Developing a relationship with technology

Recently I bought an e-reader, to replace some of my old habits of reading and highlighting (on the printed paper) and throwing those papers away, or after accumulating a pile of them, not knowing what to do in the limited space available.

I feel that I am going through a transitional period of getting used to reading and working with text in a different way from what I am used to.

This process reminds me of how people get used to or develop a new relationship with technology.

Developing a relationship with technology is not a straightforward process. We do not completely and passively react to what is presented to us in a box. As David Bell at Leeds University once wrote, we are active agents in shaping our relationship with technologies.

I think if we are to embrace any new technology, be it hardware like an e-reader or a web 2.0 tool like this blog platform, we need to give ourselves some time and space to reflect on how best to get the technology to do what we wanted to achieve. Who knows, after I get used to my new e-reader, I might save a tree or two, or more….

Palitha Edirisingha, 29 Sept 2010.

More about e-books and readers of them

My interest in e-books and their role in e-learning has stayed high, both for unexpected reasons and because of further news.

Interviewed in The Guardian, John Makinson, Penguin’s chief executive, told us that what matters is that people read, not how they choose to do it. Penguin is part of Pearson, a company dominated by educational publishing. Makinson thinks ‘the very definition of a book is up for grabs’. Penguin has just published a version of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth for the iPad (in the US) with embedded scenes from the TV adaptation, plus excerpts from the soundtrack and Follett’s video diary that he kept when making the TV.

The same day, The Guardian  reported that Amazon UK had brought out a new version of the Kindle e-book reader, to hold as many as 3,500 books. Amazon UK now also has an e-book store with 400,000 titles for the Kindle.

Learning technologists cannot simply ignore this kind of news, even if their academic colleagues in faculties and departments are slow to respond to it! BDRA’s DUCKLING project showed that an early model e-book reader probably had too many disadvantages to be popular among academics and students, but, like all new technology, readers will improve – and already have.

I was surprised last week by a technophobe I know well. Her very excited response was to an e-book on the iPad. Her excitement was not just because the screen was clear, the font could be enlarged, the pages were easy to turn, or the iPad could hold thousands of books. It was because she has become allergic to book dust and cannot read paper books for long because of that. She saw the iPad as opening up boundless new opportunities for dustless reading.

Doubtless somebody somewhere is considering doing research on how e-book readers can compensate for learners’ disabilities of one kind or another. That could be a new field for BDRA.

David Hawkridge

DUCKLING’s e-book readers

E-book readers have been tested recently by work-based Masters’ students in Education (TESOL), studying at a distance, at the University of Leicester. The trial was part of DUCKLING, one of BDRA’s projects, funded by JISC.

Last week I read a draft case study by Ming Nie on these students’ reactions to using the Sony PRS-505 e-book readers (not the latest model). She says that the readers, preloaded with module materials, a textbook and podcasts were given to 17 Education students. The devices, they said, increased the flexibility and mobility of their learning, helped them to save resources and costs on printing, enabled them to do more reading of course materials during the working day and helped them to conduct their studies more effectively .

There’s been a lot of press interest in such readers. The Guardian (July 21) carried a front-page item about Amazon selling more e-books for the Kindle reader in the past three months in the US than it had hardbacks (though US hardback sales rose by 22%, in case you think the book is doomed already). Five authors had sold more than half a million digital copies each. In the UK, though, sales of e-books last year were  worth ‘only’ £150 million.

A recent survey for The Bookseller  of 3,000 British book-buying consumers showed that only 26% of respondents had heard of a Kindle and only 41% knew what a Sony Reader was, although 60% had heard of the iPad. They said they were “unlikely” (36.8%) or would “definitely not” (32.3%) buy an e-reader in the coming year. Of course, few of those surveyed may have been students at the time.

Brian Croxall  reflects on his experience of getting students to use Web 2.0 technology such as Google Docs, Twitter, Wave, Wikis and Zotero: it was mainly positive, he said, but beware of ‘tool fatigue’.  Students may be happy to use new technologies, but there’s a limit to their enthusiasm. Mine too!

