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Friday, December 22, 2006

Embrace web 2.0 technology or die - that's an order!

It seems a no brainer to me that higher educational establishments offering distance learning courses should embrace web 2.0 technologies quickly otherwise their credibility is an institute of repute will quite frankly be tarnished. Relying on subject expertise will not be enough, the online delivery and communication techniques used will sort out the winners from the losers

It would seem that a lot of higher education institutions may think that by providing a VLE such as Blackboard they have done their bit for distance and e-learning and that is the end of the matter. Many institutions even at this stage may not even be aware of the growing influence of web 2.0 technologies and will bumble along quite merrily, as their customer (student) base dwindles away.

If I can make some sort of an analogy between institutions (and it may not be the best, but hopefully you will get the point) that embrace web 2.0 technologies and those that don’t, it would be like comparing an institution that currently asks for all essays to be handwritten instead of an institution that accepts word processed essays. Most students would find this unacceptable, irritating and a sign of an organization not up with the times. This will probably be the case with web 2.0 technologies and the benefits they offer in communication, community building, learning and teaching 5 years from now.

The only conceivable argument I can see for not embracing web 2.0 technologies are considerations of privacy and security of data. If there are good educational and learning reasons for using web 2.0 technology then a way needs to be found to overcome privacy and security of data issues, which I am sure, can easily be found if the desire is there.

Quite bold statements from a mere novice in the field, however after reading various advocates testimony, briefly reviewing some web 2.o technologies the vibe just feels right. My proviso being that web 2.0 technologies give you the platform to do some very interesting things, but you’ve got to know your technology and use it well.

web 2.0 Adventures

My recent adventures into web 2.0 land that have ignited my fire are the web application ‘basecamp’, which uses wiki technology (only it just does not tell you) for the purpose of project management and it makes it feel so damn easy. I am sure higher education can learn a lot from the ease of use of this product and it seems ideal for use as a course management system. I shall investigate further.

The second vitally important element of the whole web 2.0 phenomenon is the XML feed technology e.g. RSS or Atom and the ability to subscribe to blogs. I’m afraid I’m a busy man, hey maybe I’m a bit lazy – I want the action to come to me. I cannot always remember where all the action is or will be so I want notification by the killer internet application email or I want all the action sucked into my central website base.

So this leads to the beauty of subscription where your favourite blogs can be emailed directly to you, using a subscription service such as feedblitz or alternatively, use a service such as bloglines where all your favourite blogs are brought together at a central website.

Wake up there could be a revolution going on.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Adults learn different to kids! What a load of androgogy

Previously I’ve had a look at models of learning that emanate from psychology; lately I have looked at models from adult education. This blog is a summary of information contained in the Tusting and Barton (2003) book ‘Models of Adult Learning: a literature review’.

Many parts of this blog are quoted verbatim from the book, this is not to pass the work off as my own, but so that I have an accurate overview of this literature review of adult education. [As a side note I have found blogging a useful tool in recapping, reflecting on and summarizing the reading that I have done]

The most famous model of adult learning will be Knowles (1973) model of learning called andragogy. A very brief summary is that adult learners are driven by an internal motivation, they bring their own experience to the table of learning and they need to know why the need to learn something as opposed to kids which are told what to learn by their teacher and they have got no choice to learn, it’s compulsory. Its funny that “YOU WILL LEARN!” yes please, can I have some more sir.

Critics of the theory include Brookfield (1994) who suggest it is more of an ideal state for adult learners to be in rather than a descriptive model of how adults learn and Hanson (1996) argues that there is little real evidence of an absolute difference between adults and children in terms of learning.

Knowles draws on humanistic psychology for his model. Humanistic psychology takes human potential and desire for growth as a basic assumption. Maslow (1970) and Rogers (1994) are out of this school and, both assume that people have an intrinsic drive towards growth and self direction.

Important elements of androgogy that have been developed in great depth in the adult education field include:

• Self directed Learning
• Learning how to learn
• Informal learning
• Reflective and experiential learning
• Transformative learning

Self directed learning
Has been represented in a descriptive way i.e that it is a characteristic of adult learners and in a prescriptive way i.e. that this a mode of study that adult learners should pursue. Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) claim that there seems to be a link between self direction and positive self concept, and more tentatively between self direction and life satisfaction. They suggest that strategies to enhance self-direction include:
• Facilitating critical reflection through reading and writing.
• Promoting Rational thinking.
• Developing people’s helping skills.

Candy (1991) demonstrates how the concept of self direction is actually used to gloss over at least four distinct concepts. Two are activities
• Autodidaxy (the independent pursuit of learning outside of formal institutional structures)
• Learner control as a way of organizing instruction

And two are personal attributes or characteristics:
• Autonomy as a personal quality or attribute
• Self Management in learning, the manifestation of independence of mind or purpose in learning situations.

Candy claims that there are important constraints on the extent to which people can or should strive to be self directed, especially when learning formal or technical bodies of knowledge, as opposed to acquiring greater self-knowledge.

Learning how to learn
Through the study of self directed learning, the idea has developed that adults can and should become aware of their own learning processes and how to manage them.

Smith (1983) Suggests there are four distinctive characteristics of adult learners.

1. They have a different orientation to learning than children.
2. They have an accumulation of experience that forms the basis for new learning.
3. Different developmental tasks await adults at different points in their lives and education is sought during periods of transition.
4. Their learning is often characterized by anxiety and ambivalence related to negative experiences of early schooling, the contradictory status of being both an autonomous adult and a dependent student, and other similar emotional challenges.

Smith’S distinctive contribution to this field of study is that he is suggesting that by learning how to learn, adults can learn how to become autonomous learners.

Informal Learning
In their book “Models of adult learning: a literature review” Tusting and Barton (2003) identify that there is some overlap between the literature on self directed learning and that on ‘informal learning’. Informal Learning has been described in a variety of ways including:
• To describe the way adults learn outside formal provision.
• To refer to unplanned or unpremeditated learning.
• Learning which has not been formally structured.
• To refer to provision in the community as opposed to that which is provided by formal educational institutions.
• To refer to any non-accredited provision.

