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Saturday, December 06, 2008

CCK08: Connectivism - How we learn through connectivism?

Having an understanding or an interpretation of how connectivism and other learning theories work has led me to devise a concept map that identifies my initial thoughts on how connectivism works, what connectivist learning is good for and what successful connectivist learning depends on.

The concept map below is my initial stab at this task, but it is a starting point and like with many other topics on the CCK08 course i intend to focus more deeply in the new year, when i will have more time.

I have found playing with the technology and understanding the point behind concept maps as the main learning benefit i wanted to achieve at this time. The concepts relating to Connectivism and other learning theories i will address more deeply at a later date.

How we learn through connectivism? - A Concept Map

If you have not been directed there already here is a useful document on the subject of concept maps: Concept Maps: What the heck is this?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

(My) Learning Networks: (CCK08 Final Paper)


This project has given me an opportunity to reflect on my learning networks and also given me a focus to experiment with new technology. My initial conception was to interleave Webcam clips of myself speaking with Camtasia Studio captured interactions
of myself using CMap software. This approach has been good as i have improved my knowledge and understanding of both CMap and Camtasia, making me much better equipped in the future to use both these products much more fluently. I still used this approach in my presentation, but my initial strategy was superceded, once i found out how useful and easy Windows Moviemaker 2 is. Windows Moviemaker 2 is a revelation and with video clips prepared in advance it is easy to add titles, extra narrations and transitions to create a finished product within hours (that is for anyone, who has not even used the package before).

Webcam clips are saved in WMV format, as can Camtasia screen recordings (although this is not automatically available, but easy enough to create a new format based on WMV). Afterr importing all clips into Windows Moviemaker 2, The Final output in WMV format can then be uploaded to Youtube for easy access. The youtube video can can be also embedded directly into blogger. (the file is 25mb Large and the uploading and subsequent processing for both youtube and blogger may take 30-45 mins before the video is available to embed in a blogpost.

[NOTE: Prior to realizING i could achieve all that i needed to in the WMV format, AVS Video Converter 2.6 was used to convert the WMV file to a flash format (9mb), using the following conversion option – SWF best quality and to MPEG 1 format using Create ZEN Vision - Normal Quality (34mb)]

The final output views fine, but is not as polished as I would like. I have had a few retakes on my shots to camera, as I was not at all happy with the way I screwed my mouth up and my general shots to camera demeanour. It will do for now, but I look forward to learning how to speak and deliver better to camera in the future. My presentation now follows on ‘My learning Networks’. Forgive the prologue at the end. I was getting tired at this point and I know really the prologue should be at the beginning. What I wanted to do as a final final word was to expand on a main point in my presentation. Enough talk… On with the show.

Outstanding Questions
I am already a convert to connectivist principles. My outstanding concerns are how best I can convince other teachers that adoption of connectivist principles and attitudes will enhance their teaching and their students learning.

Approaches to adopting Connectivist principles

Once again I am a convert. I need to make sure I d on not get lazy and that I do explore new ideas and new technologies. I am most interested in encouraging other teachers to adopt connectivist principles. I believe this is best done under the umbrella of a course and I have found the formula used in the CCK08 a worthwhile and effective approach. I have also outlined previously the SCORE 2.0 approach which i have used successfully, which I need to expand, develop and improve upon. By running these professional development courses, this will aid my own professional development. Perhaps I learn well in both roles, so I shall look at further courses as a student, as well as teacher. But over the last 2 years I have learnt the value of blogging and this course has reinforced that, so I shall continue to blog also, with renewed enthusiasm to nourish my connectivist learning.

Final Word
I like groups for learning with loose connections feeding in and out as appropriate

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Feed and Nourish and the Grass Roots will Flourish (CCK08: Paper 3)

and all be well in the land of Ed :-)

Writing this paper i feel incredibly upbeat about new connectivist technology and pedagogy. I've included a musical metaphor to convey my feelings. for Music read 'connection'. It's a bit if a weak tie, but i thought as it is the last paper and the course is coming to a close, we might as well go out in party style. Hope you enjoy it.

