This Charming Man…?

July 8, 2010

Productivity iPad

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 3:49 pm

A sweet little iPad project is about to be kicked off and due to lots of reasons I can’t really go into the project here just yet.  But one thing that has surprised me which I thought would have been a no brainer is productivity tools. Fear not thought I; the iPad is connected to wifi and 3G and the cloud is elastic and lovely and the keyboard on the iPad is so easy to use, to use Google Docs.  Or not. Because it doesn’t work. Neither the iPad application nor the web browsing way in. Horrific. You can just view documents that you have created. You cannot create nor can you edit. I’m not so much of a fan boy to blame Google. Google Docs was there before the Apple iPad. I know that Apple have developed the iworks suite for iPad but the issue that you have to pay for iworks and there is the cloud, and the iPad is the device for the cloud. So ok there is the dawning realisation that if I want productivity tools then I will have to iworks. But problem number two is how the hell do I deploy iworks at an enterprise level, and to be honest the isn’t much information around (in that great way that Apple does the find our Easter Eggs thing). Device management is pretty important and pretty much ignored in organisations especially when it comes to the Mac fleet. But apple’s reliance on iTunes means it is increasingly difficult to control what’s on device. Which brings me back to iworks and productivity. The pilot which began as a leaning study has also now become a study about device management. Let’s see how it goes..

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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 7, 2010

It is the year of the gesture device.

Filed under: ipad,Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 4:08 pm
Tags: , ,

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.

March 29, 2010

The Classroom of the future should have…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 3:28 pm

Please leave your comments on what you think should be in the Classroom of the Future…equipment, furniture, technology, infrastructure….

March 24, 2010

What needs to change, but probably won’t.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 4:07 pm

There really is no such thing as the full time student anymore. Well it’s becoming an endangered species. The days of the student grant, equipment allowance, travel allowance, free fees all gone and long lamented. Even 20 years ago there was student poverty, but back then you had to rely on a small grant and the best wishes of the bank manager.

All different now. Large loans for fees and living expenses means that the average full-time student is working, and a large minority of full-time students are working full time. What does this mean for education? Clearly, things do need to change. Most universities are still locked into their 9 – 5, 2 semester cycle. Content, if you are lucky is through an asynchronous lecture capture and dissemination system.

Yeah Universities need to be more technologically enabled, or at least need to start leveraging some of the big infrastructure projects they are putting in place for teaching and learning. But something else needs to change. And that’s the availability of synchronous face 2 face stuff, however that is defined.

The after 5pm teaching has traditionally been the preserve of the put upon part-timer who has very little contact with the department or institution more generally. And whilst the majority of staff are sympathetic to the challenges that students face there is little appetite for accelerated courses, the thought of three semesters raising concern for workloads and research.  But this doesn’t mean that things shouldn’t change.

Universities have to respond to the fact that many students just cannot afford the cost of a system that was created in the 12th century, and seriously hasn’t changed that much.

Will it happen? I think not anytime soon. Deakin Uni tried the 3 semester appraoch, and is still in some union – management stand-off. Should it happen? Hell, yeah. But I’m not holding out for it anytime soon.

March 17, 2010

The return of face-2-face learning and teaching, no really.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 12:43 pm

There is an argument (being put around by me) that the rise of e-learning was a response to a growing number of distance education students and to massification of education. And that landscape has responded with two actions. The first is the almost ubiquitous use of the Learning Management System/Virtual Learning Environment; the second the investment in reusable learning objects (RLOs). The drawbacks for these have been that the LMS/VLE is pretty teacher centred (even Moodle) and the the problem with RLOs is that they are just not widely used. That isn’t to say that there aren’t good RLOs out there, there are (see http://www.periodicvideos.com/ for a great example). But they are from the age of high production values, which offer very little on return over a three year period.

There has been some impact by social networking/Web2.0 approaches to education, but these are in small pockets. We’ve put into production a really nice open source educational Web2.0 platform (Elgg), but take up is limited. Why is this? Well I think fundamentally staff aren’t comfortable with the tools and it takes a lot of effort to make the paradigm shift from content delivery to content creation and collaboration.

These online tools have had to work within relatively low bandwidth. In education we have to still be mindful that not every student has ADSL. Even those with ADSL2 won’t have the promise theoretical maximum (my home account is still sub 5mps). But the revolution is coming. I’m talking, of course, about the National Broadband Network, the NBN. The Australian Governments attempt to put truly high speed connection out there, for all.  I’, not going to discuss whether and when this is going to happen, and just assume it will.

One day the NBN will be here. And it will change Australians’ live. Really. Honestly. How? Because it won’t be about getting stuff quicker. Of course it will, but the impact won’t be how I can get youtube videos faster, it’ll be about how I connect to goods and services, government, education, health. Personally, tele-health is the thing that will creep up on, and will dramatically change how we interact with health provision. How I interact with government and democracy will change radically. No more MP surgeries in their office, I’ll use my consumer telepresence attached to my HD TV to get my point across (politicians beware).

But education? Educators love face-2-face. One of the reasons  teachers and academics dislike e-learning so much is because the umbilical cord of presence is stretched to the point of anonymity. The NBN has the power to bring it back.

Imagine, I’m a full-time student, it’s Wednesday, and I’ve just finished my part-time job. My job is in the city, but the lecture I’m supposed to be at is 15km to the north of the city. What there is close by is the local library, which is plugged into the NBN and has a number of consumer telepresence points, which I can just walk into. And I do. And I dial into the lecture, real-time, HD, recordable, storable, sharable, and importantly interactive.