Coffield (2000) underlines the importance of informal learning in the formation of knowledge and skills, describing formal learning in institutions as being merely ‘the tip of the iceberg’. Through his research document ‘The learning society: knowledge and skills for employment’ he found that informal learning is often necessary to do the job, while formal learning is often dispensable.

McGivney(1999) has found that community based informal learning has wide ranging benefits in widening participation in signposting adults to formal learning and improving personal and social skills. Foley (1999) also shows that various forms of incidental learning take place when people become involved in social struggle and political activity.

Reflective and Experiential Learning
Dewey’s (1933) work ‘How we think’ underlies much of the literature on reflective and experiential learning. He identified five stages of thinking involved in the process of moving from an initial state of confusion to a final cleared-up, unified, resolved situation. These are:
1. Suggestions.
2. An intellectualization of the difficulty that has been felt into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer may be sought.
3. The use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea.
4. The mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition.
5. Testing the idea by overt or imaginative action.

The thinking is not ordered and simple as in the list above, but he describes the process of reflective thinking as dynamic and messy, and that it is having the clear gradually emerge from the unclear that concepts and ideas are formed and that learning happens.

In more recent years David Kolb is the name most closely associated with reflective and experiential learning. Kolb’s cycle of learning requires the resolution of four conflicting modes of adaptation to the world.
• Concrete Experience (CE)
• Reflective Observation (RO)
• Abstract Conceptualisation (AC)
• Active Experimentation (AE)

According to Kolb (1984) “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Smith (1983) states that Kolb’s work on learning styles underpins a great deal of contemporary ‘learning to learn’ practice.

Here is the rub with learning styles, Kolb believes that the ‘ideal learner’ far from favouring one particular learning style would develop a balance between all four stages of the cycle and therefore would master all four learning styles as appropriate. This goes slightly against the grain of the opinion that says ‘find a student’s learning style and cater for that style’.

Others who have developed ideas around reflective and experiential experience include Jarvis (1987) whose model of adult learning in social context is based on the idea that learning becomes possible whenever there is a disjuncture between biography and experience. Jarvis believes there are 9 potential responses to this disjuncture:
• 3 non-learning responses.
• 3 non-reflective responses.
• 3 reflective learning responses.

Tennant and Pogson (1995) examined various ways in which experience has been incorporated into learning, the most interesting for me was their view on how Rogers’ and Maslow’s theories stress the emotionally laden nature of the relationship between experience and learning. They point out that in order for learning to occur, the learner must in some way go beyond experience alone. Instead, experience must be mediated, reconstructed or transformed in some way. They therefore ask the crucial question, how and under what conditions can people reconstruct their experience and thereby learn from it. They identify 4 approaches to experiential learning:
• Linking material to prior experiences.
• Relating learning to current experiences.
• Creating new experiences from which to learn, through techniques such as role play and simulation.
• Learning from lived experience through talking about, analyzing, and acting on the implications of the experience.

Transformative Learning
Tusting and Barton (2003) state that critical reflection is central to those models that focus particularly on the transformative potential of adult learning. These theories see learning as primarily as a means of personal or social transformation.

Mezirow is the theorist most closely associated with personal transformational models of learning through his model ‘perspective transformation’. He suggests reflection has three primary purposes:
• To guide action.
• Give coherence to the unfamiliar.
• Reassess the justification of what is already known.

The third purpose is the one that is central to critical reflection and works to examine and potentially transform the structure of assumptions with which we make meaning. This structure of assumptions is acquired through socialization processes, and Mezirow suggests that in adulthood we reassess the assumptions that we acquired during our formative childhood years, often in response to disorienting dilemmas that challenge the notions of reality we had previously taken for granted.

Clark and Wilson (1991) note that Mezirow’s work has been criticized for being too focused on the individual and for not taking into account the social and cultural factors that govern whether transformation can be possible.

An alternative model of transformation is expressed by Paulo Friere (1972), who sees learning as central to transformation at the social level. in his work ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’

Frierian methodologies start from people’s lived experience, eliciting and working with words and concepts that are already familiar to people in their everyday lives. The teacher is expected to transcend the divide between themselves and the students by committing ‘class suicide’ as an educator and being reborn (through an ‘Easter experience’) as a joint educator/educatee with the students. (Taylor 1993)

Friere’s work has been criticized on a variety of front’s. His writing can be dense and unclear and verges in many places on the mystical (see Taylor 1993). Tusting and Barton (2003) note however, that his influence on the development of popular education, literacy education and adult education has been widespread and profound and he is one of the principal inspirations behind the radical and critical tradition of adult education.

An article of interest in relation to transformative learning is the following: Shaheena Abbas ‘Transformative’ models for learning, teaching and Academic Professional Development – A ‘Self-ish’ Approach

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hey Wiki! Your so fine you blow my mind. Hey Wiki

After setting up a very basic wiki, I have just started to take a look at the use of wiki's in education. My findings are summarized below and are based on reading the following 4 web documents and listening to a skypecast (link below).

1. Naomi Augar, Ruth Raitman and Wanlei (Nov 2004) Zhou “Teaching and learning online with wikis”
2 Joe Grohens and Norma Scagnoli (Spring 2006) . “Uses of Wikis in Teaching”
3. Chien-min Wang Turner, D. (April 2004) “Extending the wiki paradigm for use in the classroom”
4. Steve Hargadon blogspot (Aug 2006)
“Exploring Wikis in Education with Vicki Davis and Adam Frey” including recording of “The uses of wiki’s in education” skypecast

After reading educators feedback on these various websites, seeing how wiki's are currently being employed on the web and listening to an interesting skypecast led by Steve Haregedon it does seem that a wiki in education does indeed have the capability to metaphorically blow your mind. It would appear to be a very powerful tool to engage the students and produce good quality, useful content much more quickly than a student working alone.

