Thursday, 16 December 2010

E-Learning Forum - December 2010

On Monday morning I attended our E-learning forum here at LJMU, the theme of which was "the BIG share" Open Learning Resources. The first speaker was David Kernohan talking about OER (Open educational resources) in a time of change. He was with us using the power of technology, which for the most part seems to work but I did find him quite hard to hear and I kind of wished there was a web cam so we could see who was speaking. It's funny because up until then I didn't think it was important to see the person, having sat in online sessions before where the speakers did have webcams but it seemed something was missing on Monday.

His talk was a bit depressing for a Monday morning when we looked at the implications for any new funding model we might be faced with. Funding is more likely to become variable and it's very hard to plan an institutional budget a year in advance with variable funding. By the same token it impossible to guarantee staffing and he raised the possibility of whether we would see more of a move to atypical staff contracts. He also pointed out that if we chose to move around from place to place we aren't free to take our materials with us as the employer owns the copyright. Open licenses can help with this, it allows you to take your materials with you if you move. So what do we need to do within our institution:
  • Convince the institution to get involved in OER and that means talking to your marketing people - you need show the benefits in student recruitment and retention - using OER you can show the students what to expect before they arrive. We need to use it as a marketing tool to recruit.
  • We need to get our stuff out there, but only things we own - use references rather than long quotes, select images from sites were you can use materials under a creative commons licence (like Flickr, Xpert - which has automatic attributer)
  • Use others OER to build on
  • Host it somewhere safe

He directed us to have a look at Leeds Met and University of Nottingham to see what they are doing with OER. There is also an OER infoKit which is a good starting point to explore what OER can do.

This was an interesting presentation and given the email sent out to staff by the VC later that same day talking about the competitive market we are finding ourselves in and how we need to make dramatic changes. Maybe this is one way forward for us as an institution to compete - we can give students a better taster of what to expect at LJMU by using resource they can access before they even choose to study here.

Next up was Ruth Nagus talking about how she uses OER resources within her own modules to provide richer content for students. She uses images in Blackboard to help students identify the folders they need to access for particular subject areas - really simple but really effective. She uses which can be used in an educational environment, you can download and edit to fit your purposes. These are just a couple of examples of things she does. Ruth uses resources and activities to make the students think and she does this in a multimedia environment.

We then heard from Neil Grant from our corporate communications department talking about LJMU TV. Corporate communications are looking at marketing through different channels. They want to gather original audio and video content and distribute this through different channels. The two things he talked about were YouTube and iTunesU. He said this was about recruitment but also about teaching and learning. We need to raise the profile of the university.

YouTube EDU is an area specifically for education - you upload upto 30 mins of video and this area gets a lot of traffic as it's seen a "quality" content. It's possible to brand your own channel and you can embed videos into your own pages. LJMU has it's own YouTube channel LJMU TV

iTunesU is similar to YouTube EDU page but is better for delivering audio content and users can can download that content to their devices. You can also link back to the university content from the iTunesU page. So Neil is looking for content to go into YouTube and iTunesU - a lot of the content so far is promotional, he needs more educational content - lectures, practicals, content that would be of interest to those within or without LJMU to help raise the profile.

Finally we heard from Katherine Harbord talking about the benefits of using OER both for your students and for yourself as staff. Katherine was very positive about the use of OER. She is new to LJMU but has used OER in previous posts and found it to be very advantageous. As well as providing richer more varied resources for students, as staff it actually saves you time as you are not reinventing the wheel. You can adapt work others have done to apply to your own courses.

All in all an interesting morning, which did stimulate quite a bit of discussion. There was questions about whether putting all our stuff out there is a positive step or whether it leads us to being replaced more easily. It was acknowledged that whilst making resources available more widely was useful it still needs the expertise of staff behind it to put it into context and that contact with academic staff, whether actual or virtual is still incredibly valuable.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Shaping our learning futures? - final keynote JISC online conference 2010

The final keynote was from Elliott Masie. He used one slide, which I was very impressed with, no death by PowerPoint here. He talked about flip happening - flip in learning. Sometimes you need to flip and idea to get it work. He told a story of an academic who used to give a lecture then send students home with homework - he flipped it, he recorded his lectures sent the students home to watch it then they did the homework in class. He found this worked really well and by watching the lecture before attending in person a lot of discussion was stimulated both before and during the class.

He talked about affordances - when a new technology comes to us we need to look at what it affords us the ability to do. What can we now do with the technology that we couldn't do before. We have a habit of falling in love with new technology without necessarily looking at their affordances realistically. It's about benefits, what are the benefits to our users?

