Join Learnadoodledastic Mailing List

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Subscribe in Bloglines

Add to Pageflakes

Add to   Google Reader or Homepage

Useful Website Links

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tagging - A leap into the unknown


I have just signed up to a bookmark tagging research experiment using the social bookmarking web application

I don't know fully what to expect and i have no preconceived idea as to what i will learn from the experiment, but i have a feeling that there is something of value in being a part of the experiment and i am hoping i will learn new insights into the use of tagging in respect of how it can be of use in a teaching and learning context.

Tagging is a relatively new way to categorize web pages on the Internet. Rather than saving web pages in a hierarchical fashion in folders and sub folders, by multiple tagging of a website you can search for tags and therefore web pages in as many different categories as you like (i seem to tag about 4-5 categories). With meaningful tags this should make it easier to find and retrieve.

In addition the use of social bookmarking websites such as, allows you to retrieve any tag (bookmark) from any machine, anywhere as it is a web based system. Websites tagged can also be made available to other world wide web users and a myriad of connections to users and their tags can be viewed.

So my interest in being a part of this research is that this process of social bookmarking (tagging) opens up possibilities for collaboration ,widening your own knowledge base and enhancing learning though group interaction.

Our task will be to tag over fifty web pages in five blocks of 10 pages over a 4-6 week period.

First Reaction
After tagging just the first two websites i have had couple of A-ha moments:

1. From a tagging point of view- i started with two tags stories and memories, after the second site i realized it would be more meaningful to tag with a category enhancement as WW2stories and WW2memories. I also included ww2 as a tag for both websites. I am not sure i need to do this as using the searching mechanism it will take me to any category starting with ww2 anyway.

2. It feels that there are learning activities that can be created from this. By being asked to tag the websites meaningfully, i am having to read the website with a little more detail and interest than i would normally. I think this can be used to get students to tag and then some kind of discussion can occur about the tagging afterwards. A thought that has come to me is that rather than tag descriptively, a group could be asked to tag emotionally and we could subsequently discuss what emotional tags where attached to a website article and the reasons why?

After completing the tagging of 10 websites, it seems that not all my tags seem to appear. I am assuming thee is a time delay before they appear otherwise it seems strange. Need to evaluate my naming strategy once i a more familiar with the tools available to me. For example the bundling of tags may be useful as part of a naming and categorizing strategy.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Wiki’s – The Good, The Bad and the Lovely

Well let’s get the lovely bit out of the way. The lovely bit is really the simplicity. With the predefined setup and limited set of commands/ tags it takes a lot of the time wasted over cognitive decisions of design and fretting over technical competence out of the equation, leaving the wiki page author to concentrate on the business in hand, which is the writing.

I’ll address the Good of wiki’s by focusing on the strengths of a wiki. When asked wiki users could come back with many different responses to the question “what are the strengths of a wiki?” I believe the strengths listed below will encapsulate the many responses to this question.

The first three strengths are arguably subjective and could be open to an alternative view. However it is generally accepted through my reading and experience that the following three characteristics of a wiki are indeed it’s strengths in promoting and encouraging group collaboration:

1. Simple technology – only need internet access and a web browser.
2. Simple and easy to use (creating and editing pages, linking to pages and websites, inserting images and documents)
3. Easy to learn how to use

In addition, the following identified strengths are less open to argument, as they are a matter of fact.
4. Easy to rollback and compare with earlier versions (mistakes can be rectified, malicious vandalism can be deleted)
5. All changes are logged and therefore traceable.
6. All members can act as moderators and guardians of the wiki.

So we come to the bad. Bad is really to strong a word for what I want to convey which is that the success or failure of a wiki for all it’s inherent strengths will be determined by how the wiki is used, regulated and valued by it’s users. It is encumbert on the wiki organizers primarily and the wiki participants subsequently to create and maintain a flourishing wiki that achieves it’s purpose.

In order to achieve this wiki organizers need to draw on best research and practice of co-operative/group/ collaborative learning and apply this to wiki teaching and learning activities to gain best results.

How can they do this? Well hopefully I’ll come up with a few ideas in subsequent blog.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I’d rather have a wiki than a Blackboard VLE.

If I had a hammer, er no wrong tape responsibility for delivering a distance learning MA or BA Programme I’d rather have a wiki than a blackboard VLE to administer the programme and to co-ordinate learning activities. For argument’s sake I am going to assume the use of the company wikispaces as my wiki space provider as I am familiar with their service. They will host for many different organisations and all are (can be) connected via wikispaces. (alternatives could include hosting your own in house wiki using ‘Mediawiki’)
  • Starting point for this reasoning is that a very low technical competence is by users is required to use a wiki. This is massively important for staff uptake and enthusiasm in engaging in the promotion of e-learning and to cater for the wide diversity of students that will participate on the programme.
  • Technically simple to setup and simple to access. As it is primarily text based web pages all users need is internet access and a dial up connection will be adequate in many cases.
  • Speed and Fluidity. If a student was enrolled on perhaps 8 Modules BANG, they could flick from one module to another just like THAT.
  • Quick Connections/ Communications. A Message box is available BANG just like THAT to pick up messages related to any other 8 Modules from all students and all tutors involved in the programme and to any external members of the whole wikispaces community. (This could include students and staff on partner programmes in other universities).
  • If any pages on a wiki are changed for example student announcements, then each students can be notified of a change immediately to their email BANG just like THAT. (probably be able to send a message to a mobile phone as well soon).
  • Due to the global nature of the wikispaces community many useful contacts with external friends and colleagues in the same field can be made and then easily continued after university life.
  • The way a wiki is setup and they way the page is structured it makes it very easy to back up all pages in HTML or in original wiki text, which also means a fair amount of future proofing can take place as the text will be saved in a format that is XML compliant and will therefore be easily re purposed in the future for perhaps delivering to mobile phones or PDA’s.
  • Being fluent in wiki skills will be a good life skill to have both for Staff and Students.