Through my reading and skypecast listening I know have a basic understanding of the point of a wiki. With a little more knowledge about the features, functionality and role of wiki’s in education I intend to setup new wikis and collaborate on existing wiki’s to further improve my understanding of the educational uses of a wiki.

Differences between Wikis and Blogs
Before I summarize my findings I’d like to pick up on a couple of interesting points made by Vicki Davis (2006) on the difference between wiki’s and blogs. According to Vicki she explains that the way she looks at it:

1. A wiki is more concerned with facts and a blog is more about opinions and
2. It's easier to contribute to a wiki rather than a blog.

Although I don’t think this will or can be strictly applied, these are two interesting points which may be a nice neat starting point in distinguishing between the uses of the two types of technology.

The Wiki
A wiki is basically a very simple and easy to edit web page. It is designed for group collaboration. Users can either read the content of or add content to a wiki document page.

Vicki Davies (2006) a teacher at Westwood Schools in America and a strong advocator of wikis predicts that wiki’s will become the hub of education in the future. Vicky sees wiki’s as the toolbelt that holds all her technology learning tools together, the central focus of what she teaches. Joe Grohens (2006) supports this view in that he uses wikis as a complete course management system.

Augar, Raitman and Zhou (2004) describe wikis has having 2 different writing modes, or styles of usage:

1. Document mode, where writers create collaborative documents written in the third person and
2. Thread mode, where contributors carry out discussions in the wiki environment by posting signed messages. Others respond leaving the original message in tact and eventually a group of threaded messages evolve.

Pages of wiki can also be described as having two states a ‘read’ state and an ‘edit’ state. To edit a page users click an edit button. Editing a page on most wiki websites is made easy by providers who provide editing toolbars. If no editing toolbar is available then users need to understand wiki language syntax to edit a page (although not too difficult, the edit toolbar makes it a lot simpler for users)

Wiki Features and Functions
The main features and functions that you will find in a wiki include:

1. Authentication – By participants logging into a wiki any addition’s to content can be authenticated providing accountability in terms of who said what and when. [with authentication participants may also have use of a signature tool to move into edit mode automatically inserts the participants wiki username. The signature tool is often hyperlinked to a personal user page which helps students to build an online identity in the wiki environment.
2. Backup and Retrieval of earlier wiki entries.
3. Tracking – Usually in the form of a recent changes page where student participation can be assessed.
4. Notifications by email of any recent updates so that users can check on any new material that is of interest to them and change information if incorrect.
5. Uploading of images and other media

Strengths of Wikis
The basic strengths of a wiki are:

1. Simple and easy to use
2. Easy to learn how to use.
3. Excellent for collaboration and collaboration over time
4. Easy to share.
5. Simple technology – only need internet access and a web browser.
6. Ability to compare two different versions of a wiki

Student Benefits
For students the benefits of a wiki include:

1. It is a student centered environment, students can be involved in the structure and the content.
2. Everyone in a class can access the same version of the work.
3. Previous versions of the work can be recovered
4. Easy to correct mistakes
5. Because it is simple and easy to use, barriers to contributing are removed.
6. Accessible from any computer allowing students to work on assignments at any time.
7. Group work skills can be improved.
8. Steady incremental improvement in both the organization and the content of a document.
9. Social interaction is enhanced. A sense of community can be built up.
10. Information easily disseminated.
11. Information easily stored.
12. Collaborative production of documents. This can build a body of knowledge wider and quicker than an individual. The social and technological interaction can enhance learning. Steve Haragedon (2006) believes that “collaborative efforts are generally better than individual”.

Teacher Benefits
For teachers benefits include:

1. Easy place to post assignment instructions.
2. Easy place organize course material.
3. Wiki’s can be password protected
4. Better than discussion boards, easier to administer according to Joe Grohens
5. Easy for students to submit there work
6. Keeps a log of revisions of student work

Educational Uses
The educational uses of a wiki will be wide and varied some uses that have come to light during my reading include:

1. Summary of Lessons
2. Collaboration of notes i.e. sets of documents that reflect shared knowledge.
3. Dissemination of important information
4. Build up core content and Topic base e.g. creating a book
5. Pre Class planning e.g. Ask students ahead of time what they want to study and shape the content around that.
6. Students can supply feedback to each other
7. frequent revisions and drafts due to the inherent simplicity of wiki technology.
8. Exchange of ideas.
9. Facilitates group interaction. E.g see Auger, Raitman and Zhou’s example idea of an introductory icebreaker.
10. Individual Assessment projects?

Usage Guidelines
An important aspect not to be overlooked is a clear set of usage guidelines, Augar, Raitman and Zhou (2004) advise from their study that these should be short, simple and written in a positive tone. There guidelines “encouraged users to be considerate of others and be active and friendly in their wiki posts”.

Despite all the positive sounding noises, Scagnoli points out a number of challenges and issues that need addressing. These include plagiarism/ copyright issues, monitoring can be difficult and problems of outside editors should a public wiki site be used.

Hopefully this blog although not capturing everything relevant, touches upon the main aspects of a wiki from an educational point of view. My focus now will be to work and participate in wikis and to identify specific, practical exercises that enhance student learning.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Externalize!! Externalize!!

In recent weeks I have been grappling with learning theories and models and trying to create my own mental model of how all the theories relate to each other and how they fit into the timeline of mankind’s understanding of how we learn.

My understanding thus far is that we do learn different things in different ways. There are three well established, recognized and what I’d describe as top level theories of learning that can explain the way that we learn – behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism

Steve's mental map of the development of learning theory
Steve's mental map of the development of learning theory

Although not strictly true, mankind has developed its understanding in more or less a linear fashion starting with the stimuli-response approach of behaviorism capturing the essence of lower mental order learning skills, moving through to cognitive and constructivist approaches which attempt to explain the high order mental learning that goes on in the brain.