There ain’t no stopping us now!
My experience is primarily with higher education and in this arena I believe there are fantastic opportunities to adopt different teaching and learning approaches. By this I am referring to the use of technology because this is where the greatest innovations and benefits can be found. The reason that the greatest benefits can be found, is due to the ability to share and disseminate good practice easily using new technology. I am sure that there are numerous examples of good face to face teaching that occurs, but who knows about that, who learns from that - perhaps a few close colleagues and the lucky students.

Fortunately in higher education, online safety is not such an issue that it need interfere with online teaching and learning strategies. So the most fantastic thing is that there are enough HE institutions playing with and benefiting from innovative new approaches that those that do not join in the game will know about it – via decreasing recruitment figures. Arguments from HE Institutions with regard to safety, security, privacy, guaranteed delivery of service, etc will not be at all strong enough to stop the powerful combination of new technologies and new pedagogies for teaching and learning.

Resistance and barriers to change are 1) HE Institutional leaders and managers that are not sufficiently interested or aware enough to change a learning organisation into an organisation that learns (or to put it another way change a learning organisation into a learning organisation :-)) and 2) Teachers who fail to see the benefits, cannot spare the time or be bothered to see the benefits. Firstly just to say the whole thing with regard to embracing pedagogical and technological change is a no-brainer to me and to be fair to unenlightened colleagues they need exposing to the new ways with formal/informal support and compulsory professional development.

The only thing stopping us is me and you (not for long though)
The no-brainer benefits mentioned previously are primarily around the fact that social and active learning facilitated by new technology is more interesting, enjoyable and enhancing than isolated, incredibly slow feedbackish ways that do not take advantage of new technology. Delivery of education will be enhanced by new pedagogies and new technologies and it will be led from the grass roots and it will be too powerful to ignore.

In the short term there are two difficulties to overcome:

1. Teachers who don’t get it i.e. the benefits and
2. Teachers who give up too easily, when use of new technologies and new ways, do not work instantaneously.

Both can and will be solved by professional development opportunities. In particular I think it is important to remember that good practice in traditional methods of teaching have been built up over many years. It would be wrong to think all new online initiatives are going to work smoothly in any given situation and context. Teachers need support to take some risks. The good thing is teachers can be supported much more easily through the use of new technology and new ways of delivering professional development.

What kinds of opportunities can we embrace if we are able to make fundamental and systemic changes?

A few Ideas:
  • The widespread dissemination of good practice
  • The Speed with which this dissemination can occur
  • The speed of feedback both to learners and for professional development
  • Much higher levels of enjoyment in learning
  • Better productivity, by teachers through collaboration
  • Easier access to influence decision makers (subtly by actions, results, student feedback and promoting the benefits of the new ways publicly
Resistance is Futile?
The tools are phenomenal; people’s imaginations, goodwill and knowledge are phenomenal, what we can learn from voices of resistance is that we can easily overcome their objections by action. If you believe in the tools, use them, promote them, record your success and learn from perceived failures. Help others – good will wipe the floor with resistors. The resistance is futile :-)

We have the power!
We need strong ties, we need to collaborate. We need support, we need to know when we need deep learning to achieve our life, work and social aims. We can do all of this if we choose to strengthen ties and connections

As i write this i must add that i think about this primarily from a distance learning perspective. For those face to face teachers that also employ social and active learning techniques i am in total agreement with this. If you are a face to face teacher that thinks that they do not need to bother with new technologies and online pedagogies because you are already doing a great face to face job, then you are doing your students a dis-service

Monday, November 10, 2008

Changing Roles for Educators (CCK08: Paper 2)


