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


I thought it would be nice to reflect on a project that is a little further from home but which still has some tenuous links to Beyond Distance (thanks to our adopted researcher Ricardo Torres Kompen).

Seniorlab, a collaboration between Citilab, Universitat de Barcelona, Universitat de la Gent Gran and the i2Cat Foundation in Spain, is a project to promote the use of ICTs among senior citizens in order to explore their capacity for innovation towards the design and development of the digital society.

The objective of Seniorlab has been to put senior citizens at the centre of the knowledge society, with the belief that senior citizens should not have to adapt to new technologies, but rather these technologies should be adaptable to senior citizens’ needs, and it should also be taken into account what they can provide to society. The projects have shown that a user-driven community focus has improved in the senior citizens’ quality of life through these open innovations.

This got me thinking about lifelong learning and personalised learning environments and how some of the latest Web 2.0 tools can be easily adapted to our needs and requirements – but do these technologies actually learn our preferences or do we have to continually inform them?

Matthew Wheeler

Keeper of the Media Zoo

What can the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement learn from Indigenous Knowledge Systems?

Over the past few years there have been growing interests in Open Educational Resources (OER)  – see for example our OTTER project – aimed at making teaching and learning materials freely available with very few restrictions. OERs are based on the philosophy that knowledge is a public good and hence should be disseminated and shared freely for the benefit of society. OERs are also based on a vision of ensuring that each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge thereby promoting lifelong and personalised learning. What was once derided by Bill Gates as “a malevolent force bent on destroying the monopolistic incentive that helps support the American dream” has today gained the support and endorsement of many governments around the world.  To this end, there are a number of initiatives aimed at the development and use of OERs such as the open source initiative, open content initiative, open access initiatives and creative commons to mention a few. 

But like any new initiative, the development of OERs has not been without challenges, not least the question of copyright and licensing which is seen as a core element that supports use of open learning resources. All over the world copyright laws are designed to legitimise and protect individual intellectual property by granting to the creator of original work exclusive economic and moral rights for a certain time period in relation to their work before the work is put in the public domain. The law requires that the idea or knowledge to be copyrighted be captured in a tangible, substantive and fixed form. Thus materials which are intended to be made freely available to the public through open learning platforms must first be cleared by right owners, usually, but not exclusively through creative common licences. Whilst creative common licences are useful for “opening up” resources for public use, the terms and conditions under which such resources are licensed can still be restrictive, for example, where materials can be accessed but not altered. This raises concerns and questions about whether “open educational resources” are indeed “open”.  What is understood by the term “openness” can also differ from society to society. In collectivist societies, the way ideas emerge, how knowledge is developed, processed, validated, stored, and shared are remarkably different when those found in individualistic societies.

Those who have looked at the world from the point of view of organised science have dismissed indigenous knowledge, found mainly in collectivist societies, as pre-logical and irrational and have downplayed such forms of knowledge, which exist within and have been developed around aspects of local people’s lives. Indigenous knowledge as a fixed corpus is co-generated through participatory and consultative processes of learning that come via observation and experimentation. Such Knowledge is dynamic, continuously being enhanced and adapted to suit local needs. It is stored not in repositories but expressed in stories, songs, folklore, dances, beliefs, language and occupational practices. The knowledge is shared not through learning management systems but through local learning systems and micro processes of networks and interaction among groups connected by kinship, friendship, community, religion and practices all based on the participatory principle. To this end, indigenous knowledge becomes open not through the expression of knowledge in a form that is saleable in the marketplace but through considerations of cultural integrity, reciprocity and presentation. Within collectivist societies, knowledge has always been seen as a public good, rather than a source of private/individual profit. It is thus treated as a kind of community-owned intellectual property developed by all, available to all and for the benefit of all. Certainly there is a lot that the OER movement can learn from the participatory principle of indigenous knowledge systems.

Samuel Nikoi ( 7 June 2009)

“Grade-centrism”: Are we in danger of trapping students to behave in a certain way?

Recently we had the privilege in Beyond distance of hosting Charmaine Ryan, from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Australia. She gave a presentation on approaches to e-Assessment at the School of Information Systems at USQ. She described the challenges faced by her department in 2004 of late submission of assignments and several request for extensions. To resolve these problems, and taking into consideration that the majority of students on the programme came from collectivist societies, a decision was taken to introduce collaborative group online assessment strategy utilising a mixture of group and individual assessment and group on-line discussion. Students were required to contribute to the development of two case study reports within their groups and to also make postings to a general discussion area either critiquing or summarising a number of prior postings. At the end of the semester a 24 hour individual case study report was submitted followed by a two hour examination. Reported outcome, of the new intervention, was reduction in the number of requests for extensions and also improvements in grades.

In the UK, and like many parts of the world, the use of “marks” and “grades” to drive learning and to measure learning outcomes is well established. The view that students will only learn if they are awarded “grades”, “credits” and “marks” etc has led to a situation where curriculum design has placed much emphasis on learning outcomes in terms of the number of credits a student has to receive at the end of each academic year. The question which needs to be asked is, by promoting “grade-centrism” are we not in danger of entrapping students to behave in a particular way by using the carrot and stick of grades and marks (MacDowell 2007), which may lead to “shallow learning” i.e. learning what is needed to pass an exam? How do we make students aware of deep learning where outcomes are not grades, marks or credits but include the capacity to learn more effectively making learning to learn the main goal (Hulberg et al 2008). The Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange (ASKe) initiative has made the case for greater emphasis to be placed on assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning.  The collaborative group online assessment strategy at USQ is surely a “blended assessment” process which provides a lot of food for thought.

Sahm Nikoi (BDRA – 26 April 2009)

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