I have read a number of articles in recent months on models and theories of learning and although I said in an earlier blog that Brenda Mergel (in praise of Brenda Mergel) had quickly and easily explained the difference away, which she did, I still find the use of the terms interchangeable in a lot of texts and I have not fully clarified the difference in my own mind. That said I feel clear that the three main learning theories that have evolved over the previous centuries are as I have stated above behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism.

Currently I am reading an excellent book, “Models
of adult learning: a literature review
” published by Niace which summarizes neatly and concisely many models/ theories of learning. I have started on models of psychology and building on our three top level theories, I have briefly looked into developmental theories, activity theory, social constructivism and situated cognition.

I see the developmental theories as a more detailed explanation of how people learn cognitively and through constructivism. The other theories are ways of learning that sit within a particular developmental theory and seem to me to follow a linear progression of mankind’s understanding of learning.

What this means to me is that it has been recognized that people go through stages of individual cognitive development, but have social and cultural influences that impact their learning. Significantly these same learning processes can happen in a classroom (decontextualised) setting and in real life settings which can alter how and what is learnt.

From initial stimuli-response behavior, learning theory has developed to the current mainstream position that learning in people happens internally inside one’s brain. Recent theories seem to be leaning towards the importance of the social aspects of learning, both in socio-cultural influences and in the social interaction and collaboration that people do. Brain Science Research also suggests that social interaction is important part of Brain development.

This leads me nicely into the possibility that a fourth top level learning theory is perhaps starting to emerge. Bang on cue as I am working my way through this material up pops good old George Siemens in his weekly elearnspace email newsletter justifying his theory that 'connectivism' is the new learning theory for the digital age.

I confess two things, one I was immediately impressed with George’s elearnspace newsletter when i first came across it. Quite simply George brings to our attention very current topical issues related to web technology and the whole area of learning. Secondly his theory of connectivism was all a bit too much for me to take in, as I was just about getting my head around the concept of learning being an internal process inside a person as outlined in cognitive and constructivist approaches to learning, when George’s theory is attempting to say that the key focus of learning is not what happens internally, but what happens externally and that the key component of learning is connecting externally with other people and technology to crystallize your learning to the outside world.
As George puts it

"We are social beings. Through language, symbols, video, images, and other means, we seek to express our thoughts. Essentially, our need to derive and express meaning, gain and share knowledge requires externalization.

We externalize ourselves in order to know and be known. As we externalize, we distribute our knowledge across a network perhaps with individuals seated around a conference, readers at a distance, or listeners to podcasts or viewers of a video clip. Most existing theories of learning assume the opposite, stating that internalization is the key function of learning (cognitivism assumes we process information internally, constructivism asserts that we assign meaning internally though the process of deriving meaning may be a function of a social network, i.e. the social dimension assists in learning, rather than the social dimension being the aim of learning).

The externalization of our knowledge is increasingly utilized as a means of coping with information overload. The growth and complexity of knowledge requires that our capacity for learning resides in the connections we form with people and information, often mediated or facilitated with technology." George Siemens (2006) elearnspace blog

Is connectivism and the idea of externalization the next significant development in mankind’s understanding of learning theory. Is it the learning theory of the digital age, of this I am not quite sure as I am not fluent in the language of learners and need to read more on the subject. What does strike me is that it fits nicely into how theories of learning have developed with the fact that socialization has grown to be an important element of recent theories of learning and that connectivism would seem a neat logical next step to describe how learning is occurring now in this modern digital world.

Being a novice in the learning theory arena, I felt that I had insufficient knowledge to think about challenging George’s views in the first place, so I just let it lie. I was delighted to hear of a critical retort to George’s connectivism theory by Bijdrage van Pl√łn Verhagen (University of Twente) 11/11/2006). I was equally delighted that George responded to the criticism.
( November 12, 2006)

I still have not fully digested the debate, only to say George’s response helped me with my understanding of learning theories and made me think, hey he may have a point here. The other thing to come across is the passion George has in defending his position. I look forward to reading more pro’s and cons of the connectivism theory.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Trouble with Blogging

So it has been about 5 weeks since my last blog. It annoys me that i have not managed to get a blog in over this period, but what does one do when one is working full time 9-5, going about regular business and looking into various aspects of interactive and collaborative technology in the evenings and at weekends. After all one has to have something to blog about.

Plenty has been going on:
* I have had the joys of faciltating in an interactive and collaborative synchronous classroom.
* I've started designing interactive and collaborative activities for synchronous classrooms.
* I've looked deeper into an important aspect of blogging, which is the syndication of a blog using RSS ot ATOM feeds.
*I've discovered the usefuleness of having feedreader software to make viewing your favourite blogs easier to manage.
* I've created my first wiki and have started to look more deeply into this type of collaborative technology.
* As well as fitting further reading in mainly relating to the connectivism theories of George Siemens at elearnspace.
* All this whilst trying to make sense of all the different models and theories of learning and the relationships if any between them.

So you see for me the trouble with blogging is that it is hard to keep up the pace of getting into a subject quite deeply for every blog, so it is quite obvious to me i need blogs like this one that keep you informed of what i am doing and give you an insight of things to come instead of a big monty blog all the time.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Email is for Old People

Love this! A very timely email newsletter from the man on the pulse George Siemens at elearnspace. (The email Newsletter can be viewed at the elearnspace blog)

Following on from my latest blog about the purpose of a Blog Course Communication Center, George highlights the point that if you want to connect with students educational establishments need to consider communicating in mediums that are more natural to the students of the 21st century.

The elearnspace blog links to an "Email is for old people" report* that looks at teenagers and technology.

The report states that the basic preferred, natural and new technology for communicating with friends is instant messaging or text messaging, but they use e-mail to communicate with "old people".

The upshot of the report was that colleges in America are trying new techniques to try and reach students. These inlude primarily:

1. Mobile phone text messaging
2. Instant Messaging
3. Myspace/ Facebook the very popular social-networking service (similiar to blogs)

George points out that, in response the college listed in the "Email is for old people" article has decided to use Myspace as an additional tool in dialoguing with students and that results have been positive.