The field of interest that I work in is teaching and learning. My focus is primarily on distance learning, but I still do some face to face teaching. In the UK new teachers in Higher Education in the last 10 years or so are encouraged to complete a postgraduate teaching certificate on professional and higher education where they are exposed, at the least to the concepts of small group work, experiential learning, reflection, the integration of learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment and the importance of formative as well as summative feedback. I would say that on the whole participants on these courses are much wiser and more aware of teaching methods other than the straightforward unengaging lectures that may have been more the norm twenty years ago.
What a lot of current modern day teachers in higher education may not be aware of is the affordances of modern day social software tools and the powerful learning potential for students when they participate, collaborate, share, create, re-invent and connect. McGee and Diaz (2007) note that:

applications defined as ‘Web 2.0’ hold the most promise [for teaching and learning] because they are strictly web based and typically free, support collaboration and interaction and are responsive to the user. These applications have great potential to be used in way that is learner-centred, affordable and accessible for teaching and learning purposes.” (McGee and Diaz 2007, p. 32)[i]

Additionally, as a by product of these social software tools there is vastly more knowledge and ways to access this knowledge which means the role of educators do need to change i) to reflect the societal and technological changes that have taken place in recent times and ii) because these new tools can enhance learning.

What to do? – Appropriate Response and overcoming impediments to change

Teacher training has to be at the forefront of any responses. This will be led from the grass roots until such times decision makers finally see the value to the business, the students and the teachers. Once recognised and valued as part of an organisations strategic plan, more official time can be allocated to staff development and help with by easing the pressure on staff to integrate new methods into there already demanding workload, The importance of this approach is underlined in section 3, ‘the value of educator professional development’ in the ‘teaching the teacher’ video from the e-learning for educators Missouri website:
In short for unenlightened institutions, impediments to change revolves around a lack of understanding of decision makers of the potential of new technologies and new ways of teaching and learning. Additionally a lack of understanding on how new technologies can be employed to change working, communication and dissemination practices means that many cultures within higher education institutions have not evolved to take advantages of new attitudes and new ways of working.

One response that can impact on both cultural change and speed the development of teachers into using new technologies within their own teaching and learning is to adopt IT systems that promote a social networking mentality amongst users, as opposed to the widespread clunky content management systems. Angel LMS is an example of how an institution might like to tie it’s administrative and management objectives to an IT system that is more likely to change the culture of institution to a social learning networked environment:

I have no first hand experience of the system myself but I am suitably impressed with what the author Tony Seuss has to say. Combining the theme of cultural change and teacher training is the Cloudworks project led by Conole (2008)[ii]. Using a social networking principle as a means of communication and interaction Conole (2008) explains:

Cloudworks allows you to find other people's learning and teaching ideas, designs and experiences as well as sharing your own. You can also get access to many learning design tools and resources to help you create learning designs.” Cloudworks website (2008)[iii]

In terms of actually changing the mindset of reluctant or time poor teachers the most effective way is for teachers to get hands on experience and therefore the proposal of Bowskill (2004) [iv of using informal learning projects as a vehicle for collaborative professional development in online communities is an attractive approach in enabling teachers to swap ideas and get practical hands on experience.

Ripples – combining an existing learning metaphor, that utilises new technology to embrace social and active learning

My own experience and studies into Web 2.0 tools and online synchronous classrooms (web conferencing meeting rooms) is that by the using these tools to run professional development courses on the very subject of ‘web 2.0 (social software) tools for teaching and learning’, a powerful way is found of teachers gaining practical hands on experience and becoming wise to a new mentality of learning i.e. participating, sharing, contributing, collaborating, externalizing.

To combine general good teaching and learning practices with new technologies I have devised and implemented a model of learning for distance learners which is conceptually aligned with Race’s (2001)[v] Ripples model of learning, with an online synchronous class (could be a face to face class) and the facilitating teacher at the core promoting social interaction, practical active online tasks and the notion of a community. Web 2.0 tools are used outside the class to assist the building of community, development of practical skills, reflections on learning, the giving and receiving of feedback and to develop the autonomous learning skills of the learner. The role of the facilitating teacher leading this course or other courses in this style is to simultaneously support and help students whilst developing their ability to work with others and be a confident autonomous self directed learner. The Model has been named the Synchronous Community Orientated Reflective and Experiential 2.0 (SCORE 2.0) Model.

I have initially posted information about this approach on an earlier blog post (SCORE 2.0) and I am working with a colleague to publish more formally on this approach soon. Initial feedback on user engagement and satisfaction with learning has been good.

