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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.

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