George goes onto say that "When we stop asking students to come to our space and use our tools, we start seeing progress
(imagine if the internet required different computers to access different websites...why do we expect that when students encounter our learning materials? Instead of an LMS, our content should come to the student in their native environment (blogs, wikis, social networking tools, iPods, whatever))"**

*"Teens and Technology" (2005) Pew Internet and American Life Project.
** George Siemens (2006) elearnspace blog

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Purpose of a Blog Course Communication Center

Firstly to acknowledge that this is probably not the original purpose that blogging software has been developed. I believe however it can be used for the purposes of a course communication center.

What is the purpose of a blog course communication center

1. The primary function is as a one-way communication message board.
2. Efficient and Direct Notification Service - One post to many blog (course) members direct to their personal email.
3. Central access to course information.
4. Central access to Course Resources.
5. Efficient and Direct Feedback from Students to Staff and vice-versa via comments

It is not proposed that a blog course communication center is to act as messageboard for students? There are other tools better suited to this job.

Two Questions - Is it effective as a means for timely, responsive communication? are there better alternatives? Make that a third question - Is it better than what we've got.

Hang on, Question 3, what you talking about, are you on about a communication strategy. eh Yeah i suppose i am.
Forgive my previous paragraph, but as i am writing this i am wondering have we on the educational side of the fence ever stopped, sat back and started to evaluate our communication strategy or do we just do what, we do, just do what we have always done.

I talked in my previous blog of interaction, collaboration, communication and community building. To be fair i would say that the blog course communication center is primarily about communication, but with an effectively implemented
communication strategy community ties will be strengthened and the sense of community and well being will be strengthened. I think the use of comments on the blog will encourage interaction and involvement in the course, but perhaps the interactive and collaborative elements of adult distance learning will be seen to be more effective in other education strategies.

Blogs:The Course Communication Center

In reponse to Hally's comments i will either reiterate, clarify or move my thinking on as to why i am enthused by the "english120" blog. In my view interaction, collaboration, communication and community building are particularly important elements in improving the educational experience of adult distance learners. The use of a blog as a central point of contact for a module to be studied can assist in facilitating the four elements highlighted above.

Parties involved in this educational experience are primarily the teacher and the students, but additionally administrators and programme leaders are also an important part of the community and need to be involved at varying levels.

This blog attracted my attention, because it was the first blog of this type that I have found. As to whether this is the best or finest example of how to deliver this type of blog remains to be seen. What this blog does for me is to allow me to highlight the main principles and reasons as to why using blogs in this way could be an attractive proposition.

A blog has a number of attractive benefits.
1. 24/7 Internet Access
2. Easy to setup.
3. Good Initial Infrastructure
4. Modest level of HTML Knowledge to adapt infrastructure.

5. Easy for Blog authors to contribute
6. Easy for students to raise issues via comments
7. Blog Contributions and Comments are simultaneously emailed to blog group members. (not 100% sure on this, but all comments are coming back to me the author)
8. Resources: All course related material can be accessed from one simple interface. Documents, presentations, internet links, pictures, video, sound and multimedia applications if required.
9. Entire contents of blog can be printed off for easy reading away from the computer.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

An Educational use of a Blog - Example 1: The Course Blog

I've started to browse to see what people are doing with blogs. I came across this blog English 120.

This blog is being used to administer a module (course). I have not looked into it too deeply, but it has struck an instant chord with me, as this is one way that i have envisaged that blogs can be used in an educational context to improve the communication and collaboration of a teacher, administrators and groups of learners.

I think with the easy use of templates, internet access 24/7, and a perhaps a modest extra knowledge of html blogs could be potentially be the quickest, easiest and most simplest way to improve communication and enhance a feeling of "community" amongst adult distance learners (or campus based students for that matter).

There will obviously be adjustment issues on the side of the educationalist on how they deliver and respond to working in this new medium, but i think students will love it! positives that spring to mind are:

1. Problems cannot be swept under the carpet - It should force concerns to be addressed quicker.
2. Email notifications keep students up to date and informed of what is going on.
3. It seems an easy system to me, thus promoting "community spirit", leading to help, support and sharing of resources.

Whether all this positives sit comfortably with all parties on the educational side of the fence i am not so sure. Using Blogs in this manner may force a change in attitudes, culture and working practice. Anyway these are all things to ponder more seriously at another date.

If any DMU Colleagues wish to explore how blogs can be used in this way, Give me a SHOUT - If i can help i will endeavour to do so.

The IKD Approach to Reflective Blogging (a WIN WIN approach)

Originally posted 27/09/2006 on the Journaldoodledastic blog

It’s amazing to think that my previous blog mushroomed from me just thinking I need to comment upon my own blogging and the potential boredom inducing qualities of a blog to a 900 word mini epic.

After finally completing my “Blogs are Boring! Discuss” blog, I had a good nights kip and I was awoken this morning at 4am with further thoughts on blogging! I resisted the urge, but I could not let it go, I am afraid I had to rush to my PC and capture these thoughts. Perhaps my next blog, should be “Blogging is bad for your health! Discuss”.

Anyway the combination of two things has led me to the seeds of an idea for a clearly defined assessment approach to reflective (educational) blogging. I would describe the approach as the Incremental Knowledge Development approach to blogging. i.e. The IKD approach.

The first element of the IKD Approach is that a blogger should be encouraged to take a “me, me me and what I think think think” approach to a series of blogs in order to allow the blogger to “spew forth” the ideas and the thoughts that are trapped inside the blogger destined never to be revealed if they are weighed down with the burden of having to adhere to certain criteria that a blog should include, for example links, pictures, supporting and counter arguments, references etc etc.

The second element is to include a summary blog of previous blogs where further deep thought can go into analyzing what has been written and then taking a more critical approach to the blog and attempting to adhere to marking criteria previously established for the blog. This summary could be by topic, at the end of a month, after a fixed n umber of blogs – the exact timing and the nature of the summary to be decided as appropriate.

