A statistical approach to e-learning

What happens across the pond can give us food for thought. The American Society for Training & Development(ASTD) surveys annually the state of the learning and development industry in that country.

According to a summary of ASTD’s 2010 report , the industry continued to grow in 2009 compared with 2008. The sum spent on training by companies per employee was still rising, even in the recession. More than a third of all learning was delivered or facilitated electronically. Nearly a third was delivered online. Each hour of learning content was re-used about 60 times, compared with about 45 times in 2007. It sounds positive, from an e-learning point of view.

In the UK, Towards Maturity, a group that promotes learning technologies at work, conducts similar surveys. In its 2010 report  is an analysis of what 400 organisations (including a third from the public sector) were doing to ‘deliver business results’ with learning technology. In the top quartile, three-quarters of their staff used e-learning. Compared with traditional methods, e-learning saved 21% in costs, 27% in study time and moved from idea/need to delivery 32% faster. Positive again.

Brian Chapman, who runs his own e-learning company in Utah, surveyed 249 organisations (including a few universities), asking how long it took them to develop e-learning . A simple 1-hour unit (content and questions) took on average 79 hours to design, develop and test, at a cost of about £10K. It cost more to include greater interactivity and multi-media.

Surveys like these seem to provide great hope for learning technologists looking for jobs in difficult times! But all three were published by parties with a vested interest in promoting e-learning. Is there a bias in their statistics?

The Beyond Distance Research Alliance (BDRA) is modest in its approach to using statistics. With its collaborators in projects like TIGER and OSTRICH that focus on quality in online open educational resources, Beyond Distance aims to develop mutually beneficial procedures and OERs, rather than headline-grabbing statistics. At last week’s TIGER Steering Group meeting at the University of Northampton, I was impressed by the dedication and professionalism of staff at De Montfort, Leicester and Northampton, and by their attention to detail.

David Hawkridge

You say goodbye….

My time at Beyond Distance is coming to an end and I felt this was a good time to look back at some achievements during my work with DUCKLING, OTTER and the entire Beyond Distance team that I value most.

  • DUCKLING in an eggshell.   This poster an attempt to crack out of the typical ‘research project-poster’ style and is one of the deliverables of the DUCKLING project.
  • Being an award winning OTTER. I previously blogged about this but winning the virtual poster competition, but the chance to caricature all the OTTER team stands out for me. One team member even used his picture in his Facebook profile picture!
  • Producing 438 credits worth of OERs (with the OTTER team).  The team went above and beyond the call of duty (i.e funder’s requirements) by producing such an impressive amount of credits.  Take a look through our repository and let us know what you think!
  • A new Media Zoo banner and logo.  The Media Zoo website has moved into Plone (our content management system) and with it comes a new banner and logo.  I’m pleased with my attempt at capturing the feel of the physical zoo with the array animals that ‘live’ there.
  • Learning Futures Festival Online 2010.  To be part of an 8 day 24/7 online conference was a huge achievement during a snowy January that brought the UK to a standstill.  What makes this an even greater achievement is that we released over 75% of the keynotes, workshops and paper presentations as OERs.

And one more thing that I’m proud of is the small amount of photos of me that exist during my time here, to which my colleagues can testify!  As someone who does npot enjoy getting their photo taken this is definitely an achievement.

Finally could I take this opportunity to wish everyone at Beyond Distance and other colleagues at the University of Leicester the very best for the future while I (hopefully) say ‘hello’ to new opportunities.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

Bits and Pieces

It’s my turn to blog today and I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think and focus on one topic to blog about.  With OTTER finishing and the DUCKLING project drawing to a close, its been an eventful few months for me at Beyond Distance Research Alliance and I’ve been busy (along with the rest of the team) wrapping up bits and pieces.  So rather than focus on one topic, I’ve decided to share some of the things I’ve been working on as part of these projects and what I’ve found useful:

  • www.jaycut.com
    This is an online, cloud based video-editing software.  You can upload video, audio and picture files and edit them using a simple timeline.  The files can then either be published online either to JayCut or to Youtube or downloaded as mp4 files.
  • The anatomy of an infographic
    I created a leaflet for OTTER and decided to attempt an infographic to easily show the outputs of OTTER.  After researching what makes a good infographic I gave it a go and I am happy with my first attempt:

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

Images: A very brief How Not To

When I’m creating PowerPoint presentations, training guides, posters, and websites I use images.  These images might be photographs or they might be graphics but whichever I use I always follow the same principles. An inappropriately used image is guaranteed to make me shudder slightly at its use but what I find even worse is some of the offenders below:


Pixellated - Photo by Vertigogen

Photo by Vertigogen

Pixellation is when an image has been increased in size so much that you can see the individual pixel squares.

If you have an image that is small in size and you want to increase it you have two options.  Either use a different image or find the original image in a larger size.  There is no way to increase a small image to a large size without it pixellating.

Too small

Comic Strip - Photo by mgrhode1

Photo by mgrhode1

The above image is too small to be able to see and read any of its content.  Sometimes you might want to include a graph or a diagram as an image but you only have a small amount of space to display the image.  One way around this is, on a website, to include the thumbnail of the image but then enable the user to click on the image to view it at its original (and easily viewable) size.

Out of proportion

Big Ben - Copyright 2008, Pilise Gabor

© 2008, Pilise Gábor

Personally I don’t remember Big Ben looking so squat! A common mistake with images is to resize the image to fit your space without keeping the proportions of the original image.  This can result in images that look ‘stretched’.  One way to avoid this happening when you are using an image is to hold down the Shift key when you resize. This tip should work in most software, if it doesn’t, try double clicking on the image and seeing if there is a Size option, you should then be able to Lock Aspect Ratio to ensure your image resizes well.

Why is this important?

Well for one thing images are used a lot here at Beyond Distance Research Alliance and for another it’s very easy to fall victim to the common mistakes when using images.  The above examples of How Not To should make it a little easier on How To use images.

One important thing that I’ll be taking away with me, specifically from my time on the OTTER project, is when looking for images to make sure that they use a Creative Commons licence (all the above images do) which allows me to re-use and re-mix if I need to.  As a final How To when using Google to search images click Advanced Search and select Usage Rights and labelled for commercial use with modification.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

Seizing more days

The Beyond Distance team has delivered a number of successful two-day Carpe Diems in recent weeks. Three of them have taken place at Liverpool John Moores University, where over 60 colleagues in three disciplines (Health, Psychology and Built Environment) have taken a proactive approach to designing for effective learning and assessment. They explored creative ways of designing e-tivities that capitalise on the affordances of a range of learning technologies. Many of the designs made use of wikis and will be incorporated into the delivery of these programmes from September. In some cases, the new designs are already in use, as part of LJMU’s summer schools.

 At Leicester, colleagues from the Greenwood Institute of Child Health are planning a new distance learning programme in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. They joined us in the Media Zoo for a very productive two days. The Inter-Professional Education team, including colleagues from De Montfort, Northampton and Leicester, also took part in a Carpe Diem to prepare their new Diabetes online module.

Carpe Diem and other Media Zoo activities enable academic teams to design effectively and to deliver smarter. Colleagues learn to maximise the impact of stable and new technologies and ensure that students benefit from these innovations. As more colleagues continue to seize the day, Carpe Diems and Media Zoo activities will continue to ensure sustained enhancement to the learner experience.

Dr A Armellini
Beyond Distance Research Alliance
12 July 2010

Information Literacy

The internet as we know it began for me in early 1995. I was a first year undergraduate studying Psychology and Artificial Intelligence at Middlesex University. One day, the AI tutor commented that “the library has got a computer connected to the ‘World Wide Web’ – you should go look at it, it’s going to be important”. Well, I did, and he was certainly right! Even without any search engines (just some bookmarks someone had set up from reading about sites in the newspaper), and a primitive “Mozaic” browser (now part of IE), the potential was obvious.

(I would like to be able to say that my engagement with AI was similarly stratospheric, but I dropped it like a hot potato in favour of a straight Psychology degree. AI was a good course, and not so difficult, but to me was reminiscent of, well, drying paint  – here’s a clue)

So my first experience of the web was as something you “went” to access. Now we have the iPhone, Android, netbook, iPad and such like. Anyone growing up today will have a different first web experience. Here’s something to try. First, find a pen and some paper. . .

