Brainteaser “Guess the Time”

Hello again!

I hope you had good time over the holidays and any Easter eggs sugar rush is starting to wear off. As the weather these past few days here in Leicester was as glorious as it always is on Bank Holidays, i.e. overcast and rainy, I seem to not have done much apart from reading and eating. So, with the choice to report on these two activities, I will be briefing you on the reading, starting with a little brain-teaser. Below I have listed the features of a computer operating environment – can you guess when this environment dates from? Is it a description of a promising future start-up, which a bunch of clever IT wizzard kids hope to attract venture capital to and repeat the success of Facebook? Or is it out there now, competing with Windows, Firefox, Facebook, Illuminate and the rest? Advertising how ingeniously and innovatively it integrates features facilitating collaboration, social networking, cloud computing and hypermedia publishing? Or, is it a blast from the past? Read and try to guess:

The NLS features:

  • 2-dimensional display editing
  • in-file object addressing, linking
  • hypermedia
  • outline processing
  • flexible view control
  • multiple windows
  • cross-file editing
  • integrated hypermedia email
  • hypermedia publishing
  • shared-screen teleconferencing
  • computer-aided meetings
  • context-sensitive help
  • distributed client-server architecture
  • universal “user interface” front-end module
  • multi-tool integration
  • protocols for virtual terminals
  • remote procedure call protocols
  • compilable “Command Meta Language”

Ready with your estimates? Check your guess here:

What does this example bring to a discussion of the future? The future of technology, the future of technology-enhanced learning and the future of learning? Let’s discuss… Next time I will tell you more about the system described above and a challenging conference that we attended with some BDRA colleagues in Oxford, called The Shock of the Old.

Sandra Romenska, BDRA

15th April 2009


Toujours la change: new champagne in new bottles

While I was still working in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University in the 1990s, I led the development of the Institute’s distance-taught MA in Open and Distance Education. It was an exciting time, as the university was trying to go more global: we had students on the MA from many countries. And the programme was going online: the first courses for the MA were not entirely online but did incorporate email, discussion fora, use of web sites and electronic submission and return of assignments. The development created quite a few problems for the university’s systems. I was not very popular as I ‘pushed at the envelope’, as the Americans say. Could my students in Ulaan Bator (Outer Mongolia) and Argentina pay in sterling? With great difficulty. What if the Internet ‘lost’ a student’s assignment en route from Japan? Could the final exam be sat, offline, in Hong Kong? How should we handle students who wrote pages and pages for the primitive blog, and others who never surfaced because they were totally daunted?

I chaired the course team for H801 Foundations of open and distance education, a 60-point nine-month course first presented in 1997 with about 40 students guided by three tutors. The team drew quite heavily on existing text material, including some from the University of South Australia, with which we had a materials exchange agreement. In fact, we soon discovered the course was seriously overloaded. Our estimates of time needed by students were too low. We made the necessary changes for the second presentation. In fact, we may have been learning more about distance education than some of our students! They were drawn from many institutions, mostly ones teaching on campus.

You may be interested to hear that last February a very different MA course team and tutors launched the first presentation of H800 Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates. H800, another 60-point nine-month course, has exceeded its target recruitment by more than 20, with a record number of over 120 students beginning a packed programme of activities and interaction. One distinctive feature of the design is the use of Elluminate – a new tool for most tutors and students. Elluminate tutorials play a major role early in the course, and students also have the option to use the tool for their own study groups. Early feedback has brought largely positive reports on the Elluminate tutorials, and has commended the clarity of the H800 activities – which enable students to explore key issues and practices in the field of technology-enhanced learning. Later in the course, students will use social networking tools such as Delicious and Twitter.

Doubtless the university’s systems are being stretched again as H800 brings new challenges, but that is how innovation goes ahead. Toujours la change (have I remembered the right French saying?): this is new champagne in new bottles.


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