Please can we stop e-learning…

I tried a little experiment as I walked back from the Beyond Distance Research Alliance to the Department of Engineering the other day.  You could try it for yourself.

Walk around the university campus – or shopping centre – or another public place and count the number of people using mobile devices. Estimate the proportion of people using mobile devices – iPods, phones, whatever. Of the 48 people I counted, 20 were using mobile devices (most of them phones) – so about 40%.

Now try the same experiment at home. My wife, my son and I were sitting down supposedly watching television last night.  However, my wife was playing scrabble on her iPod with my son on his iPhone (in between both text messaging.)  I was emailing and generally browsing on my laptop.  So that’s more than 100%. And of course we were interacting in the real world too (if you count Eastenders as the real world …)

Slightly changing the subject – I’ve just acquired an iPhone – having had more conventional PDAs for as long as I can remember – certainly 20 years.  Of course it’s not a phone really.  Indeed, I’m not really sure how to make phone calls on it but I’m sure it’s quite easy if ever the need arises.  I use it for emails, social networking, running apps to tell me the tides in Teddington, entertaining my granddaughter …

I “attended” the Follow the Sun conference just before Easter.  I say “attended” as I was attending another conference in Canterbury at the time.  But I joined in and found myself talking to my laptop in a crowded junior common room – utilising the free WiFi there.  Ten years ago, people would have stopped and stared.  I don’t think anyone batted an eye lid – there’s nothing more usual than talking to your computer.

So can we really talk about the “virtual worlds” – about “online learning” – as if they’re something different to reality?  This is the world in which we live.  One which is densely interconnected. One in which the physical world that you observe is just one of several windows on the real world that you interact with.

So I hope we can stop talking about e-learning soon.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking about it – and I like writing about it and being a part of BDRA.  But I hope that we’ll just take it for granted that this is normal – why would we want to teach and learn in any other way?

Professor John Fothergill

Head of Engineering, University of Leicester

Beware of distractions

In our recent Learning Futures Festival 2011: Follow the Sun presentation (click here for Adobe Connect recording), one of my colleagues, Alison Ewing, raised “healthy question” about technologies (starting at 32 minutes into the recording). One comment, tied directly to my section, included Twitter. She spoke of the potential of Twitter and other technologies to “lead me [her] down avenues which are interesting but distracting, and take me away from actually what I want to be doing, what I should be doing….” Well, Ali, that makes a lot of sense.

The hours in a day are finite, and there are competing demands. Ali finds that Twitter and other technologies can be helpful, as I wholeheartedly agree, but we concur we must be careful to avoid the drain on time. It is easy to follow a link and delve into a new direction. Also, I’m not sure how many times I have seen a question asked that has caused me to do a little searching to provide an answer, be it education, community, or work related. It is good to do, and others respond to our questions or discussions. But, there are times to turn off and focus.

Working on my master’s degree a number of years ago (late 90s), the very early hours of the morning were best for uninterrupted study. With family sleeping and the telephone silent, I was assured that the only thing coming between me and the readings was the desire to nap. True, I had a computer and online communications, but the level of social media that we have today was not happening.

Now, while I still love the early morning studies, I can be sure that emails or other messages await me, and there is someone online with whom to connect. An outstanding question may await an answer or comment. Of course, this continues throughout the day and distractions are magnified when others are up, the telephone rings, and family asks for attention because I am working and studying from home. Some seem to do well with constant switching between activities, but that is not me.

I often crave more time to read, and I know I must make concerted efforts to have uninterrupted hours. Perhaps this means letting a call or two go to voice mail or posting a sign indicating I am busy. I have removed the data from my mobile telephone, so I no longer see constant emails.

Getting away from email, sometimes for hours, I have discovered something. There is never a message needing a response that could not wait. If something is really urgent, I have my telephone with call display. If I am away from my home office for any length of time, I likely have my computer and mobile Internet for when I do need/want to ‘check in.’  My (slightly) adult son says I shouldn’t spend so much time at home if I want to reduce his calls for attention, so more mobile I will be if it will allow more focus!

If you are studying, what do you do to manage your reading or time for other assignments? Are you finding enough hours to do the amount of reading you plan?

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Research Student, BDRA

I followed the sun

The Learning Futures Festival Online 2011 was titled, “Follow the Sun,” and billed as, “Three countries, three time zones, a non-stop global e-learning conference.” It was hosted by the Beyond Distance Research Alliance of the University of Leicester and the Australian Digital Futures Institute of the University of Southern Queensland.