Methods that give practical experience in the use of social software tools to teachers, administrators and decision makers will speed the process of uptake both in teaching and learning and in developing a learning, participative culture. Institutions slow to recognize and cultivate social networking cultures will eventually suffer a competitive disadvantage.

[i] MCGEE, P. & DIAZ, V. (2007) ‘Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs! Oh, My! What Is a Faculty Member Supposed to Do?’ EDUCAUSE Review vol. 42, no. 5 (September/October 2007): 28–41. [Retrieved: 03/08/08]
[ii] Conole, G. (2008) Cloudworks: a social networking site for collaborative learning design Retrieved [10/011/08]
[iii] Cloudworks website(2008) Inspiration for creating new learning activities? [retrieved 10/11/08]

[v] RACE, P. (2001) The lecturer's toolkit - A practical guide to learning, teaching and assessment (2nd ed) London: Kogan Page [Retrieved: 02/08/08]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Connectivism - My Position (CCK08: Paper 1)

Is it a new theory of learning? Or is the concept of theory distracting?
In establishing connectivism as a learning theory, the nub of the question becomes does connectivism describe a way of learning or is it more of a prescriptive teaching strategy that embraces other already established learning theories as suggested by Kerr (2007). Prior to the CCK08 2008 MOOC, whether connectivism was a learning theory or not was largely irrelevant for me and was very much a distraction in the early MOOC debates. It has become more important to me to establish that connectivism is indeed a new learning theory as it gives credence to connectivist approaches to learning.

My position at this stage is that connectivism is a new theory of learning for the following reasons:

1) the concept of learning by externalisation of knowledge, ideas and opinions. Externalisation is not emphasised in the three main psychological theories of behaviourism, cognivitism or constructivism to any great extent and although the social learning theories of Bandura (1977) and Vygotsky (1962) recognise the value of social interaction the focus is still on the internal mental processes of learning. The importance of externalizing by either verbal conversations and presentations, writing through blogs, forums, articles, books etc or through a multimedia art form has no primary emphasis, as would be the case in connectivism.

2) The proposed internal mental process of learning would appear to be a new way of understanding how we learn. The network model of learning that underpins the connectivist philosophy of learning can be easily recognised, when used externally in the current Web 2.0 world, where strong networks and random connections facilitate incidental learning. The conversations of Parslow (2008) in the CCKO8 Moodle forum discussion and the paper by Downes (2006) which emphasizes making meaning through connections have helped to convince me that internally that there are mental processes that work in a connective way that enable us to learn. I am not saying the connective way is an exclusive way of learning and I do not discount cognitive or constructivist descriptions of the internal learning process, although I am still to work through the differences between the mental processes.

What are the weaknesses of connectivism as formulated in this course?
I described my view of connectivism in email correspondence with a fellow CCK08 learner as the end game in autonomous, self directed learning. Extrapolating out from this viewpoint I believe the weakness of connectivism could be conceived as: For those learners new to connectivist learning techniques and/or the specific subject matter that connectivist learning could be confusing, bewildering, lonely and frustrating. In the early stages of connectivist learning, students (and teachers) need to be guided and assisted as outlined by Phelps (2003):

“From my reading this semester I know that there is a massive push towards empowering all students to be self-directed learners... I feel that learners need to know how to own their own learning, but that this does not come automatically, and teachers themselves need a lot of help in altering how they teach to achieve this aim”. Phelps (2003, para #34)

What are the strengths?
The undoubted strengths are that the ‘world is your oyster’. With connectivist learning skills and attitudes, learners will become knowledgeable more quickly and with relevance to immediate needs. They will be able to help not only help themselves, but help others also. Just as important as the practical advantage of living in an era where connections via the web is now so very easy (for those in developed countries anyway) is the mentality. Once a learner embraces the value in connecting and externalizing the more opportunities, be that learning, social or career will present themselves. Prior to my awareness of connectivism, I would say “the more doors you knock on the more chances you have of making something happen”.

Does connectivism resonate with your learning experiences? If so, how?