This idea arose after conversations with my mentor Richard Hall, where after discussing blogs and how I thought that maybe assessment of blogs should be as a whole and not just on individual blogs he suggested that maybe a summary blog could be used to as it where “reflect back on the reflective blog.”

In my opinion what the IKD Approach would do for reflective blogging would be to make the assessment of blogs easier. Time spent marking any piece of work is a crucial element in the education system and I believe the IKD approach would:

1. Allow the students to develop there knowledge in as free, easy and as creative as manner as possible.
2. Create a clear framework to show where, how and when assessment criteria will be applied to summary blogs.
3. Make the marking of blogs as simple, clear and less time consuming as possible for the marker.

This fledgling IKD approach has evolved from my previous blog statement that “I see the blog developing from initial thoughts and assertions through to supporting and contradictory arguments leading to conclusions about a particular topic.”

Blogs are Boring! Discuss

Originally posted 27/09/2006 on the Journaldoodledastic blog

Reflective blogging in an educational context is gathering momentum as a learning and assessment tool. Indeed as part of my own independent study learning contract, I have decided that i should be marked on the quality of my reflective blogs (or learning journal as I look upon it).

Why have I done this? It is an opportunity to log my learning and by doing so I hope to understand a bit more about the learning process and to learn more about the usefulness (or is that uselessness) of blogs. I include the brackets previously to make the point that unless the writer of the blog can see some value in the task of blog writing, then blogging can be a tiresome business for all concerned.

Why would you want to blog?

Is there sufficient motivation for students to blog, because let’s face it blogs can be boring. Boring and time consuming to write and probably nine times out of ten boring to read. (ouch)

Do I know this as fact, NO. What has lead me to think of blogging in this way? It began when I started to think I needed for assessment purposes a structured approach to writing a blog i.e. an explicit structure embedded within the blog to indicate for example a learning task, background to the task, how I completed the task and my thoughts on the task. Maybe all this metadata should be included and I have decided to include it as a “My Comment” at the end of the blog.

Obviously an assessed piece of work will sufficiently focus the mind in order for the blog to be completed, but to me the important thing about the blog is the learning, the thinking through of what to write and how to write it, the capturing of knowledge for later reference. In addition the blog is not just a personal diary, it’s meant to be published to an audience. So any blogger should be conscious that they are writing also for the enjoyment and benefit of others. This realization that the blog is for public consumption should I believe help to focus and motivate a blogger.

In writing the last paragraph it made me realize that the purpose of the blog has to be clear (and the way it will be assessed) to the student as this will affect they way it is written. When I wrote “it’s meant to be published to an audience”, the thought crossed my mind that in some cases this may not be part of the purpose of the blog. Then I thought hang on perhaps that is an essential part of the definition of a blog. I’ll think about this more at a later date.

The way my personal blogging experience is going it feels that my early blogs are about me, me me and what I think think think – I don’t feel the inclination to bring in references to back up or refute my ideas or to add too many hyperlinks as I am concentrating on documenting my learning and outlining my thoughts. It seems natural to me that after laying these foundations on various topics that I will revisit my thoughts, assertions and statements with a more critical eye after further reading and practical experience.

Should I be expected to reference and/or link to other material it may make the whole process overbearing and stifling to complete. This leads to me to think that a blog needs to be marked in the whole and not on the basis of individual blogs.

I see the blog developing from initial thoughts and assertions through to supporting and contradictory arguments leading to conclusions about a particular topic.

Non-Boring Blogs?

So what am I saying? I am saying that in order for a blog not to boring:

1. The purpose of the blog, must be crystal clear to the student.
2. The guidelines for the assessment of the blog should be crystal clear to the student.
3. There should be much flexibility on how the student wishes to present the blog.
4. The blog should be marked in it’s entirety and not necessarily an individual blog at a time.
5. The student should be writing to clarify their own understandings.
6. The student should be capturing knowledge, thoughts and ideas.
7. The student should be writing for the enjoyment and benefit of others.
8. The students should be writing for their own benefit.
9. The student should have confidence that the blog is being published in a supportive community of learners.

It is my contention that points 1 and 2 give the student the clarity that they need to study effectively. Point 3 gives the students the opportunity to be creative and show their uniqueness to the world. Point 4 removes the burden of hitting too much criteria on each blog and also I think blogs need to evolve, to let the blogger learn the ropes. Points 5-8 would hopefully encourage the student to adopt a deep learning strategy rather than a surface learning strategy. Finally Point 9 is about laying foundations so that students are not inhibited in engaging fully in the task of blogging.

In addition the student would need to adhere to any criteria laid out in the guidelines e.g with regard to referencing, linking, evaluating etc etc. Once we get into the realms of assessing blogs on the quality of the critical writing then the blogger will need to back up statements with suitable references.

Throw away comment - blogs that incorporate pictures will probably be less boring.

[MY COMMENT: This blog entry has come about from my early experiences in writing a blog and trying to understand how I can learn, share my learning and enjoy the process of writing a blog. Footnote: I have literally gone blogging mad in the last week. I hope I am not all blogged out.]

Learning in a wine bar (well sort of)

Imagine your favourite wine bar or pub early on a Saturday evening. You are the first of your friends to arrive, you get a drink and sit back and relax. As you wait you notice the hubble bubble noise of excited friends chatting to each other, late arrivers are greeted with enthusiasm, bar staff are buzzing as they energetically work to keep the punters happy. There is a great vibe about the place and your friends haven’t even arrived yet.

This my friends is synonymous with the learning environment of your favourite synchronous classroom. Yes a learning environment that is vibrant and enjoyable. A learning establishment where you can chat in class, in fact chatting in class is positively encouraged.

Learning in an online synchronous classroom

Where do I find such a classroom you ask? How can this be possible you ask? Well to answer your first question I will direct you to insync training whose business is online synchronous classroom training and where they specialize in creating skilled online synchronous training facilitators whose job it is to facilitate the buzzing vibrant classroom that in my opinion is akin to the hubble bubble excitement that can be found in your favourite wine bar on a saturday night out.

