Sunday, 31 May 2009

Why bother with Web 2.0 when you have a VLE

Just read an interesting article - All Learning is Hybrid Learning: The Idea of 'The Organizing Technology' by Steve Eskow with a thought provoking paragraph towards the end:

The struggle is between learning defined and organized by one technology — the “campus” — and another — call it “cyberspace” or “Internet” for now — that wants to exploit the possibilities of a technology that frees instruction and learning from the traditional constraints of space, place, and time.

This takes a while to absorb but what I take from it is the conflict the goes to the heart of the Web 2.0 debate. That is the contrast between the insular, control based "campus technology" as Steve calls it and the open, borderless nature of Web 2.0. One major practical issue with this is the hosting and control of a particular learning environment. Educational institutions take it as a given at the moment to buy-in some product, usually a VLE so that they can set the boundaries. It's incidental that I might disagree with this principle. What is important is that these boundaries can often constraint, or hinder, individual educators with their planning and delivery of learning. Why? These VLEs often have Web 2.0 tools embedded - Blogs, wikis etc. Well, we are forgetting the inherent social nature of these technologies. By placing them within a walled environment you lockout and constraint it's spirit. Ok, you can have isolated success where the educator drives thing well, but overall you can't really demonstrate the essence of, say the blogosphere, to the sceptical. And the sceptical still dominate in my world.

Going back to the article, even within most educational virtual environments there exists enough scope to instruction and learning from the traditional constraints of space, place, and time. By it's nature the world wide web does this. So why do I want to free things up further by incorporating (or try and get other to incorporate) any free Web 2.0 that I come across? Because this is the best way of keeping things fresh and vibrant. It also makes any educational organisation look outwards all the time - not every 10 years when they think they'd better update what they have and when the environment they have is so out of date it's laughable to it's student.

Friday, 29 May 2009

What is your motiviation? - Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World - JISC report

More on the new JISC document Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World.

Notable sentence:

"We have heard that finding the appropriate hook, such as showing how the technology can further a particular interest, or make a particular task easier, invariably breaks down barriers."

Obvious and, of course, nothing new. But I record it hear because I need to remember to always have this in mind before I start preaching using grand ideas and sweeping statements. It's like saying "What is their motivation?" The problem is it's not always easy to know what's going to work with each individual.

Behaviours fostered by Web 2.0 - Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World - JISC report

More on the new JISC document Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World.

One of the key themes is addresses of how Web 2.0 fosters the behaviours and approaches of experimentation, networking and collaboration. A disposition to share and participate. What I like about this is that it's not talking about the technologies themselves but real life skills. The problem I see with this is what happens when you express it because I could imagine that it would be open to argument. It's very difficult to evidence this in conversation as I think you have to use and experience the various web 2.0 tools to really GET how using them fosters all these so called "soft" skills.

Despite this, it's a useful concepts. I will just need to clarify my position.

The above is linked to employability skills. This is interesting and new to me. I know really know much about this but I wanted to record the basic premise here. Employers want and demands a range of 'soft skills' such as networking, teamwork, collaboration, self-direction and motivation. Skills fostered by students' engagement with Social Web technologies. I think this is sound but as with the above pretty difficult to prove. In fact, even harder to prove. I could go down the line: "They need to use these tools in Higher Education" because they need to know about them in their future working lives." but it feels a bit simplistic to say this. However, I can see this working better.

The one area where there is clear and indisputable reasoning is where they talk about the behivours of young people changing to having a strong sense of community, a disposition to share and participate and a preference for quick answers. At the moment, students adopt to Higher Education where opportunities on all these fronts are limited. Why? Because that's how they are used to being educated. In the future, students will demands more. In a competitive environment, those that don't adopt to this will be left behind.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Digital Divide - Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World - JISC report - Initial thoughts

I've spent much of today absorbing the new JISC document Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World. It was a worthwhile read as it is very strong on identifying all the issues facing Higher Education in light of the new Web 2.0 world.

I'm not going to do a summary (you can read that for yourself) but I will draw out key points, some of which are new concept for me.

At various point, it talks about the digital divide not being that much of an issue any more. 65% home internet access is promising with 93% of that being broadband. This is likely to get better in the coming years. The sticking point here is that is the people on the wrong end of that statistic are often low down in the ecomonic scale. Good hardware and infrastructure in higher education establishments is good medicine for this however.

Go to go now, but more soon...

Friday, 22 May 2009

Educate the educators! - Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World - JISC report - Initial thoughts

Some initial thoughts on the new Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World - JISC report This is something I need to study in detail as the summary orders the main points well. I want to get to the meat of the report to see how it thinks we can address all the issues. It's not unusual for a paper of this kind to recommend a host of vague goals without any specific suggestion on how they will get achieved. The result being the waste of money spent on the writing of the paper. Research for research's sake.

My initial observations are on the Immediate and fundamental issues of which there are two. The first is digital divide which includes a whole host of issues.
  • For students - access and practical skills. Fair enough.
  • For staff - technical proficiency, reflection on approaches to learning and teaching and... that when they choose to use technology, they can do so effectively.

For staff, this is too much clubbed together. These are the issues that I don't think fit neatly under the digital divide label. These are the issues that I don't think should be lumped together so briefly. These are the issues would each require different sets of people to support. There are issues that, at the moment, are in no way being addressed. These are the important issues!