How long did that take? Did it seem an unusual request? If they weren’t immediately to hand did you feel surprised?

That’s what it must be like to someone growing up today when they think about the web. It’s an important difference, because a belief in the web as being ubiquitous shapes the way one goes about many things. Take learning for example (obviously, not a random example. . . ). I grew up with the paradigm that learning was something you did by being taught. Then I went to University and this changed to the idea that learning was something you organised yourself using resources provided by “experts” – books, lectures, tutorials etc. Growing up today is likely to include the assumption that learning resources are already there for every topic, waiting to be used.

As Emma described in a previous blog post, the Beyond Distance Media Zoo recently hosted a presentation by Professor Phil Candy of the University of South Queensland about the Four+ Scholarships in the Digital Age. One of the points made in Phil’s talk was that Universities are moving towards three primary functions: 1) providing a “Road Map” for navigating learning materials a subject (and also a template for building one’s own understanding), 2) Information Literacy (how to use the information effectively), and 3) Accreditation (evidence of successful learning).

I could imagine that someone growing up today may not value 1) and 2), since the information appears readily and freely available, with a free “road map” (Google / YouTube) and no obvious need for training in how to use the information (just read it / watch the video!). This would put the emphasis on 3) Accreditation, making a University course simply a shop for purchasing degrees, paid for by money and, to an extent, time allocated to study.

Yet Information Literacy is crucial. What if two YouTube videos have different messages? “Compare and contrast” may be a cliche, but it’s also a good way to understand different  people’s views, while knowing an abstract representation of  a subject – and how to apply it – allows for an understanding that can be used to question, to evaluate and to predict.

As Phil Candy also pointed out,  it’s easy to focus on the technology (and getting information) and easy to miss the point, which is to gain understanding.

Information Literacy is the next big thing. You might want to jot that down.

Paul Rudman, BDRA

The Hybrid: A new species for the Media Zoo

Here at Beyond Distance Research Alliance we have hosted and attended many online conferences, Learning Futures Festival Online 2010 and Panther to name but two. Yesterday we hosted a hybrid presentation which involved both offline and online participants. It was a presentation by Professor Phil Candy of the University of South Queensland about the Four+ Scholarships in the Digital Age.

The presentation itself was extremely interesting and I’m sure one of my colleagues will talk about it in my detail in a future blog post. However, what I’d like to focus on is how we actually managed to successfully host such an event. We’ve had a lot of practice in putting something like this together and I feel that we have ironed out the majority of the kinks of previous sessions.

One of the issues we have had previously is recording and broadcasting the sound of the presenter and being able to easily record any questions from the audience. We’ve got a number of microphones and have found that some of them can be a bit temperamental to say the least! But with our most recent purchase, the Samson C03U, and a bit of googling to find more detailed instructions and an overview of audio gain, we managed to capture our presenter and all questions from the audience through Adobe Connect.

What this success means is that we have a fully functioning conference set up in our Media Zoo that can host offline, online and hybrid presentations, workshops and conferences. If you’re a member of the University of Leicester, you are welcome to host an event within the Zoo and receive the technical support of our Learning Technologists (myself included). If you are interested in this contact our ZooKeeper: mediazoo@le.ac.uk.

Finally if you aren’t at the University of Leicester don’t worry about missing out. We will have more online events coming up in the future, including our OER Symposium on Monday 5th July, so make sure to look at our Twitter feed – BDMediaZoo – and our website for more details.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

Don’t know your ePub from your JPEG?