Have you heard of Kno? I hadn’t. It’s an e-reader being developed for the HE market and due in the autumn. This twin-colour-screen wi-fi device will support Flash, HTML5, PDF and ePub formats.  See the video,  but what about its price and battery life?

The World eBook Fair claims to have 3.5 million e-books that can be read or downloaded. It’s free until 4 Aug, then $8.95 per year. Although I’d guess that a few thousand of these could be valuable in some way to UK university students, I do wonder whether e-book design is going to turn out to be different from that of the paper originals. I read this week that embedded video and audio in e-books will be with us soon. What a challenge — and what an opportunity for e-learning designers!

David Hawkridge

PS If you’re looking for a journal in which to publish your research paper, take a look at:

Updating E-moderating

Gilly Salmon’s classic book, E-moderating: the key to teaching and learning online, is being revised for its third edition. As I had the pleasure of contributing to the first edition (2000), I’ve been quite fascinated by advising and working with Gilly on the updating.

What struck me when I re-opened my own copy of the 2000 edition was how immensely valuable the five-stage model has been, but also out-of-date some of the 1990s references looked and how obsolete the conferencing software (FirstClass) had become, to say nothing of the case studies and examples. That edition was reprinted three times. The second edition, which appeared in 2004 with new research and references, was reprinted four times, but today certainly needs updating. The research and practice have moved on again.

It was easy enough for me to compile two lists of the references, before and after 2000, for Gilly to go through. About half needed updating. Chasing updates proved difficult in a few cases, but most authors responded quickly and fully to my enquiries, sending relevant new material for possible inclusion. Inevitably, some authors had retired or moved on to other fields. A few had died.

I compiled another list of all the inserts and quotes, and we worked through those too. Again, about half must be changed, usually because there’s new software now, or the online course has been updated. Some will come from the same sources and institutions as before, others from new ones. Notably, most examples drawn from Gilly’s 1990s experience in training, online, hundreds of e-moderators for the Open University Business School will be replaced by ones from current training programmes elsewhere.

BDRA researchers have already provided several sections or paragraphs about their recent research, and there are more to come. E-moderating online when using asynchronous conferencing remains the focus of the book, but of course new technologies offer new opportunities. There will be more on synchronous conferencing, for example, using Elluminate instead of Lyceum. Second Life did not feature in the first and second editions, but will in the third. And so on.

The second half of the book consists of nearly 80 pages of research-based resources for practitioners, including e-moderators in training. Most of these need little revision, a reflection on how well Gilly chose them. A few could do with updating.

Needless to say, I am not re-writing the book, merely advising on its revision. Gilly is doing the re-writing, particularly for Chapter 6, which offers four scenarios of the future. She will be drawing on BDRA’s research on learning futures and probably incorporating her hindsight, insight and foresight model. Exciting stuff!

David Hawkridge

Podcasting – Five years on…

An ELKS Community seminar on the 14th of July 14.00 – 15.00hrs UK time

Podcasting has come a long way since the word ‘podcast’ became the Word of the Year in the New Oxford American Dictionary. Many teachers in universities, colleges and schools now use podcasts to support their students’ learning. There are many examples of students creating podcasts as part of course activity.

But what it is like for a university professor to podcast, year after year for five years? Especially if you are Pro-Vice-Chancellor and a leader of a world-class research group?

Take a bow, John Fothergill.

This professor of Engineering and former Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Leicester has been hitting the headlines in the national press since 2006 with his innovative uses of podcasting to make the learning of Engineering more effective.

Media coverage of his work has focused on improving teaching, how students learn, and how technology allows campus-based students to study on the move.

John’s use of rap in some of his podcasts is legion. Some of his international students began email his podcasts as sound files to their family and friends back home to share the joys of learning John’s course on ‘Optical Fiber Communication Systems’.

His course is unusual in that it is delivered entirely on-line using the University’s Blackboard VLE, with some face-to-face tutorial support. John used podcasts to help his students to develop good online learning and collaborative skills.

It would be an absolute treat to listen to John (on the 14th of July at 14.00hrs UK time) reflecting on his creation and use of podcasts with his students for the last 5 years.

