Monday, 27 July 2009

Face-to-face to Online - A Process

I've been way behind on my blog reading but have been learning loads converting a face-to-face course into an online one. My key learning point from the last couple of week is not to underestimate the time and effort it takes to do this. Overall, it's very rewarding. This is especially true as the lecturer I am working with is receptive to the process and happy to learn about everything that's an offer. I thought I'd record here the process we have gone through so far:

- I learn about the course
- I demonstrate the organisation VLE we are supposed to be using
- We decide where to house the course - The VLE with Web 2.0 linked in where necessary
- We talk through the activities used on each face-to-face day. Each activity is unpicked and I suggest and demonstrate the options available online
- I set up the course online
- Timings are set and activities are edited

Actually, we haven't finished and the last 3 points are currently being worked up through several iterations. Much of the time is taken with distilling the activity to what's most important and addressing that above everything else. Another big issues is ensuring making it right timing-wise. At the heart of this issue is transferring the synchronous to asynchronous. It sounds straightforward to try and replicate any face-to-face discussion online in a forum of some sort. You could do the odd one synchronously but largely this will need to be asynchronous and with any asynchronous discussion you need to give it time to develop. I favour two weeks for any subject but one week often has to do. So, if you have 4 discussions during 1 face-to-face day and you want to keep all of these online, you will need 4 weeks at least. Hopefully, timeframes are not as pressing as time spent - which needs to be comparable with face-to-face. All this needs to be carefully thought through.

One of the other main things I am trying to do is mix things up and use a wide a range of Web 2.0 tools as possible. You shouldn't really do things for the sake of it so I'm trying to ensure suitability and appropriateness. However, there is an evangelical element to it. I want people to experience a new learning tool to show how good it is! Show how easy it is! It makes it harder to be tied to a less than impressive VLE but they are getting better as they cobble together some Web 2.0-like tools to keep up with the real world and I can link to outside tools easily.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Learning about TPACK

I went to an interesting seminar yesterday run by Punya Mishra where I learnt about TPACK - Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. The A is present to make a better sounding word. Basically, it's what educators need to know in order for effective integration of technologies into their teaching.

“Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between all three components. A teacher capable of negotiating these relationships represents a form of expertise different from, and greater than, the knowledge of a disciplinary expert (say a mathematician or a historian), a technology expert (a computer scientist) and a pedagogical expert (an experienced educator).” Punya MIshra’s website

As with any model or theory that rings true with me, this is not really telling me anything new. But it articulates one of the fundamental issues facing education. And articulates it very well.

How do we address this? Well, firstly I guess people in position like me need to help educators use learning technologies appropriately by not just showing them how to use the tools, but also learning about and helping them integrate it into their course. It’s a two-way process that requires the educator to involve the Learning Technologist in the learning design helping him/her understand the learning process with the LT helping the educator understand the essence of a particular tool.

Interestingly, Punya didn’t advocate a presentation of the TPACK model to teachers. It’s useful for us to understand the process we are trying to get the educators to go through. But it’s not necessary to draw the circles. I’m not sure you should hide things but he’s right that if you talk too much theory most people switch off.

One other good learning point centres around repurposing. We repurpose any technology for our own ends. This is true and obviously so but I really like its simplicity. Presenting things simply is very, very important and a skill that I constantly strive for.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Web Squared comments

I have learnt a lot from reading Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On by O'reilly and Battelle. It may be business orientated but it's given me insight into the future and a different perspective on the essence of Web 2.0. However, when I went back over it and thought about some of the main points with education in mind, I didn't get a great deal of insight. But one point is worth exploring:

Web 2.0 is all about harnessing collective intelligence
Yes, indeed. Web Squared talks about how applications get better the more they are used. The tools learn and use the user contributions. The key phrase here is harnessing collective intelligence. For me, this reinforces my belief in the collaborative/constructivist pedagogies. You could say that Web 2.0 is a collaborative/constructivist approach to the internet. An approach that people have voted for en masse. Similarly, you could liken Web 1.0 (if that's a phrase) to didactic teaching. No input from the user into the static html.