But the real power comes with student collaboration. What about study groups that transcend the campus, the institution, or even the nation state. The chatroulette of education? I study chemistry, and I want to use my presence to study with other chemistry students around the world. Why? Because we may have other shared interests, such as F1, World of Warcraft, or Abba. Effective study groups work because there are things other than the topic in hand in common. And we are fundamentally social creatures, who like to eye-ball each other.

For what it’s worth the future is face-2-face. Watch and see.

March 10, 2010

Student Centred Learning? …Oh, I’m sorry I thought you said Marxist Dialectic.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 1:33 pm

Crabby old me.

I’ve been working in education development longer now than I’ve done anything else in my life, apart from being a subject within the educational process. I’ve been taught, I’ve learnt, I’ve talked to 4am about James Joyce and the revolutionary way to teach Joyce, I’ve thought about how to teach and how students learn, I’ve thought about technology and how it can enhance the student learning process. I  had successes and some monumental failures (don’t teach ‘Of Grammatology to first year undergrads – you feel bad, they feel bad, you feel worse when the student evaluations come in; or give them a journal piece on gay sex in public places when discussing Edmund White – all I will say is messy)’.

This ramble is to get us to the subject of  ‘Student Centred Learning’. I swear I am really, really, really over this one. You know the concept of it is not difficult. Putting the student at the centre of the educational process, rather than thinking about the position of the institution, or teacher or lecturer. The concept is so rampant that primary and secondary schools have been doing it for quite some time. In Universities, we have what often occurs to me to be two camps. Those that think that we are on some some mission that will eventuate in some post-revolutionary socialist state where we will live in some pedagogical paradise (involving hugging ever available body no doubt), or the counter-revolutionaries that are holding out for the whack ’em with a lecture and a tutorial a week, in a it was good enough for me it’s good enough for them attitude.

Of course it never was good enough. Bad teaching has always been a defining quality of higher education the world over. But it didn’t really matter that much when you were

a) getting students, from the ‘best schools’, who were very good at playing the system

b) very bright working class kids who would get through on natural talent

c) a combination of both privilege and talent.

We have the revolutionaries. And I have worked with many of these folks, and pretty sure I was one of them. They who see the student centred approach akin to historical materialism, the we will get there in the end at some point, unknown, in the future. The lonely Socialist Worker, collecting signatures and selling the paper in an effort to bring about a new world order, as if getting enough signatures or buying a copy of SW would bring the prevailing hegemony down.

It is neither a step into some Stalinist dystopia, nor is it the promised land. What it is is a recognition that with hyper-massification of education you have to change your methods of teaching and learning. We are no longer just teaching the privileged elite, or the bright kids that shine. If institutions buy into the education for all argument (and funding), then they/we have a responsibility to extend the way in which we teach, and assess. The two essays per unit per student, may be quite convenient for me to mark each  semester (with a cheeky little red in my glass), but it hardly acts as a reflective, continuous, sustained piece of work for the poor bugger that has to make sense of my ramblings on Derrida, or the late 20th Century Gay Novel.

And the zealots? Get over it, engage staff in it, be persuasive and just do it; leave the tambourine banging to a Sunday where it belongs.

Oh, and before I finish my rant – educational leaders? It isn’t a balancing act between the believers and the non-believers, it’s a pragmatic approach to expanding student numbers, so take some responsibility for what happens in these courses rather than the paper trail around them.

Oh and if you want to know about that revolutionary way to teach Joyce? No idea. A certain feted Irish writer, who has just published an excellent book on hypochondria, and I cracked the teaching Joyce nut, but did it far, far too drunk in Brussels, and we couldn’t remember the idea in the morning. I’m pretty sure it was student-centred though.

March 3, 2010

It’s about the content, stupid…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 4:41 pm

A few years ago I worked with a guy who used to say that, ‘e-learning was a hammer, to crack a nut’. By that I think that he thought people really got obsessed with e-learning system (or more correctly back then, the Virtual Learning Environment/Learning Management System), rather than how academic staff could change practice to improve their students’ learning experience.

Nothing has changed much. Except technology has moved on and the landscape of educational tools has become more complex. When I say complex I mean completely overwhelming. The landscape isn’t just what you do on a computer, anymore either. It’s the relationship between the physical here and now and the technology interface. Between the production of content and the delivery of content.

As ever the delivery of content is the easy one – want content to your laptop, iPhone, Blackberry, iPad? Sure we have people with imagination and skills to create these platforms. What interoperability to saw all these systems up in a neat parcel for students? Sure we’ll give you IDM. Want iTunesU, branded and purring like a tiger? Sure, will get those APIs going now.

I can rattle off half a dozen wizz bang, smart, integrated system that my institution have introduced. They are truly good applications that have the potential to enhance the student experience.

The problem with educational systems that don’t mandate that their teachers to keep up to speed on their teaching practices is just that.  No amount of excellent infrastructure, interoperability, and applications amount to a heap of beans unless organisations set standards for engagement by staff. Ultimately giving someone a 1970s Ford, or a 2010 BMW doesn’t matter if it sits in the garage because the owner doesn’t know how to drive.

Content is King, but Context is Kingdom. We are getting to the point where students are demanding more in terms of their experience, it’s time to mandate teachers to be up to date with the tools of their trade.

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