John plans to share his experience of using learning technologies to address the challenges of teaching a subject like Engineering.

He will provide a convincing argument for incorporating low cost, high impact e-learning technologies such as podcasts into teaching and learning process to support student learning.

This is all possible, he will argue, no matter how busy you are as an academic – after all, John was a Pro Vice Chancellor at Leicester when he started to use podcasts!

In the seminar, John will outline the pedagogical model that he developed to design his course to integrate various e-learning approaches including podcasts and e-tivities.

And, no doubt John will share insights about how his students reacted to podcasts, including the ones who emailed John’s podcasts to their family!

For joining instructions, please visit the ELKS Community site ( Look forward to meeting you online on 14th July.


Palitha Edirisingha, 15 June 2010

Looking into volcanoes

Volcanic ash is causing trouble again. Last week I came across some e-learning about volcanoes. Made by the BBC a few years ago, it’s aimed at Scottish secondary schoolchildren, but could be valuable to anyone trying to understand what happens when volcanoes erupt.

You probably recall that in July 1995 the Caribbean island of Montserrat experienced horrendous eruptions, with little warning, of its Soufrière (sulphur) Hills volcano. The BBC (Scotland) put together an online multimedia ‘tutorial’, including text, web sites, audio and video, to explain what caused such disaster, in which 19 people lost their lives and the economy of the island was destroyed.  Have a look at it here.

You’ll see that it is one of two tutorials under the heading ‘Environmental Hazards’, the other being about floods.  It opens with a dramatic photo of the volcano erupting and offers students the means to answer four questions:

What caused the volcano to erupt?

What impact did the eruption have?

Was the eruption predicted?

What action was taken before, during and after the eruption?

As a geography teacher in an earlier life, I was curious about the pedagogical approach. It had a dated feel of  ‘Give the kids the resources and make them work’. But of course the web site was originally intended to serve the needs of classroom teachers and their students (in Scotland). I think it does provide opportunities for group discussion, and there’s a list (needing some updating) of other useful web sites.

How would you update this tutorial for the BBC, given your knowledge and expertise in e-learning? I would want far larger images, for a start, because the small thumbnail newsreel videos really tell learners very little.  The teachers’ notes mention two TV programmes, but I couldn’t discover whether those are still broadcast or downloadable. I would also want to introduce greater opportunities for interactivity online, perhaps between students in different schools, perhaps even between them and people in Montserrat today.

You could call this web site an early example of an open educational resource (OER), though the BBC does state, in full legal language, the terms of use.

The most devastating eruption to date started at 11:27 pm local time on Monday, 28 July 2008, without any precursory activity. And on 11 February 2010, a partial collapse of the lava dome sent large ash clouds over sections of several nearby islands (says Wikipedia, not one of the suggested sources). Poor Montserrat…

David Hawkridge

GIRAFFE: A wiki project to share resources amongst Geographers

GIRAFFE (Geographical Information Research And Future-Facing Education Network) is one of the latest research and development projects at Beyond Distance. We are looking for contributors to this wiki project, so please read on if you have an interest in either GIS (Geographical Information Systems), Geography and related subjects and / or creating communities or networks amongst practitioners and researchers.

Using Media Wiki as the platform, the GIRAFFE Network project aims to develop an exemplar of a virtual Community of Practice or Network of Practice to facilitate collaboration between educators within the field of Geography, including GIS and Geographical Information Science.

The project will examine the processes involved in creating a Community of Practice using wiki technology, and in the generation of sharable content for learning, teaching and research within the above-mentioned disciplines.

The GIRRAFE model draws on the experience of, and lessons learned from the WikiVet (  developed by the Royal Veterinary College in London. WikiVet  is a collaborative project amongst a number of UK Vet schools to develop an on-line knowledge base for vet students and practitioners.

GIRAFFE uses MediaWiki software (, the same software that powers Wikipedia), to provide an easy technology to create and publish learning and teaching resources.

We would like to hear from enthusiastic lecturers, researchers, PhD and Masters students with or without prior experience in writing learning and teaching material for the web, within the fields mentioned above.