The format was a different approach. Starting in the UK at 09:00 (British Summer Time) and running for 8 hours, moderation was then handed over for another 8 hours to the North American Team in Seattle, and then for a further 8 hours to the team in Toowoomba, Australia. The cycle then repeated for another 24-hour period. From Canada, my plan was to catch as much as I could with naps along the way. Looking back at the programme, I attended more in the UK and North American sessions, finding other demands for my time and a need for sleep in our evening hours while Australia was on. Fortunately, the sessions were recorded, and I can return to those I missed or wish to re-watch.

The good news for many whom could not participate is that the recorded sessions are now available to watch without charge, through the “Follow the Sun” link above.

Having attended many conferences, physically and online, this was the first at which I presented. I had the pleasure of working with PhD student colleagues from the BDRA, Brenda, Ali, and Natalia, to deliver, “PhD Students Following the Sun: How PhD Students Use and Perceive Technologies.” Hopefully this will be there first of many more, whether personally or in a group. While my part was about how I, and others, use Twitter for a weekly ‘phdchat’ discussion, I look forward to sharing about my research area in future presentations.

A special thanks to all whom made the conference come together and run smoothly. Next year will be my turn to step up and assist.

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Research Student, BDRA

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

No longer a technology sceptic!

I am a PhD student at BDRA and have been invited to join the regular BDRA blog where this is my first attempt. I chose to come to BDRA to study as I had the opportunity to be involved in the Carpe Diem process initially as part of the ADELIE project and following on from this my employing university became a partner in the ADDER project giving me further opportunity to be involved in Carpe Diem (Armellini and Aiyegbayo 2010).

At my first Carpe Diem it is fair to say I was something of a technology sceptic unconvinced that there was a place for e-learning within Interprofessional Education as I felt it is important for students to meet and interact face to face. I also had failed to recognise how much technology had already crept into me and my family’s life. The Carpe Diem experience really taught me how to develop effective educational resources using an integrated team approach, with skilled facilitators and more surprisingly it helped me learn that technology could be appropriated very effectively not just to deliver learning differently but sometimes more effectively as well.

I am now immersed in the development of educational resources, in helping subject teams develop effective educational resources and in particular Open Educational Resources (OERs) and the impact that these will have on academics, students and communities of health practice. In delivering effective education today it is no longer acceptable to be a technology sceptic and I am excited to be studying in an environment which helps me to understand and add to the knowledge of how technology can be a positive force for future health education.

Ali Ewing

Armellini, A. and Aiyegbayo, O. (2010). Learning design and assessment with e-tivities. British Journal of Education Technology. Vol 41, No 6, p922-935.

A day with ‘Northampton Tigers’

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a day with our TIGER (see note below for a description) project partners at the University of Northampton. I took part in their course development event.

Our Northampton Tigers are currently developing teaching and learning resources that can be released as OERs (Open Educational Resources) for the benefit of the wider academic and practitioner community. The subject area covered within the TIGER project is Interprofessional Education (IPE) – a Higher Education level programme of studies undertaken by professionals that you and I meet when we are in need of health and other forms of care (nurses, care professionals, paramedics – just to name a few). The focus of Interprofessional Education is for these different professionals to learn about each other’s roles and develop efective collaborative practices.

I observed many interesting aspects of course development that were unique to developing OERs and especially for OERs for Interprofessional Studies.

An obvious, but often under-rated point that needs due attention is that developing OERs is a much more complex and sophisticated process than that used in developing course material for distance and e-learning. This is especially the case, as Northampton Tigers showed me, in a subject area such as IPE where the course development team includes both interprofessional academics from universities and practicing professionals from hospitals and other communities gathering together to develop a set of teaching resources that are relevant for both national and international academic and practitioner communities. Copyright issues and ethical considerations of using images and other media are just two of the many aspects to consider in OER development.

As we are involved in the TIGER project in the next coming months, we will be able to report on the actual processes involved in developing OERs from scratch and from existing traditional e-learning courses. So, watch this space!

Meanwhile you can visit the project website at http://www.northampton.ac.uk/tiger to learn more about it….

Note: TIGER (Transforming Interprofessional Groups through Educational Resources) is an Open Educational Research project funded by the UK Joint Information Systems Committee and led by the University of Northapmton in partnership with De Montfort and Leicester Universities.

Palitha Edirisingha
2 Feb 2011

European Apple Leadership Summit – Part 1

On 11 January 2011 I attended the European Apple Leadership Summit at the Mayfair Hotel in London. This was a by-invitation-only event; my invitation was based on a few things, one of which is my work on the SPIDER project, looking at iTunes U as a distribution channel of open educational resources (OER). This meeting was Apple’s chance to make the case to those in leadership in European higher education that Apple software and hardware should play a role in educational technology. They mostly let case studies do the talking.

