familiar with, including science fiction movies, in order to generate and ground ideas about possible futures, has yielded scenarios that are structured and easier and quicker to communicate.

I guess what I am trying to say is – It is Friday today, treat yourself to a movie. And do put a comment here if what you see inspires you to think of a possible future…

Sandra Romenska

Beyond Distance Research Alliance, 2 October 2009

Creating to share; promises and pitfalls

Last week I participated in a seminar organized by JISC in Ormskirk. The focus of the seminar was creating and sharing digital content with emphasis on the promises and pitfalls of Open Educational Resources (OER). Representatives from the CETL on Reusable Learning Objects, SOLSTICE, ROCOCO, Q-ROLO, Open Spires and ReFORM spoke about their projects and took part in discussions about the future of OERs. I came away from the meeting with a feeling that whilst Open Educational Resources offer a lot of promise there is the need for a concerted effort to debate and find solutions to some of the drawbacks that threaten the potential benefits of these resources to the HE sector. Here are a few things mentioned regarding benefits and pitfalls:

Benefits
• Economies of scale in terms of cost benefit analysis
• Improved access and better use of existing resources
• Innovation in the design of teaching and learning materials

Pitfalls
• Copyright issues
• Institutional barriers in terms of existing curriculum processes
• Lack of local content repositories
• OER literacy i.e. the capacity of academic staff to create and share open learning resources

I was quite struck by the discussion on how to engage various stakeholders to maximize the benefits of OERs whilst addressing the pitfalls. What was missing in all the discussions was the role of learners in advancing the vision of the OER movement. The Edgeless University report has emphasized the need to engage students in the design of courses to better understand their needs and also determine when and how teaching and learning should happen in the future. Clearly, making OERs more sustainable will require not just institutional commitment to “openness” in teaching and learning, or overcoming copyright hurdles or changing staff attitudes towards “open learning design” but more importantly how we as OER practitioners draw lessons from student experiences in HE to improve the quality of our materials in order to motivate learners locally and international to use these materials.

Samuel Nikoi ( 24 July 2009)

Mice and Creativity

Given it’s April 1st, I woke up this morning with the powerful urge to post a BDRA version of Orson Welles’ radio show of 1938:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_warworlds.html

Now, after having played a few pranks to relatives, friends and colleagues, the practical joke impulse has been subdued somewhat. Still, it is Fool’s Day and one needs a lot of inspiration and creativity to come up with amusing (for one) and believable (for one’s victim) pranks, I decided that my post will be about bright ideas, creativity and insight.

I read yesterday the story of the invention and evolution of the computer mouse. It all started in the 1970s with the Xerox PARC mouse that cost 400$ to which an extra 300$ needed to be added for the interface connecting the mouse to the computer. A picture can say more than a thousand words, so just take a look at the image below and you will see why people were eager to improve the technology.

 (http://www.techdigest.tv/2008/12/galleries/top_10_tuesday_6.php?pic=1#galtitle)

 Then, Steve Jobs from Apple contracted two young designers to come up with something 90% cheaper (he wanted the manufacturing costs to be no more than 25-30$), sturdier and more functional. This is where the story becomes fascinating. The two designers – Dean Hovey and David Kelley, found inspiration for the prototype of the mice we use today from the design of roll-on deodorants. In Hovey’s words:

“The first place I went was to Walgreens, and I bought all the roll-on deodorants I could find on the shelves. They had these plastic balls in them that roll around. Then I went over to the housewares area and bought some butter dishes and plastic things that were about the size I might need to prototype something. Over the weekend I hacked together a simple spatial prototype of what this thing might be, with Teflon and a ball. The first mouse had a Ban Roll-On ball.”

http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/2002/3/2002_3_48.shtml

 I have been reading lots and lots of scenarios about the future lately. When discussing change in the future and where it may come from, very often the authors of these scenarios seem to believe that the more extraordinary, “unthinkable” and unusual the sources of change and its consequences are, the more authentic and believable and “expert” their scenarios will be. And yet, to me, the story of the invention of the mouse shows how often ground-breaking change happens when little, unnoticeable, everyday things are arranged by people or by chance into novel combinations, or used for innovative purposes.

Happy Fool’s Day!

Sandra Romenska, BDRA

 the20first20mouse1

A paperless society, how close are we?

About seventeen years ago I attended a seminar in Manchester at which the speaker predicted that a paperless society will emerge in twenty year’s time. We are three years away from the date and I wonder whether we are any closer to the prediction. Last week I was in London with Pal (a work colleague) to attend an HEA meeting at the London Knowledge Lab.  Before the meeting, we were emailed directions to the venue and we made sure we had a printed copy of the information before we set off from Leicester. At London Kings Cross we followed the instructions:

“From Kings cross, take the Piccadilly line south bound to Russell square, come out of the station and turn right, pass the Brunswick centre on your left and carry on and turn, carry on and turn, and turn and carry on and on and on and on…”

After the meeting, and based on my suggestion, we ignored the set of instructions sent to us, made an educated guess, and ventured in a direction we were convinced will take us back to the Kings Cross station. To verify that we were heading in the right directions, we stopped at a point and spoke to a couple who looked more like tourists than Londoners. After a few manoeuvres we made it to Kings Cross, hurray!!!

Back home I wondered why the direction to the venue of the meeting was not made available as a podcast for download, both for our immediate and future use and also considering the fact that the meeting was about podcasting for learning. The alternative would have been to have in our possession the revolutionary I-Phone with GPS functionality and maps.

Despite much talk about the exponential growth in computing power, the age of information technology, the age of digital revolution etc, characterised by the ability to access and transfer information freely, it appears many of us academics, and the institutions and organisations we belong to still limit our use of technology to aspects of our lives e.g. learning, teaching, researching, communicating  whilst  remaining ultra-conservative in other areas of our lives e.g. travelling, shopping etc. Clinging to, and tenaciously adhering to old ways of doing things, as pertained in the pre-technology era, instead of embracing the change and improvement technology can make in all areas of our lives has profound implications for how we view and change the future. From the point of view of “learning transition”, thinking digital and digital wisdom still remains a challenge in many aspects of our non-academic lives. Perspectives may differ on “initiation ceremonies” into digital modes of thinking, but the question still remains; how close are we to crossing the paperless chasm?

Sahm Nikoi; 31 March 2009.

Making teaching and learning environmentally friendly

Over the past years I have been quite interested and intrigued about the technological advances in space exploration. My keen interest started when I watched a television programme by Dr Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicists and co-founder of string field theory, on parallel universe. Last Saturday, I decided to take my children to the National Space Centre in Leicester to round off the half-term. Whilst there, my attention was drawn by one of my children to a notice that said “In the next fifty years we would be living in space”. My son asked if this is true, and if so what will happen to this beautiful world. I responded by saying, well I don’t know? No, wait a minute, maybe I do; would environmental pollution have rendered the earth uninhabitable? 

Sadly, sources of environmental pollution have been traced to Higher Education, around energy use connected with heating and lighting for large lecture halls, carbon emission associated with ICT, waste production including paper and equipment disposal and physical infrastructure using materials which are not environmentally friendly.

Can we as academics create learning futures whose values, principles and practices lead to sustainable development in all aspects of education? The time to act is now!

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