Most definitely. I started an MA by Independent Study in the summer of 2006 and have just completed (successfully J). My focus was the use of Interactive and Collaborative technology to enhance adult distance learning. Prior to the course I was vaguely aware of ‘Web 2.0’ and did not know of connectivism as a learning theory. My study can be characterised by a connectivist approach to learning, I attended no formal lessons and my learning was achieved by connecting to people and resources, through practical experience, reflecting on my experiences and connections and having an interested and approachable supervisor who I could discuss things with on a face to face basis from time to time.

What are your outstanding questions?
Need further reading and connecting to truly convince myself of the validity of connectivism as a learning theory. I need to read up more on other theories to appreciate the differences.


DOWNES (2006) Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge Retrieved [23/10/08]

KERR (2007) a challenge to connectivism Learning Evolves Wiki Retrieved [23/10/08]

PARSLOW, P. (2008) Re: Social Constructivism vs. Connectivism
by Pat Parslow - Monday, 15 September 2008, 02:34 AM CCK08 Moodle Forum Discussion Retrieved [23/10/08]

PHELPS, R. (2003) Developing Online From Simplicity toward Complexity: Going with the Flow of Non-Linear Learning
Retrieved [23/10/08]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Conversations (Connectivism in Action)

To steal a catchphrase from an old famous UK Comedian Max Bygraves, I want to tell you a story….

It all started 48 hours ago and a conversation with the new girl in the coffee shop at the train station on how her real profession was working with adults who have autism. Bang – this simultaneously fired up a couple of synaptic pathways within my mind. I’m thinking “connecting”, trying to connect with people with autism that’s great, maximum respect; I’m thinking “awakenings”, Robin Williams, what a great film that highlights this issue. – I had not seen the film for 15-20 years, but on an emotional, affective level that has been lodged well and truly deep into my memory (or is that a synaptic node).

Fast forward 24 hours, I am on the train now and I bump into an occasional train travelling acquaintance, we always tend to have interesting conversations. I get talking to him about connectivism – he has never heard of it, but likens it to in his words Hagel’s ‘ideological dialectic’ where we learn from a thesis and antithesis, and then a synthesis of the two positions.

I’d explained that connectivism works on two levels; internally in our brains and externally in how we interact with the world. Our conversation continued during which time he brought up the subject of autism and how maybe connectivism as a new learning theory may have something to offer in helping those with autism. After a few questions from me to extrapolate the idea, we settled on the notion of developing some connectivist techniques that could be applied in order to provoke some ‘connection’.

And my point is…

Over the last couple of years through my formal and informal learning, I have come to appreciate the value for learning purposes in connecting, socializing, and externalizing more so than ever. As I grapple with the arguments as to why connectivism may not be a new learning theory, I thought my story above illustrates some noteworthy points about connectivism and gives me a base from which to look more deeply into connectivism as a learning theory.

What have I learnt about connectivism
Well this to me is a powerful example of networks influencing my learning. Previously my view of connectivism was strongly influenced by the Internet as the catalyst that makes connectivism relevant as a learning theory of the digital age and I still believe that to be true. However what these brief encounters have done is to reinforce some underlying principles related to networks and learning. I now realize that I have a very powerful informal network that aids my learning every working day. My informal network of occasional travelling companions includes teachers, lawyers, graphic designers, students, nurses, secretaries, retirees and many more different types and through our conversations, like the one a recanted above I am always learning. I am becoming more aware of strong/ weak networks and strong/weak ties.

Emotional weighting and synaptic nodes
Now to my memory of the film “awakenings”. The way I view this is that if this memory is stored in a synaptic node. Then I believe that stored within this node is not only memory of the node, but that this node also has an emotional ‘weighting’, that keeps this node strong and alive and ready to be called upon when required. Nodes without an emotional ‘weighting’ will wither and die. Need to explore this notion further.

More emotion
Although my travelling acquaintance is in many ways a weak tie in a weak network, I have had a strong personal connection in our conversation and his description of Hagel’s ‘ideological dialectic’, I know already has a strong emotional weighting and will be a strong node .