However a skilled online synchronous training facilitator alone is not enough, the other essential and vital ingredient to enjoy this unique learning environment is your participation.

Just as in the wine bar you’ll be encouraged to share stories and experiences, meet new friends and enjoy interacting with your mates. In addition you have the opportunity to help and support fellow classmates, share knowledge, learn from your classmates, work with your classmates, share jokes with your classmates and just damn well enjoy yourself.

Amongst the tools available to the synchronous classroom facilitator to encourage collaboration amongst participants are interactive whiteboards, application sharing, text chat, instant surveys and quizzes, breakout rooms and of course the facilitator themselves who will be able to stimulate interaction, give confidence to participants and generally keep the buzz going.

To complete the learning experience and to gain maximum benefit, pre and post classroom homework is also another essential ingredient.

In summary be prepared to participate, be prepared to do homework and be prepared to enjoy yourself and have fun.

[MY COMMENT: This blog is a reflection of my feelings on the potential of the synchronous classroom. It has been written after a couple of beers the two hour online classes of the insynch online synchronous facilitation certificate , a course which I am enrolled on. What have I learnt? I have learnt that technology issues aside the important elements of a synchronous classroom are a skilled facilitator, participation from the class and making the time for and being prepared to do the homework.]

In Praise of Brenda Mergel!

Originally posted 06/09/2006 on the Journaldoodledastic blog

After reading the “infed” article on learning theory , next on my list was a paper titled “Instructional Design” and Learning Theory” by Brenda Mergel.

MY LEARNING TASK: Read Brenda Mergel paper on “Instructional Design” and Learning Theory

I first came across Brenda’s paper a couple of years ago when studying for my Postgraduate Certificate in Higher and Professional Education. I find Brenda’s writing on this subject superbly written with great clarity and addresses exactly the questions and issues that were being raised in my own mind.

Brenda neatly and simply identifies the main theories of learning as
  • Behaviorism
  • Cognitivism
  • Constructivism
She gives a concise history and development of the three theories of learning and then proceeds to also offer a brief history of each learning theory in relation to instructional design.

The main question concerning me before reading the article was; What is the difference between theories of learning and models of learning? A short concise overview in the first paragraph cleared that one up? I look forward to seeing how others explain the difference and to read other views on these three main theories of learning.

Behaviorism, the only way to learn – your having a laugh!
It seems hard to comprehend that behaviourists do not acknowledge that the mind and thinking plays a part in learning. Perhaps in the beginning when theories were first being developed it was understandable that this was the line of fire when trying to pin down “what is learning?”, especially as the first theorists also tended to come from a background in the study of animal behaviour. Brenda does point out that many behaviorist after a while did start to incorporate ideas of cognivitism into the theories of learning at a later date.

Brenda’s paper was very good at showing how the theories of learning have developed from behaviorism through cognitivism to the most recent learning theory of constructivism. It also explained that when designing materials for instruction that it may be useful to draw on all three learning theories depending on what type of learning you hope to achieve and depending how early into the learning cycle students may be. The paper indicated that it may be that behavioral objectives in instructional design could be appropriate when learning about a new subject and that more constructivist approaches are better with mid to advanced students.

As I alluded to in my previous blog I was coming to the conclusion that we learn different things in different ways. Brenda’s paper kind of reinforced this for me.

The Old Classic - What is Learning?

Originally posted 06/09/2006 on the Journaldoodledastic blog

As I try to formulate my learning contract I feel an insatiable desire to become clear in my own mind about learning and views of learning.

MY LEARNING TASK(S): Gather information on models and theories of learning; Read initial article on learning theory .

  1. Information gathering (research)

    • Five hours searching the internet using google
    • Very quick browse when selecting articles of interest
    • Bookmarking and organizing relative sites
    • Printing out articles (double sided fast print - to save paper and ink)

  2. Read “infed” article on learning theory


Thoughts - We learn different things in different ways
Previously I had thought that all the different theories of learning were finalised opinions on how learning takes place. This may well be the case for certain opinions, but what is strikingly obvious to me is that we learn different things in different ways.

So for example whilst trying to comprehend theories of learning, I want to understand this by trying to gather a wide knowledge of the whole domain to make meaning of these abstract concepts. I hope to then some how order or relate the theories. When I am more well read I feel I will have a good core anchor to analyse and argue the merits of each theory.

By contrast, recently i wanted to make a workbench for the garage. My learning was largely led by conversations with staff in the hardware store(collaboration of sorts) and by doing the job and experimenting as I was going (learning by discovery).

So initial thoughts are that I can learn in different ways, doing different things.

It occurs that I could have approached both tasks in different ways. i.e read up on how to make a workbench before I started. This seems a sensible and realistic approach to learning. With regard to the subject of “theories of learning”; by practically teaching or planning to teach, i could have learnt on the job in this way. However for this particular learning task i think at this stage the reading and understanding is more appropriate as the first stage of learning.

Have not thought too deeply about how I am learning at this stage, but reading the infed article is a good start on the journey.

Preparing for Learning!

Originally posted 03/09/2006 on the Journaldoodledastic blog

I have spent the previous week when traveling to work on the train, identifying the subject areas, that I believe will be important for me to have knowledge and understanding of in order to effectively support my assertion that online collaborative technology can enhance adult distance learning(if this is my finalized area of study). Note that the writing of my learning contract is forcing me to think harder about what I really want to learn about and how to tailor my learning to be a focused and useful piece of work.

My broad area of study is online, collaborative, adult distance learning. I have identified twelve areas of interest in relation to this area of study. These are:
  1. Definitions and explanations of terms in this field of study.
  2. Barriers and problems to distance learning.
  3. Models of distance learning. (Frameworks)
  4. Theories of learning (maybe approaches – is it the same)
  5. Types of adult learning (undergraduate, postgraduate, further education, work based, personal development and others)
  6. Principles of Good Practice in Education.
  7. Teaching and Learning.
  8. Research Methods.
  9. Evaluating Learning.
  10. The Learner.
  11. Technical issues.
  12. Specific Educational Technologies.
I have read briefly a couple of articles on barriers and problems to distance learning. I shall return to this in more detail at a later date. The area I chose to look at more closely over the weekend was Models of Learning. Read more about this in my next blog.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Blogging: What’s the Point – Initial Thoughts of a Virgin Blogger!