This is a pro wiki article. To Blackboard VLE and other VLE's I say TAKE THAT can you compete, ‘Respondez vous sil vous’ plait with counter arguments.

Monday, February 05, 2007

HE Institutional Strategies for E-learning

Well just as higher education embraces the notion of e-learning and start investing heavily financially, strategically and emotionally in commercially driven e-learning VLE’s such as Blackboard along comes those damn pesky web 2.0 technologies. After all the staff and student training that has gone into learning how to make that cumbersome beast (my view) Blackboard be a useful catalyst to promote and develop a sustainable and consistent e-learning strategy it is hard to contemplate that their may be a better way forward other than via Blackboard or similar VLE’s.

Now I am not saying exactly for sure what they way forward is, as I am not privy to the costs involved or the administrative, security and control issues, that said a strategy involving web 2.0 technologies should be piloted and I feel eventually adopted if not totally, but in a dual approach over the next few years because of the simple benefits that web 2.0 technologies can offer both students, but just as importantly to staff.

When one thinks of e-learning, the first thought quite naturally is of learning and probably most people conjure up an image of a wed page or maybe an interactive multimedia application. The crucial thing is from an institutional point of view is that apart from the learning, other very important issues are
• Communication between academic staff-students, administrative staff-students and students to student communication.
• Staff training and development
• Staff enthusiasm for the e-learning technology.

In light of the three points highlighted above it is worth considering what web 2.0 technologies can offer. I shall constrain myself to the use of just one web 2.0 technology which is worth exploring as a significant complimentary or maybe alternative approach to the Blackboard VLE approach and that is a wiki.

For staff they are relatively easy to use and learn how to use, they are for group collaboration either via editable web pages or discussion boards. All group members can send messages to each other within the wiki. All group members can choose to be notified of any changes to pages or replies to discussion board posts straight to their email accounts. Pages can be tagged for easy reference, wiki sites can be very easily backed up in html or wiki text format.

Wiki’s can be used for learning activities, project management, project collaboration or as a course management tool. Wiki’s can allow staff to collaborate on projects and developing module material together. The technology is and it has the potential to be useful, it will be up to individuals and groups how they make best use of it.

To give a comparison example, it would be far easier and save so much time in posting an announcement and associated document in a wiki, rather than in the equivalent announcement function in blackboard, especially if the author has to re-edit the announcement or change the associated document.

Another important consideration is that web 2.0 technologies such as wiki’s and blog’s are now becoming commonplace out there in every day life. They are important life skills that students and staff should develop as these transferable skills will be of great benefit to them personally and to future organizations that they work for.

Although there are many web 2.o services freely available on the internet, possible concerns from an institutional point of view may be security and privacy and delivery of service. As an example if we take wiki services on the web these can be made private and secure, as well as having minimal downtime. If institutions are not satisfied with the offerings of companies that do offer wiki servers they can always use ‘MediaWiki’ software which is wiki server software and can be controlled by the institution on their own servers.

To conclude I believe that over the next year or two HE institutions should most definitely design a web 2.0 delivery strategy and adopt and promote it in parallel with any existing Blackboard VLE setup so that they are in position to take the correct fork in the road if required. Personally with a well thought out implementation and staff training plan I believe that the uptake of web 2.0 technologies will spread quicker than an Aussie bush fire and it might have to be if higher education institutions do not want to lose competitive advantage.

Friday, February 02, 2007

That old Chestnut - Blogging

Well here we are and a month has gone by since my last blog. I would love to have included a few more blogs before the end of January 2007 but the reality is that I had a 31 Jan deadline to meet, in relation to the design of a synchronous lesson on the use of wiki’s. So I have not had a wasted month, I have been through the rigour and thought processes of designing for the synchronous classroom and at the same time I have continued with developing my understanding of how wiki’s work/ don’t work both from a technical point of view and from a human point of view.

Ideally I would have wrote this blog entry in the middle of January, but when you are in the heart of battle, it is difficult to break off to give updates when you are on the brink of victory or near the edge of failure.

That said I am here now telling my story and I like the fact that my commitment to blogging draws me back and gets me thinking about the next subject i can usefully blog about. So for me this blogging escapade that I am embarked upon is useful to me in that it helps to:

• Consolidate my knowledge
• Recheck facts that I am not sure of
• Think though the implications of what I am writing and therefore try and understand ideas, concepts and facts that I am writing about.

This is all very well, fine and dandy. As my blogging is in the context of a long haul approach over a two year period and will culminate in a reflective essay on my blogging activities perhaps it is ok that I use my blog to aid my learning as laid out in the three points above.

Practically though on a 12 week module how can reflective blogging be used to benefit the learning of students. Unless some deep thought(learning) is part of the process, then the blog can just become a desperate attempt to get the appropriate number of words, links, images etc etc to meet the assessment criteria. Effective Blog learning strategies – this is a subject for another time....

Further to my recent activities on using wiki’s my next blog will look at the strengths of wiki’s and what teaching/ learning strategies will lead to effective use of a wiki.

Footnote1: As I have just finished writing this blog, it occurs that it is good to give readers an expectation of what to expect in the next blog- hopefully to heighten expectation so that readers will be keen to return and read the next installment.

Footnote 2: I only intended to write a couple of paragraphs just as an update, but it has rekindled my desire to return to the question of “what is the point of blogging?”

Add me to your network

Lijit Search