So this emphasises for me that emotional connectedness is an important part of learning.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Distinguishing Connectivism

I have read lots of the fantastic discussions that are going in the CCK08 course, but I needed to break away from the pack and without reference to the wealth of information, think through for myself how connectivism can be distinguished from other learning theories. I would welcome your thoughts and insights in order that I can clarify my understanding. I know that i could go and read this somewhere, but i felt i) it was beneficial for me to think it through and ii) beneficial to get some feedback. thanks in advance

Making sense of Connectivism

Connectivism would not exist without the technological development of modern communication infrastructures (physical pipes) and the advent of social software (facilitating pipes). It would also not exist if there was not a sufficient mindset of participation, externalisation and sharing from individuals. It would appear that over time that individuals in different fields, individuals with different perspectives, individuals with different goals have recognised value in the new facilitating pipes, to indeed lay the foundations for the claim that connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age. Ertmer’s and Newby’s (1993) offer “five definitive questions to distinguish learning theory”. I shall outline my own understanding of how connectivism can answer these questions

A. How does learning occur?
Learners are connected by a variety of informal/formal, weak/strong networks that signpost the Learner to sources of knowledge. Sources of knowledge may be for example an electronic document, a physical event to visit, an online discussion, an online aggregation of resources, an email, a database of information, a video or auditory resource. The network is a network of people.

B. What factors influence learning?
The factors that influence learning will be the scope and quality of the people in the networks, the ability to differentiate between valid sources of knowledge (what constitutes valid knowledge: the authority, credibility of the source, some supporting evidence), the ability to recognize links between prior knowledge or previously unconnected knowledge.

C. What is the role of memory?
Knowledge can be stored in non human appliances. Although I have probably repeated that phrase parrot fashion, the act of thinking about and addressing this issue has made it clear and apparent to me that it makes sense to store knowledge (discussions, electronic resources, communications) in a non human appliance. I finally get it! - the “learning is in the network” (I think, I need confirmation to cement my understanding, can you help?). There is too much to remember, better to remember the connections to get to the knowledge.

D. How does transfer occur?
‘Transfer refers to the application of learned knowledge in new ways or situations, as well as to how prior learning affects’ new learning Ertmer’s and Newby’s (1993). Not sure about this could it possibly be that that transfer occurs through continual connectivity, but then ultimately does this not coincide with either a constructive need to make meaning and understand. I am struggling with differentiating between a connectivism and constructivism in this regard.

E. What types of learning are best explained by this theory
Struggling with this one as well. On the one hand it correlates with the notions of linking together concepts, making sense of patterns or disorganised information, but when an individual embarks on connectivist learning are they not just connecting?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Making a Massive Open Online Course Work (for me)

Here we go with some ramblings, ideas and unrefined thoughts on participating in a massive open online course.

Logistically I think the infrastructure is in place and everything is setup nicely for whatever develops or is to come. Some people love the Daily, My favourite is the Connectivism wiki HUB page. This is my anchor, home base. The Daily email is also a valuable connector to keep you in touch with the many things that are going on.

What I Like
So what do I like about participating in this massive open online course. I like the fact that it is an experiment in determining whether such an unwieldy beast can be harnessed for effective learning purposes.

It’s Unworkable
The premise I presume from most people would be that it is unworkable! And they are right (only joking). Well maybe not. The good thing about participating is trying to fathom ways of making it work. I am not exactly sure what I hope to learn or achieve, perhaps this does not help, but here are a few unrefined thoughts on the course so far.

Emotional Connectedness
If the course is attempting to show connectivism in action, at the moment I do not think it is working. For me connectivism has an emotional quality that due to the abundance of people and information and my own external workload is currently missing. The discussions could lead to some emotional connectivity for me, but I have not got deep enough into a conversation yet. I think to get some emotional connectivity out of this course I need to start working with others on an activity, even if it is just one other person. This is a slightly eureka moment in that it has confirmed for me that activity theory and the notion of learning by doing are very important to learning. Putting the idea of working on a practical task aside I have a few other raw thoughts on ways to increase engagement and connectedness for this type of massive open online course

Strategies to improve emotional connectedness
In a massive open online course how can emotional connectedness be best facilitated.