So what for education? Well, the above is my biggest learning point. But conceptually educators need to get used to the idea of constant improvements and updates and actively engaging in this process themselves. Putting up with a static VLE for years and years isn't what we want to be doing in 2009.

Some interesting stuff on how the Web learns from bodies of data. This is useful to know and you can see how the semantic Web will take shape from this. However, there is nothing profound here for education that springs to mind except how exciting some of the tools look. Definitely some educational potential here. If only everyone had an iphone!

Monday, 13 July 2009

My PLE update

I've revisited my PLE document and updated some areas. It was useful to reflect on how my working practices have changed. Not just from April to now, but also from a year ago to now. The way I learn has been invigorated by my engagement with Web 2.0. Instead of reading academic journal and JISC documents intermittently, I now engage almost daily with the the latest Learning Technology news and opinion. I won't spell out for you which is better.

Overall, my core tools are Igoogle, googlereader, bloglines, delicious and blogger.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Random selection of Web 2.0 tools

A common occurrence in the Learning Technology world is the random nature a tool is selected for use. Mostly when a Learning Technology tool or environment is taken up in education there is no precedent. So what do we do? Well, it's worth noting that in the days before Web 2.0, it was difficult to really explore a tool. You had to rely on the product marketing which is always glossy and misleading. So back in those days, we would go with what we've heard others are using. This is fine but often what others are using is the first thing they have come across or read about or heard was being used elsewhere. This can be to do with not really knowing what a particular tool is really all about. Also, people can get blinded by one iteration of a tool and think that this is the only look and feel that is valid. Mostly, it's to do with not really knowing what you want. Not really knowing what you want can be applied wholesale to Learning Technologies in education.

I've been involved recently in converting a face-to-face module to e-learning. One of the activities I had to convert involved small groups drawing their thoughts on a subject. When I asked around, it becomes clear that what people were recommending in the diagramming/whiteboarding area was the one tool they had experience of or had heard of. I then followed the logical path of looking at as many tools as I could and choosing the best tool that fitted my criteria. Rather than spend hours googling, I used Web 2.0 in Education and Best Online Collaboration Tools 2009 - the latter turning out to be the most useful. The beauty of Web 2.0 is that you can try the tools out yourself assesses ease of use as you go. For this activity, I was keen to find a tool that didn't require creating an account (why-oh-why-oh-why do they always do this). The winner WAS ShowDocument - it's sharing method is quick and easy, it's collaboration options are intuitive, and the tools are easy to use. But they have changed their setup to require a login if you want a session to last more than 10 minutes! I'm now favouring Imagination Cubed which is really nice tool. The only issue is that the collaborative element isn't working at the moment. The below image shows the interface and some of my doodling.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Academic skills using Learning Technology

I'm in danger of repeating ideas from previous posts but the Edgeless University does talk about the what I feel is the key issue facing Higher Education with regard to learning technologies. In fact, it expresses it very well. This the issue of staff skills or lack of it.

"Many academics find it hard to envisage the possibilities that technology affords, not least because often they lack the basic skills to use the new tools."

So why don't many or most academics gain these basic skills. We can break this down into time and motivation. Re. time - they don't have enough of it! I hear that a lot and there is no easy answer to this. All I can do is try and tailor what I offer to being somehow time-saving. Anyway, the report states:

"The answer is not to barrage teachers with imperatives to change how they behave, but to help them find space and the capacity to develop new ways of working for themselves. This needs more resources, incentives and support."

So, as always, successful use of Learning Technology can only occur it the wider strategic plan allows it to. Giving staff time and space to reflect on their teaching and learn new skills is something that is way off - certainly in my organisation.

On motivation, this is to do with the status of teaching against the status of research. Research is king! This is true of peer status and respect, true of caree profression, true thanks to the Research Assessment Exercise (which I need to know more about). I think in my organisation research is certainly the focus and is what drives and motivation staff more. However, time (or lack of it) also comes up when you talk to academics. It's no suprise that the use of learning technologies is at a more advanced stage in schools than in higher education. There isn't this duel role in school. There, teachers just teach! That's not to say that school teaching is easier as a result.