This Charming Man…?

April 28, 2010

Of politics and technology

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 6:20 pm

I usually blog about education and technology, or something that approximates that.

But I have been oh so slightly intrigued by the UK election and what’s happening with technology. A few years ago I did this presentation for education.au on e-learning 2.0. The US primaries were on and I said that the primaries and the election would be lost or won in engagement with social media. Not too far off the mark I think. Well pretty obvious really.

So, I am a Brit and I’m living in Australia, and confession time I’m a life long Labour Party voter. So I am going to interested in what’s happening over there.

The thing that strikes me is how dull the websites are. Dull but the Labour and Lib Dems have at least had some usability thought given to them (that’s for you Ant). The manifestos are above the fold – bang straight in. Labour have some nice roll overs and the Lab and Lib Dems those get involved, volunteer, join buttons nice and prominent. the Tories use their real estate for the ‘call to arms’ type of thing with roll overs for various press releases and video streaming. Which we all know (but I’ve never figured out is a usability no-no).  The Tories have tried the whole social media, Facebook, Twitter presentation on the website but it just looks blocky, cluttered and inelegant.

What of the otherstuff? Well Facebook is just tribal and trollish, Twitter is really the place to be and some interesting stuff is being done using the iPhone.

The #ge2010 tag has been the one to watch with the big and little guns using it  and giving a real sense of what people are thinking, doing and saying. With less than 10 days to go this traffic is going to go through the roof. Also about a third of the big party candidates are tweeting away – they it has to be said are generally less interesting than those observing – but good on them. When elected let’s see if they keep it up.

I came across this website from some tweet. The Labour Party has an iPhone app that allows tele-canvessing from the phone. Pure genius. And something borrowed from the Obama campaign if I remember rightly. The piece argues that all the sexy stuff is happening under the hood, and isn’t at the presentation layer. So Labour is using smarts to mobilise its base, and the Tories are attracting voters through the web. 60,000 people have been contacted using the virtual phonebank. That’s a pretty interesting figure. I want to contribute something to the campaign but don’t want to spend 4 hours in a call centre. That’s OK download this app and do a few while you are waiting for the dinner to cook. Voila activate your base with the anytime/anywhere technology of social media. Class.

And on a final note – the Lib Dem manifesto. These guys must have been gutted by the delay in the release of the iPad. That thing was designed for a gesture device and just does not work for the web.

Well as this is my personal blog – vote early, vote often, vote Labour.

April 19, 2010

The Learning Management System…Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 5:31 pm
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The Learning Management System/Virtual Learning Environment. One suite of applications I cannot get excited about. Really, and I have tried. Even the names, Learning Management System – a system that someone, presumably the teacher/facilitator can manage a student’s learning vs the slightly more palatable c.1992 sci-fi influenced Virtual Learning Environment. ‘So what are you doing today Johnny?’, ‘I’m going to my physical learning environment, mummy.’

The ongoing debate about which LMS/VLE is the best for an institution, is more akin to popping down to the coffee house and discussing the relative merits of the Handsome Carriage versus the Horseless carriage. Same design you’ve just replace the horse with an engine (and created global warming).

Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Sakkai. Meh. They will all so what you want if what you want is a repository for you ppt slides and links to stuff somewhere else, oh and those quizzes, let’s not forget about those (dear God can we, the quiz should be left for Sunday nights in the pub in order to demonstrate what we were force fed at school – oh wait, yeah, I get it – quizzes). The choice isn’t even pedagogical, blackbox vs open source is the battle line these days. The calls of  ‘if we have to have a crap LMS, we may as well have an open source one’, ring out across Australia and New Zealand.

I’ve been an exponent for Learning 2.0; blogs, wikis, low cost, low res, high quality RLOs  but you know what?, ‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold’. The more choice we offer staff and students, all based on a needs analysis of course, the more fractured the learning oval becomes. Things are increasingly coming as packages rather than modular where you can build up. The ePortfolio that also has wikispaces and blogs; an Elgg instance that have groupings, RSS feeds and blogs; a stand alone wiki, the propitiatory lecture capture and dissemination technology whose picture you can’t make bigger. God knows academics are confused and run off screaming.

So once we were centralised. The black box that acted to monitor, and manage learning, or rather instruction. Versus the opensource/blackbox landscape we find ourselves in now. Is computer mediated learning any better than 10 years ago. I think we can say yes, but could it have been better? Yes.

Enter student, stage right. There is lots of evidence to show that the ‘student’ values the learning management system. What’s less clear is  why they value it. My guess, yeap, only a guess is that they value it in the same way as they value the locker and the post-box. Somewhere to store and get stuff and somewhere to post stuff. Which is useful for what it is, an expensive warehouse and post-box.

But the crunch point comes when we want students to be active partners in their own learning. Enter personalisation stage left. Personalisation has been knocking around a long time and the good people at CETIS have been talking about this baby for a long time. I love personalised learning, empowering students, and I’ve had a couple of projects to realise it. And it sort of works, but only because it’s a solution developed inhouse. Not entirely open source and not a black box either. It works because it recognises local learners needs. Now how do you do that if you have an IT department that is understaffed, uninterested, or non-existent? For me I like the OpenSource collaborative approach. We all have a common goal in this area, and we can pool what little resources we have to develop different flavours.