Reasons to be cheerful – Part One

As an educational technologist and as a student preparing to define their own learning outcomes and assessment criteria for an independently studied masters degree the phenomenon that is blogging is strongly at the forefront of my thoughts at this time.

The reasons for this are twofold. First I am trying to work out the best way to use blogging as a learning and assessment tool as part of my studies. Secondly from the brief preliminary research that I have done it would seem obvious to me that blogging can have great educational value for a great many students.

I could maybe attempt to find a suitable reference at this point to pertinent research and practice that is current, but I now know from practical experience the mere decision to publish a blog has focused my mind, required me to read and research, forced me to collate and interpret my findings, made me analyze, organize and make meaning of my findings.

I have already acquired new knowledge and identified situations where I believe the relatively new technology of blogging can be used. I look forward to finding suitable methods of evaluation so that I can provide evidence that blogging technology can enhance learning for adult distance learners.

Seeing the light – (well a chink anyway)

Three weeks ago I’d not thought to deeply about blogging. My passing thoughts on the matter were that blogging requires a lot of time and effort and thus bloggers need to be passionate and dedicated to keep a blog interesting and up to date for its visitors.

So what does one write in a blog? How does one write a blog i.e. in what style? How long is a blog? How often does one blog? How will I get people to read my blog? How do I make my blog interesting? How do I setup a blog? What audience am I writing my blog for? The questions above illustrate some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind in the preceding few weeks.

This particular batch of questions I think can more easily be answered when the purpose of the blog is established.

The Meaning of Life The Purpose of a Blog

As indicated above my sphere of interest is educational blogging? There are a number of different types of blogging websites and I will not attempt at this juncture to list those types that I am now aware of. I shall limit my comment to just make the distinction between social blogging and educational blogging.

Without having studied either types of blogging too deeply my initial thoughts on social blogging are that the phenomenon is akin to an online diary transcribing events, feelings, thoughts of the daily/ weekly activities of a blogger with additional writing and information on the interests of the blogger.

The purpose of an educational blog on the other hand may attempt amongst many things to help the blogger to learn more about and understand further their chosen subject, aid communication and collaboration, develop publishing, writing and self expression skills, improve reading, research and analytical skills, focus the mind and promote self-discipline in meeting deadlines.

Tell me More, Tell me more (was it love at first sight)

Not exactly love at first sight but actually I feel pretty good about the potential of educational blogging and I haven’ really started yet. I wonder if I’ll still love blogging when I’m 64. Areas of interest that I want to know more about in relation to educational blogging include:
  • History and Development of Blogging.
  • Good Practice in Blogging: (Many of my concerns are highlighted earlier
    in the “seeing the light” section.
  • The Elements that make up a blog.
  • The pros and cons of different blogging websites or software that facilitate blogging.
  • Peer review of blogs.
  • How best to make use of Reflective blogging, Group Blogging, Project Management Blogging, Administrative (e.g. course) blogs.
And the beat goes on (Final thoughts for now)

My very first thoughts about blogging were that I need to do it often, quickly without worrying too much about refining my thoughts or worry deeply about writing style, grammar, spelling etc in order to maintain the prolific output that writing a blog requires (my perception).

Now I have swung the other way and believe in the context of educational blogging thoughtful, well presented pieces are required. I think a blog is a published article for an audience to be reviewed and scrutinized and as such needs to be done with professionalism, pride and deep thought to gain the most from it.

Before one starts blogging, one needs to clearly understand the point, purpose and rules of engagement of the blog in order to write in and appropriate manner for the intended audience and to achieve the clearly defined learning outcomes whatever they may be. In many respects I feel that the educational blogger needs to become a professional journalist.

Whilst not all students will approach their blog with the same level of journalistic zeal, the effect of publishing to an audience for scrutiny will force the student to develop transferable skills in regard to online publishing, which is an important bonus for all students in this digital age.

Questions, Questions, Questions

There are many issues to consider with regard to educational blogging. I am sure there are many questions I have not thought of yet, but for now questions that have tickled my consciousness include:
  1. How does blogging compare to online asynchronous discussion boards as a method of improving reflection and critical analysis skills.
  2. Can blogging improve communication between course administrators, lecturers and students in comparison with current snail mail letters, email, phone and blackboard announcements.
  3. How can blogging enhance a traditional learning Journal.
  4. How can blogging be used in a field practice scenario.
The Finale: Is it Right, is it Wrong – Heck I Don’t Know

Well this is my first blog. I have not scrutinized this article as deeply as I would have done if it was a paper, article to be published or an assignment, although I have tried to ensure that it flows reasonable well and largely makes sense.

I don’t think a blog is meant to be too rigorous otherwise I’d never post anything. I am struggling to decide how to pitch my blogs – hopefully I’ll work out with a little help from my friends.

Thank you and Good Night.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Well - here I am in all my glory. My mind, my thoughts my thinking processes about to be revealed to the paying public.

This blog will attempt to capture my thoughts, insights, conclusions, understandings, misunderstandings, motivations,reasoning, actions etc etc for the purposes of documenting my learning process in action.

It will be a comment upon the things I have been studying as part of my MA in Independent Study and is for my own personal reflections. It perhaps may be of use to my mentor and other colleagues involved and interested in my independent study.

I am working on the assumption that this will be a boring blog and I am not writing it with the purpose that I expect it to be read and enjoyed by a mass audience.

The motivation for this blog is related to my impending Masters degree, where i will independently study - "the impact of online interactive and collaborative technologies on adult distance learning"

As such, blogging will be one area of my study and may well be used as part of my own learning and as an assessment tool for my period of study.

"If you want to be the best, if you want to beat the rest,
MOTIVATION'S what you need"

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