I was talking with one of my fellow Learning Technologists the other day and mentioned that I’d ‘googled’ something. Technically I’m not sure whether ‘googling’ and ‘googled’ are actually words but it did get me to thinking about some of the technical jargon that I use in my daily work. I’ve made a list below of some of the common words (and their definitions) that I use regularly:

  • CSS – Cascading StyleSheets. This can be applied to HTML to define the appearance of a website.
  • ePub – Electronic Publication. This file format is the industry standard for creating e-books. It can be used across a range of devices and formatted to display accurately to that device.
  • GIF – Graphics Interface Format. Web friendly file format suitable for graphics only and can support limited animation.
    HTML– HyperText Markup Language. The language used to create websites.
  • JPEG (JPG) – Joint Photographic Experts Group. Web and print friendly file format most commonly used for photographic images.
  • MP3 – Common audio file format. This file format is designed to reduce file size while retaining audio quality.
  • MP4 – Common video file format. It can also be used for audio, still images and subtitles. MP4s tend to produce a smaller file size than other formats while retaining quality making it suitable for Internet streaming.
  • PDF – Portable Document File. This is the standard file format for downloadable, printable documents on the web. This file format can contain text, images or both, as well as hyperlinks. PDFs cannot be easily edited but can be annotated either through a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or through other open source software.
  • RSS – Commonly known as Really Simple Syndication. This is a web feed which publishes updated information from blogs, news headlines, video and audio in a format that can be easily read through an RSS reader. An RSS feed is constructed using XML (Extensible Markup Language).
  • TIFF -Tagged Image File Format. Print friendly due to its lossless compression which enables it to retain a high quality when edited and then resaved.
  • WAV – Waveform Audio File Format. Windows based file format for audio, tends to produce larger file sizes making it unsuitable for Internet streaming.

This is just a handful of the jargon that I and my fellow Learning Technologists use, and it’s by no means complete! Feel free to comment if you would like a file format, code, or any other jargon briefly explaining or if you’d like to provide an alternative definition for any of the words above.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

In anticipation of HTML 5

I have a feeling that HTML5 might not get everyone excited but it should.  At least a little bit.  Before I explain why you should get excited, I’ll briefly explain what HTML5 is.  HTML (HyperText Markup Language) in simplest terms is the language behind the webpage, you don’t see it when you view a webpage but it’s there. If you’d like a more detailed understanding of HTML and HTML5 have a browse through the links below:

Now for why you should get excited: HTML5 has a new part of its language which enables video to be shown in browser without any additional software e.g. Flash, Quicktime, Windows Media Player.  There are some details about this still to be thrashed out by the W3 Consortium mainly which format of video will be used as it needs to work across all browsers (e.g. Chrome, Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari).

But, if this does happen, it will make it easier for video to be included in websites and so in the content that is on websites e.g. OERs (Visit OTTER for more information on Open Educational Resources), teaching and learning material etc.  Rather than having to provide multiple video file formats and video player options, the video will play directly in the browser without the need for the user to download any additional software or to keep updating their software.  While there will still be issues of file size and storage, easily embedded video in a browser will hopefully enable easier addition of creative, open, educational video resources.  

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

iPad: change or coalition?

It always amuses me; whenever “they” bring out a “cool” device, everybody immediately has to have one. Ok, not everybody, but enough people I know do want a new iPad to cause me major puzzlement.

Now, don’t let’s start with the wrong impression, I love good, useful, effective technology. But I love if for what it does, not what it is. The thing with computers is, they are intrinsically useless. It’s the software that’s useful – the device just supports the software. So, for example, I only bought a new computer when I wanted to run Second Life. Yes, it was state-of-the-art and all that, but I just stuck it under the table and actually looked at the new software it supported.

Back to the iPad then. Is it a sea-change in computer use, or just a coalition of old features? What new functionality does it support? Thus far, I haven’t heard of anything at all, let alone something that I will want to use. So to me, it’s useless. Ok, I could buy one in order to see if it’s useful, but isn’t that a bit like buying a new music download without listening to it first on the off-chance I would like it? (only much more expensive!)

It must be this kind of “sensible scepticism” that slows the adoption of technologies that do have clear benefits. Take Podcasting for example. Beyond Distance has plenty of evidence for its efficacy, and many people are beginning to use it, but there’s no stampede of new Podcasting academics. Getting the message across  is as important as having a good message.

For the iPad, either there’s no good message, or it has yet to reach me.

Time will tell . . .

Paul Rudman
Research Associate, SWIFT

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