This naif view though has to be done through leadership. Without it nothing will happen, and the dream will turn to a nightmare very quickly. Professional groups also have a role to play in this. What about creating local Educause groups that can work collaboratively together? At the moment in Australia the Australian Learning and Teaching Council is very keen on collaboration, but the collaborative outputs seem to focus on, albeit interesting, big fat reports that we have already really read before from the US, UK, or the Netherlands. There have been no real projects around collaborative application/teaching tool development, that I can see. I guess I’m looking to teaching and learning groups to bring people together to create great things, and support local differences in a sustained manner. If we do this rather than relying on the remote company or organisation, we may get the learning structures we and our students want.

April 15, 2010

iPad #fail

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 7:04 pm

I know that I am a fan boy. But my disappointment with Apple’s latest announcement that the global shipping of iPad will now be in late May knocks a few of my repaid development pilots out of the water. If you work in the tertiary sector in Australia between now and the end of May is your chance to getting small scale pilots up and ready for semester 2. If you miss the window that’s it until February/March 2011. And that can be the difference between cutting edge and mainstreaming of a device for learning.

Oh well big fat Apple #fail from me.

April 13, 2010

Google Tablet Here Soon? Bleeding edge, or Open Wound?

Filed under: ipad — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 3:23 pm

Wired is predicting the imminent launch of the Google Android Tablet. Apart from why Google has gone with Android, and not Chrome OS, we in education are looking at a sticky few months. Especially those of us who are at the bleeding edge of innovation, this sudden appearance of HP Slate using Windows, iPad using MacOS for iPhone (and to complicate it even more, soon to be iPhone OS 4.0/iPad OS 2.0), and Google’s Tablet using, we think, Android, is all a bit tricky.

Bleeding edge or death by a thousand cuts?

Institution’s love the number one. One Learning Management System, one financial system, one HR system. The problem is is that doesn’t really work in the arena of teaching and learning. Teaching and learning, in the broadest terms including knowledge management and libraries should be innovative. The issues comes though when IT has to support this bleeding edge technology, or like the current slate avalanche has to make quick, too quick, business decisions on the way forward.

The comfort zone between the sand pit and the production environment is getting smaller and smaller, if organisations of any type want to get, or retain competitive advantage.You can find yourself in the crazy situation of implementing a complex enterprise solution, that at the time of planning was a spiffy, shiny, and all together marvelous piece of technology, and half way through the implementation a new infrastructure, application layer and API set storm through the project. Sadly, or realistically I can think of 5 or so projects I know of in this category.

So what’s the solution? Flexibility, Open Standards and Architecture.

Flexibility is that human thing. A lot of people in teaching and learning, research, business units and IT like innovation. Really, seriously and fundamentally see it a good thing. But innovation isn’t a hobby, something that you do on top of your day job. Innovation needs to be part of the job, and innovation isn’t sitting around waiting for the muse to start whispering in your ear. Oh no. A bit of hard graft is needed. But innovation does need people to be charged with the delicate handling that is needed to make it happen. The business needs to be realistic about budget, time, effort  and evaluation and IT needs to be flexible in terms of listening to what the business needs. Innovation can actually be planned, however loosely.

Open Standards. If it’s a black box solution, forget it. I don’t mean be a Open Source evangelist, I mean ensure that the solution will work with everything else, and doesn’t involve bringing in the vendor and paying them $1 million.

Architecture. The institution’s IT infrastructure should align to the business needs and strategies of the organisation. Complete no brainer. But ask yourself, ‘does this happen in your organisation?’. Very few people can hand on hard say yes. If you work for an organisation that as part of its strategic plan sees itself as innovative ask what IT is doing to create an architecture where for example it doesn’t matter if I use the HP Slate, iPad, or Google tablet.

Underlying this is agility. If you’re you’re going to spend $5million on a new Learning Management System there should be organic patches to the project, where what’s happening now can be integrated into the what we originally planned to do. Do that and you’ll end up with the thing that you want today, and not with the thing you wanted yesterday.

Ultimately it comes back to breaking down the silos between organisational units, building innovation into peoples roles, planning for innovation and getting on with it. Do this and you should pretty much cope with what technology throws at you, and you can balance on the bleeding edge without cutting off a limb.

April 7, 2010

It is the year of the gesture device.

Filed under: ipad,Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 4:08 pm
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It really isn’t about the HP Slate or the iPad, what it is about is the connected gesture device. And that is far more important that the Mac/Windows standoff that we are starting to see bubbling in blogs, twitterspace, and the tech press.

The connected gesture device is going to change the way that we, the user, will interact with content. There are very serious implications for the way that we will experience the web. Content will become more tactile. We will see a return to the thing that we really enjoy doing – that that is flicking and page turning.

I love ‘Wired’ magazine, I loathe ‘Wired Website’. I love the magazine’s high quality production quality, on top of great journalism. Compared it to the website. The website has all that content but it is 2 dimensional, flat and unflickable. Now have a look at this video

The gesture device is going to go off this year and will, in all probability, become ubiquitous in 3 years. And you know what we aren’t going to be happy with the websites that we currently have. Gesture=page-turning. Usability will be related to how we interact with the device, and how we gesture. Content classification and hiearchy will have to be thought once again in terms of how I as a user want to interact with my device, as opposed to how I have to interact with the device. One classic example of that is organisation’s intranet. These sites are notorious ‘fail’.  What I mean is that they are fundamentally blocks upon blocks of content. Static, dull and yes important content. Usability is notoriously difficult for this stuff. Turf warfare runs amuck, what logically goes where is contested, and replicated. The process for finding somebody in the online guide is sometimes more time consuming that grabbing a paper staff directory and flicking to the name (if any organisation actually printed these anymore).

So are we ready? Not on your life. Let’s get ready to go back to what we really like doing. Flicking.

The HP Slate

Filed under: ipad — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 3:34 pm
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