Can Learning Innovations be Embedded and Sustained?

On 28 April, 2010, Gabi Witthaus and Terese Bird attended a CAMEL meeting sponsored by JISC and which took place at Middlesex University, the theme of which was to examine whether the developments of the DUCKLING project can be embedded and sustained. Once the project is over, can teaching teams continue to use the technologies, findings and deliverables?

In this meeting, Gabi and Terese looked at the sustainability of each of the three technologies implented in the DUCKLING project — ebook readers, podcasting, and Second Life — as well as the pedagogy underpinning the use of each. Since the project is a joint effort amongst the Schools of Psychology and Education, and Beyond Distance, it was helpful to consider how each of the Schools implemented each innovation.

Psychology used Second Life as a forum for role-playing and simulation, to give students a taste of the experience of living and working on an oil rig with its dangers and isolation, as preparation for their assignment to write a health and safety training manual for oil rig workers. Beyond Distance techies supported this work. However, the actual role playing and leading of the sessions was done by Psychology academics and could continue that way, with some tech support. To watch a YouTube video capturing some of the action of the students’ experience on the oil rig, click here.

Education sent their students into existing language class forums in Second Life, where students observed and could participate in the classes. This was a very flexible way of making use of Second Life — students simply went in and signed up for classes already taking place pretty much 24/7. Observing language classes in Second Life has now been embedded into themodule as an optional activity. As long as there are such forums in Second Life, this activity is sustainable.

Podcasts have been fully embedded into the Psychology curriculum for the masters programme in DUCKLING — especially as part of the dissertation-writing process. These podcasts been rolled out to all cohorts on that module. Psychology academics have been making and distributing (via the University VLE, Blackboard) podcasts without any help from Beyond Distance for months now. Education has especially recently begun to record podcasts for its Masters TESOL students, and again the work of recording and posting onto the VLE is straightforward enough to continue without difficulty after DUCKLING’s conclusion.

With the ebook readers, we learned from interviews with students that using the ebook reader is changing their study habits. To quote one student: “I now study more in my workdays using the e-reader. I’ve been putting it in my bag every day and taking it to work and after lunch reading a few pages. I’ve found that way it keeps the content fresh in my mind. Before with the paper version, I’d allocate my weekends for study.”  Another student commented, “I think that the e-book reader changed my way of keeping notes and makes my study more effective. Before, I used my laptop to write a lot of notes because I felt that I would forget the whole thing if I didn’t take them down. But taking notes is time-consuming and not that effective because I never really use the notes. With the e-book reader, it’s not very inconvenient to go back to the material on the e-reader and I can remember where the material was and go back to the module on the e-reader and look through it. As a result of that, I didn’t take a lot of notes and I don’t think it (not taking notes) makes a difference to my study.”

A further aspect of the continuing use of ebook readers can be viewed from the point of view of finance. One department saw savings over printing and shipping stacks of handouts to students, by instead shipping to the students fully-loaded ebook readers. In some cases the students themselves experienced the savings, realising that they did not have to purchase hard copies of notes and choosing instead to simply read these on their ebook readers. Converting module handouts from Word format into format suitable for ebook readers (epub format in the case of the Sony ebook readers we are using) is not a very difficult process — click here for our instructions to do this. The fact that the iPad supports epub documents, public libraries are beginning to offer ebooks for download in epub format, and students are looking for reading material compatible with smartphones, presses the point that the use of this technology will only increase in future. We predict it will be sustained by popular demand.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant ZooKeeper

A paperless society, how close are we?

About seventeen years ago I attended a seminar in Manchester at which the speaker predicted that a paperless society will emerge in twenty year’s time. We are three years away from the date and I wonder whether we are any closer to the prediction. Last week I was in London with Pal (a work colleague) to attend an HEA meeting at the London Knowledge Lab.  Before the meeting, we were emailed directions to the venue and we made sure we had a printed copy of the information before we set off from Leicester. At London Kings Cross we followed the instructions:

“From Kings cross, take the Piccadilly line south bound to Russell square, come out of the station and turn right, pass the Brunswick centre on your left and carry on and turn, carry on and turn, and turn and carry on and on and on and on…”

After the meeting, and based on my suggestion, we ignored the set of instructions sent to us, made an educated guess, and ventured in a direction we were convinced will take us back to the Kings Cross station. To verify that we were heading in the right directions, we stopped at a point and spoke to a couple who looked more like tourists than Londoners. After a few manoeuvres we made it to Kings Cross, hurray!!!

Back home I wondered why the direction to the venue of the meeting was not made available as a podcast for download, both for our immediate and future use and also considering the fact that the meeting was about podcasting for learning. The alternative would have been to have in our possession the revolutionary I-Phone with GPS functionality and maps.

Despite much talk about the exponential growth in computing power, the age of information technology, the age of digital revolution etc, characterised by the ability to access and transfer information freely, it appears many of us academics, and the institutions and organisations we belong to still limit our use of technology to aspects of our lives e.g. learning, teaching, researching, communicating  whilst  remaining ultra-conservative in other areas of our lives e.g. travelling, shopping etc. Clinging to, and tenaciously adhering to old ways of doing things, as pertained in the pre-technology era, instead of embracing the change and improvement technology can make in all areas of our lives has profound implications for how we view and change the future. From the point of view of “learning transition”, thinking digital and digital wisdom still remains a challenge in many aspects of our non-academic lives. Perspectives may differ on “initiation ceremonies” into digital modes of thinking, but the question still remains; how close are we to crossing the paperless chasm?

Sahm Nikoi; 31 March 2009.

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