Some examples of contributors and contributions would be:

  • lecturers who would like to contribute to the wiki with material drawn from their own lecture notes, Word documents, PowerPoint slides and any other resources
  • researchers who would like a space for publishing draft reports (so far unpublished) and promoting their research and/or teaching experience to support learning
  • PhD and Masters students who would like to contribute to the wiki with their literature reviews, photographs and any other resources.

All copyrights and ownership of the relevant material remain with the individual contributors (or their institutions).  The project team will provide guidance to contributors on copyright issues.

Drop us a line and tell us whether you would like to know more about GIRAFFE and if you are interested in contributing. We look forward to hear from you!

Palitha Edirisingha (

12 May 2010

A Flash in the Pan?

Adobe Flash Professional is one of my favourite software programs.  I find it incredibly versatile as it can create video, interactive resources, vector art, web applications, websites, etc.  Personally I find its biggest limitation is price.  Adobe Flash Professional is expensive and is updated every couple of years (CS5 has been released this year).  Flash Professional CS3 (released 2007) introduced the launch of ActionScript 3 (Flash’s specific programming language) which allows for greater flexibility and scope.  Unfortunately for me, due to the price of Flash, I’m still running Flash Professional CS2 (released 2005).

In order to view a Flash video, website, resource or application you need to download and install the Adobe Flash Player, which can be downloaded for free, and will plug into your browser. In fact Adobe Flash Player is installed on 99% of Internet-enabled desktops and with its latest release of Flash Player 10.1 it is aiming to provide browsing across all devices e.g. mobile phones, tablet-based hardware, desktops etc.

However one thorn in Flash’s side might be Apple. Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) recently wrote this piece about Apple and Adobe’s history:

What it basically boils down to is that you won’t be viewing anything Flash-based on an iPhone, iTouch or iPad. There appears to be an equal amount of people on either side of the fence when it comes to this argument and one question has been asked repeatedly: is this the end for Flash?

I hope not. For me Flash provides smaller file sizes, a range of formats, frame by frame animation, as well as interacting with other programming languages such as HTML, CSS and XML and it can be seen by a wide audience. For e-learning Flash can provide interaction, it can provide video that can be seen by the majority of users, it can be embedded into a VLE or a browser and while it does require technical knowledge to be used effectively there are commercial and open source authoring tools which allow for easier editing of Flash.

If Flash can adapt and evolve for mobile devices and with the Open Screen Project this looks likely, then I think, and hope, the only flash in the pan is the Adobe and Apple battle.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

The expanding (job) market in e-learning

If you’ve been wondering, perhaps gloomily on the day after the Budget, whether cutbacks in university funding will affect your own job in e-learning, you may want to read some good news about the expanding market in e-learning elsewhere in the world.

The global market for e-learning reached US$27.1 billion in 2009, according to Ambient Insight. The Worldwide Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2009-2014 predicts a five-year compound annual growth rate of 12.8% overall, but an impressive 33.5% for Asia. Key findings from this report include: a resistance to content that has been translated from another language but not truly localized for specific countries, and a boom in global demand for courses offered by for-profit international virtual education providers. SkillSoft is one of the world’s largest commercial e-learning suppliers, having absorbed Smartforce, CBT Systems and NETg over the years. It has now been acquired by a group of private equity firms for approximately $1.1 billion. Or you may like to read a recent Sloan Consortium report – Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States, 2009

Meantime, 48.3% of Korean internet users  took some form of e-learning in 2009, according to the Korea Times. Those under 19 years old made the most use (72%) while those aged 50 or more made much less use (18%) of e-learning.

If you’re interested in the flourishing state of e-learning in 39 countries across Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia, turn to the comprehensive two volume set of PDFs edited by Turkey’s Prof Ugur Demiray.

True, you might have to leave the UK to take advantage of the job opportunities in these markets, and you might even have to learn another language or two. Strange that, when you think of how much is being done online, globally… and in English.

It isn’t surprising that registrations for the MA in Online and Distance Education at the Open University have risen sharply in the last couple of years. The expanding market in e-learning augurs well for BDRA’s own proposed MSc in Innovative Education and Training, to be launched worldwide later this year.

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: 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:  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 ( 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

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