A Paperless Conference

This meeting was a one-day conference — keynote, invited speakers, and individual workshops. Apple did not hand out any papers nor post any charts in the lobby listing where each workshop would take place and who was signed up where. Rather, they gave all attendants an iPad for the day. I actually received an iPad for Christmas, and said to the nice Apple lady, “I have my own.” She said, “You’ll want ours, because it’s pre-loaded with conference stuff.” Indeed it was. There was a custom-made app for the conference, showing the Twitter stream, a little movie welcoming me to the event, bios of all the speakers, agenda for the day, list of delegates’ institutions, and an interactive survey to be filled in at the end. Because I signed into the app, with the same email address by which I registered for the conference, it knew who I was and which workshop(s) I signed up for, so it gave me a pop-up window telling me I had 10 minutes to get to my next session and displayed a little map showing me which room to go to. It did not work perfectly, but it was pretty close, and therefore pretty impressive. Of course I used the iPad throughout the conference especially to tweet. It was also a good chance to check out some of the new apps created by featured educators and speakers; while speakers were describing how they made these apps, I could check them out on my iPad. A couple of negatives about giving me an iPad: I had planned to take notes on my own iPad. If the Evernote app had been installed on the iPad they gave me, I would have been sorted; as it was, I quickly decided to take notes by liberal tweeting and a few paper scribbles. Another negative was that I would have liked a list of other delegates’ emails, or at least the emails of the speakers. But I handed in the iPad at the end of the day and had no list of delegates; of course I made contacts on my own, but it’s nice to have a list of delegates’ emails given to you. If this had been a proper academic conference, I would have thought the app should be tweaked to send a delegates’ list if desired.

 

 

'Globe' iPad app. Photo by kenco on Flickr.

 

News from Pearson Publishers

A very senior person from Pearson described how they are producing their textbooks in format suitable for all e-book reader devices: Kindle, epub for most e-readers, and media-rich epub for the iPad. She identified the iPad as the best vehicle for textbooks, because one can have colour photos and embedded movies and sound. The Open University, for example, has produced many free e-books (available on their iTunes U site) with embedded audio and (I believe) embedded video as well. The question I have here is: yes, iBooks displays multimedia-rich e-books beautifully. iBooks is Apple-only. Will there be an iBooks-type software for Windows computers and for nonApple handheld devices– how long will it take for something like this to appear?

There is more to report from this event. I shall write more in a future blog post.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo



Creating Academic Learning Futures: Alternative approaches

At Beyond Distance Research Alliance, creating academic learning futures is firmly grounded in the CALF project, which is making good progress, Sandra Romenska tells me, since her report on the medical students taking a course about the future of medical education – see Congratulations to the September 2010 Futurists. She’s been running more workshops this week during which people help by generating their own ideas about the future of universities while examining the university’s own Learning and Teaching Strategy.

I’ve just heard about a new search engine called Recorded Future, that claims to predict coming events by monitoring ‘buzz’ on the Internet. It has financial backing from Google and the CIA (!). Recorded Future tracks information published online to establish links between people, companies, places and events and put it on a time-scale. It uses everything from news articles to Twitter updates and employs linguistic analysis for its predictions.

So far the company, based in Boston, USA, has a few corporate clients who pay monthly subscriptions to use the tool. A consumer version may follow. Christopher Ahlberg, Recorded Future’s founder, claims: “We found that our momentum metric that indicates the strength of activity around an event or entity predicts future events that correlate with the volume of market activity”.

I asked Sandra what she thought of Recorded Future, which she hadn’t yet come across, and she replied (what a fascinating reply) as follows:

For Recorded Future’s approach to work, they need to have events for which web chatter already exists, so that they can “trend” it. That is, someone (like CALF) has already come up with the vision for what might be possible and Recorded Future will estimate whether it is also probable. It is definitely useful and very interesting, but it is missing the exciting first step in futures work – to imagine things or events which are not in existence yet.

To illustrate it, I’d paraphrase a favourite quote of mine from Donald Norman at Northwestern University that futurists shouldn’t only predict the automobile but also the traffic jam – without projects like CALF enabling people to imagine the automobile, Recorded Futures cannot predict the likelihood of traffic jams.

CALF’s approach is inclusive, in that academics, university managers and administrators and students work together to imagine a future. I would think that Recorded Future captures a rather narrower range of sources since younger people are probably more active on the web than those in full time jobs or those who don’t use technology that much.