What makes this worse is that the only other Immediate and fundamental issue is called Information literacies and is basically a long diatribe on about correct searching and referencing. So making sure we reference things correctly is given far greater weight that the areas within digital divide. This is where we've got things back to front. The needs and concerns of the educators are placed in front of the needs and concerns of the learner. In this case, it's about is the educators feeling threatened by the masses of information now available to learners and seeing it as a negative. It doesn't fit into their heirarchical, substantially introverted, guarded, careful, precise and measured world and they want to control. Surely having more sources/information available is good for learning. And when I say more I mean much, much more. Millions times more. When I went to university it was a race to the library to get the one (yes one) good book on the subject. Of course, there is the odd bad bit of information, the odd wrong fact. But that's life in any scenario. The learner has and will manage this. And the Web 2.0 world is a truly, demoncratic world. The good stuff often finds a way of seeing the light of day and the bad stuff sinks to the bottom.

My mantra now is that we need to educate, educate, educate our staff on the practical application of the different Web 2.0 tools. Once they know what they can do, they can work out what to do with them. I know I've seen it happen. This is vital if higher education is going to be at all ready for situation so brilliantly described later in the summary:

"The world they encounter in higher education has been constructed on a wholly different set of norms. Characterised broadly, it is hierarchical, substantially introvert, guarded, careful, precise and measured. The two worlds are currently co-existing, with present-day students effectively occupying a position on the cusp of change. They aren’t demanding different approaches; rather they are making such adaptations as are necessary for the time it takes to gain their qualifications. Effectively, they are managing a disjuncture, and the situation is feeding the natural inertia of any established system. It is, however, unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. The next generation is unlikely to be so accommodating and some rapprochement will be necessary if higher education is to continue to provide a learning experience that is recognised as stimulating, challenging and relevant." (p9 - Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, JISC, March 2009).

To finish the above point. I'm not saying that correct sourcing and referencing isn't important - it is. I'm saying that it consistent receives attention disproportionate to it's place in the grand scheme of thing.

The best excerpt for me is:

"Web 2.0, the Social Web, has had a profound effect on behaviours, particularly those of young people whose medium and metier it is. They inhabit it with ease and it has led them to a strong sense of communities of interest linked in their own web spaces, and to a disposition to share and participate" (p9 - Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, JISC, March 2009).

This expresses something that I've been saying in other ways and expresses it very well.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The nature of Blogging

I've been doing a lot recently talking about blogs and thinking about the nature of blogs. I guess the main message is that blogs should do whatever you want them to. However, it's important that people understand the nature of what blogs are in the main and how they have developed. I find the social nature of blogs isn't always obvious and, therefore, needs highlighting. My reading of other blogs is something that's very important to my learning and is intrinsically linked to this space. the struggle to find/make time to read them. (I currently have over 700 unread posts in my blog subscription). What I probably need to do is cull some of them but that is easier said than done.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Research in E-learning

I am privileged to work in an Institution which is very strong on research. This extends to my area of interest - Learning Technology. The London Knowledge Lab produces a wealth of excellent research which can support educators in the teaching. Taken in isolation, they are interesting and stimulating (some more so than others).

However, I feel that if we are looking at promoting the use of Learning Technologies then banging the research drum shouldn't be our priority. We need to educate the educators on Web 2.0. I say Web 2.0 because this is an easy general term which describes the current climate and what we need to tap into. Educate the educators sounds obvious and people will say - "Yes, but also we need to...". Well there's no point getting to the also if the first issue is not address. By all means, pedagogy is important but the practicalities must be addressed first. I strongly believe that once our educator understanding the underlying ethos or Web 2.0 and it's different elements, they can be largely trusted to incorporate then into their teaching effectively. Proper understanding of what something is for is key. Most will not be inclined to read any of this research. But show them a new tool and what it can do is more likely to be well received.

There's more to say here, but I wanted to get my thoughts down quickly.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


I've been using Ning recently to set up a social network for a short course we are running. It was clear to me early on that having a social network was the best way to go but the question then was which one. Facebook was the obvious first answer but the group function didn't seem to have the right flexibility and functionality we were looking for. Also, this brings up the issue of whether facebook is suitable for learning. The answer is YES for the concept of social networks but NO for facebook, certainly to a large extent. The argument that we should use it because they are is also true for the concepts behind social networking. I have a strong suspicion that kids don't want school/college intrusion into their world of facebook or bebo. But this doesn't mean we should ignore it completely. Why not have something more akin to facebook than the now common VLE oe LMS.

This is where Ning comes in. Although I've been hearing some bad things about it recently it does the job when it comes to quick and easy social network creation. It's strong on discussion, embedding video and photos. We've put resources up but it wouldn't be my first choice if that's all I was doing with it.

When I get a chance I'm going to tour around all the social networks that I can find. it would be good to be able to make an informed decision on all their pros and cons.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Blackboard Patent

The more I read about Blackboard's lawsuits against Desire2Learn for Patent Infringement, the more horrified I am. It is fundamentally wrong that a particular company can patent elements of e-learning. Desire2Learn's offer of donating $1,000,000 to non-profit schools and educational organizations is a classy move and shows where their priorities lie. I know little about them except they are LMS which you pay for, so I'm not that sympathetic. For me, the whole affair is contrary to the ethos and spirit of open source.

If I could I'd have nothing to do with Blackboard and paid for LMS's I would. But it's as if educational establishments don't trust anything that is free. Open sources and Web 2.0 is a new sharing, caring, democratic world. There is no catch.

Rant over.

Friday, 1 May 2009

New ways of working

It's always useful to hear how others use Web 2.0 to support their learning. Particularly, when their context is similiar to yours. Cammy Bean's top ten tools is useful to me because it reinforces a lot of the things I'm doing whilst introducing some new stuff. He mentions Evernote which I've not used. It looks interesting and I'll certainly explore it. But I must be careful not to start using something that doesn't serve any purpose for me, solve a problem or enhance my working practices. This is the test for any new tool. Enhancing practice that is relevant for many of the Web 2.0 tools. This is what is so exciting be also quite scary - you are changing the way you work, the way you live your life!