He argued that our learners want greater autonomy of their learning but at the same time they also want more mastery and purpose.

He said the challenge facing e-learning is that it's been hijacked by regulation. I guess this takes some of the creativity and innovation out of it. There are a variety of changes coming, not to replace the instructor but people around the world sharing their knowledge.

We do however need to be careful in our language so we don't create the digital "in-group" excluding the "digital-out" group - we would run the risk of becoming an exclusive club which isn't helpful. We can learn from each other.

He sees the role of the university is to aggregate the students experience, assessment and feedback as we do gain value from learning together and from sharing space. It's not all about virtual learning. E-learning isn't a solitary activity and it isn't there to create the death of the classroom.

He also argued that failing is part of the learning process. We need to build more failure into our technological assisted learning. You need a pilot to crash in the simulator so they learn from that and don't do it in the real thing. The live chat talked about supporting learners to fail in a safe environment but Elliott argued we need to toughen up our assessment so failure happens. The question was raised though whether this is motivating or demotivating? I also think that in a time when universities are in competition which each other and in a world where league tables and results are valued, it's very hard for us to allow people to fail - it doesn't tend to be seen as a positive. So a wider change in the way we think would be needed for this to work.

Other possibilities for flip are to play with the sequence of laddering - do we ever analyse the order in which we do things in a course and play around with the sequence?

Video and time flips have an impact on industry in the creation of video stories and the fact that you can be one click away from expertise.

He talked about time compression and time expansion. With time compression 5 day courses are 3 day courses, 3 day courses are 1 etc. With time expansion you get the opposite - if you could do a 7 year MBA that had little impact on your day to day working, would this be attractive?

The question was asked whether reputation (especially digitally) would replace qualification as an indicator of who we can trust? Elliott sees it as more of a mosaic, user ratings along are not enough, qualifications plus the ability to continue to learn could be the way. He said we shouldn't be graduating people but that you should become a member once you've graduated and your membership is dependant on whether you continue to learn - very interesting I thought.

This session and in fact the rest of the conference was really good and I've taken lots away to ponder. For the first time I used Evernote to take my notes (not on the first day though) which I found to be really really good (thanks go to @theREALwikiman for tweeting about this some time ago, which got me started). Wish I'd used it for the entire conference and I will certainly be using it again. I find when I type notes rather than scribble them I make better notes, because if something looks wrong in type I delete it whereas I would just leave the scribble on the page and then not know what I meant when I came back to it. Evernote also gave me the option to capture bits of the screen so as this was an online conference if any of the presenters had nice slides which diagrams I'd never be able to redraw (especially at speed) I just captured it. Still getting to grips with what it can do but liking it so far.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Is the future mobile? - JISC Online 2010

This session by Graham Martin-Brown certainly seem to spark a lot of debate. I wasn't able to attend live but tuned in the following day.

By his own admission Graham isn't a practitioner or an academic - he was giving his take on the world of mobile.

He thinks PCs are dead, laptops are on their way and the phone call is dead. Not sure I agree with the last one myself as I do like a good chat on the phone with my mum and my best mate. However....

He showed that Internet trends are all about mobile web and not about desktop web. The Smartphone market is growing rapidly. The mobile app economy as disrupted the software industry forever - there is so much stuff out there that is available for download very cheaply or even free. Also now anyone can produce software apps. Looking at the iPhone market he showed that only 7% of apps are categorised as education. Apps for learning check out or

He argued that there has been little evidence of improved learning outcomes just from using technology. He said that the following technology is to support teaching not learning:
  • Interactive whiteboards - you can still do death by PowerPoint
  • VLE
  • Learning platforms - they become teaching platforms
  • edu software - described as boring

These, he argued, maintain the practice of the 19C rather than moving us forward into the 21C

He had lots to say about Elluminate, the very software we were using to listen to his talk. He said there is a step learning curve, it's ugly and there is no support for modern apps

He talked about disruptive technology, technology that changes our normal way of doing things - used the iPad as an example.

It is more useful to teach kids how to create a blog post in Wordpress than how to use Microsoft Word

He had good things to say about MoLeNET as examples of positive ways mobile technology is being used.

So the question "is the future mobile"?

  • it's already here
  • the m in m-learning stands for mainstream
  • everything is shifting to mobile
  • it's not about supporting existing practice
  • resistance is futile

Finally e-learning doesn't mean we need less teachers but we need a different range of teachers with different skills. Having technology is not enough, we need to think about how we use it