Recorded Future’s approach  (wisdom of the crowd) works because it meets Surowiecki’s rules of a wise crowd: Diversity of opinion (yes), Independence (some opinions may be determined by others, but not everyone follows everyone else), Decentralization (yes) and Aggregation (available).

To sum up, when CALF has finished imagining a range of futures, we would be happy to see what Recorded Future can say about the likelihood of our ideas becoming reality.

What chance that Recorded Future could predict the future of British universities? Personally, I’d rather put my money on Sandra Romenska and CALF – and on Gilly Salmon in her new post, as from January, as Professor of Learning Futures at the University of Southern Queensland!

David Hawkridge

PS: Sandra says that good resources on using social media for future predictions can be found from the Hewlett-Packard research labs here  and explained here.

The Travelator Paradox

Educators, have you got a travelator under your belt?

A travelator is an automated moving walkway. If you think you have never seen one, think again – at some point one must have carried you and your luggage from one departure gate to another at an airport or a train station. There is one at the Bank Tube Station in London and at a number of other locations around the world. The fact is, however, that they feature more in old science-fiction visions of the future than in present day reality. H.G. Wells imagined moving walkways in his 1897 novel A Story of the Days To Come, and Fritz Lang put them in his dystopian 1927 film Metropolis. So did Isaac Asimov in The Caves of Steel and Arthur C Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night. Why did the “rolling pavement” from the retro futurist stories never really catch on and remained a feature of a handful of airports and train stations?

Two separate studies, reported last week by the BBC, set out in 2009 to look for an answer. What the researchers at Princeton and Ohio State universities found out was quite interesting. It turns out that travelator passengers tend to slow their pace or stop walking altogether once they step on the machines, defeating the purpose which the travelators are supposed to achieve – to save time.

People standing on a travellator instead of walking

I think of this as the travelator paradox and the story fascinates me. It has prompted me to think of the possibility of similar travelator paradoxes hidden in our arsenal of learning and teaching practices which we expect to carry us into the future of learning and teaching. It seems to me that part of the reason for the “rolling pavement” to fail is that it changes the role of people from travellers-navigators to passengers. Once they get onto the machine, people are guaranteed to reach their destination, even if they remain passive and put no effort. They do not need to interact with the others around them or even notice them. Also, the destination is unexciting, because the route is predetermined, obvious and uniform for everyone on the travelator – there is neither mystery nor adventure so again, there is no reason for people to be alert or take action.

Once I extended the analogy into the domain of education, travelators started emerging. An e-learning course, for example, can turn into a travelator if all it contains is text, posted online in a way in which learners can go through it without having to engage with the material or with each other, with only a single route leading them to the planned learning outcomes. Students, coming in for a lecture, knowing that their lecturer is going to tell them exactly what he or she has been saying to the students in the previous year and the year before, and exactly in the same way, are in for a travelator – they will get to their destination, but the journey will be one of boredom and dullness.

 

Students in a boring VLE or passengers on the trottoire roulant at the 1900 Paris Expo?

If I were to find myself 20 years in the future from now, I would want to see which of the learning technologies of great promise today will have remained sidelined like travelators, instead of changing the world of learning. Whichever these learning technologies turn out to be, I think their failure will brought by a lack of supporting pedagogies which could have helped learners to create their own learning journey rather than just be there for the ride.

Sandra Romenska

Creating Academic Learning Futures (CALF) Project

BDRA, 7 October 2010

A Year Into The E-book Reader…

DUCKLING started researching the impact of e-book readers on distance work-based learners about a year ago.  I did a presentation at ALT-C 2009 about DUCKLING’s experience of using new technologies , including the e-book readers.  At the beginning of my presentation, I asked the audience a question about how many of them owned or used an e-book reader. Very few people in the room responded to my question.  At ALT-C 2010 this year, I did another presentation specifically about e-book readers, and I asked the audience the same question. To my surprise, half of the audience raised their hands!

The e-reader is one of the fast-growing and changing technologies in the past year. Changes and movements in this technology are on news every day. For example, Leeds University gives textbooks on iPhones to its medical students (but students have to give back the iPhone when they graduate).  Free e-reader software has been recently released and is set to ‘revolutionise the e-book reading experience’. You can see a screenshot of what the Blio[TM] free e-reading software looks like below.

It is amazing to see how e-books and e-readers have shaped our life, changed our relationship with traditional books and the library, and the way we learn.

Ming Nie              05 October 2010

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