1. People tagging with visual map to identify clusters of interest, controlled by slider to change views. Participants need a quicker method of finding out about people and if there are any mutual interests. On enrolment similar to many sites that ask you to list 5 things that you are interested in, there could be a form that identifies general interest tags, course goal tags, aspiration tags, learning needs tags, service offered tags, I need tags, work experience tag etc etc. Access to this information should be by an interactive visual ‘map’. This type of thing I’ve seen done in flash with slider controls. There was an interesting map to do with the changes in population for the worlds cities as I recall that surfaced on the web 18 months or so ago. I cannot find an example readily to hand at the moment.

2. A Game: The course could be delivered in the style of a game or a competition.

3. Synch Breakout Rooms: Use of breakout rooms for smaller groups in synchronous meetings to discuss issues, a scribe takes notes and back into the massive auditorium  for quick review of small group notes.

Well just a few ideas there. Better out here than stuck in my head. Hopefully this might trigger an insight for other colleagues on the course.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Connectivism Course: First thoughts

The course is a wonderful opportunity to interact with a passionate group of people who appreciate the potential of a connectivist mindset. So even though at present I don’t have time to fully enjoy this (yeah, yeah, yeah), I am going to have a good go.

Orientating the learner

I am very clear now that in online courses that employ ‘new’ connectivist, web 2.0 participatory techniques it pays to do as much as possible upfront to orientate the learner to what is required and what to expect.

I enjoyed George’s articulate presentation that included a talking head video introduction. This was followed by voiceover slides explaining about what to expect on the course: the hub, the daily and the moodle area as a central place for discussion. Also the initial schedule outlined the weekly schedule overview and how to participate. The approach to the course was explained to orientate the learner to what is required. The participants were reminded to use the tag CCK08 to aggregate useful resources for all those enrolled on the course. George emphasised that you will find your own comfortable way and reassured participants that it might be slightly uncomfortable in the beginning - explained that tools will be provided to help deal with all the information that will becoming your way and gave some ideas on how to start. Delivered in a conversational style, with a personal touch and emphasising support is always at hand, I felt good as a participant on this course.

Initial Introductions - things that stood out

Vance Stevens quote (we read this one Vance:-)) “the idea of distributed learning networks as opposed to communities or groups”

Jeffrey Keeler’s objectives, which made me think that it would be useful to develop some objectives of my own, rather than just considering participating a success. Here are his objectives:

To consider this course a success, I want three things to happen:

1. Learn one new instructional method for teaching and facilitating online

2. Experience one new technology that I can practically implement in my work.

3. Gain some insight that opens me to a new perspective for me to begin a new thread of research and writing

A Thing I have learnt

Recognition of the use and power of Google alerts

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Connectivism Course - Pre Assignment Introduction

I am a Distance Learning Developer at De Montfort University, Leicester, England, UK. I am just about to finish my dissertation for a masters degree in the field of interactive and collaborative learning. During the course of my study have been captivated by connectivism and the use of web 2.0 tools to help make connectivism the ‘learning theory for the digital age’ :-)

Connecting, socializing, interacting, collaborating, sharing etc etc make learning enjoyable. I am participating in the course to get a deeper understanding of the theory, to learn from the experiences of others, to be enlightened as to the use of new technologies (as a by product of participating) and to explore ways to facilitate the type of learning mentioned above.

In order for this course to be successful I need to participate. Like Nancy White mentioned, due to other committments it will be a tough ask – (could have done with a month later start to finish off my dissertation), but as Nike say ‘just do it’.

My blog will outline my study over the past year or so - My prime interest, because I think it is the most beneficial to negating any isolation associated with distance learning is the use of online synchronous classes, supported by social software. In my role of developer I have the opportunity to work with lecturers at my university to explore the best ways to integrate new technologies and principles of connectivism and online community into their teaching and learning.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


As i come towards the end of my period of study, I have a clear model of how I believe online learning can be successfully delivered to adult distance learners. Having worked successfully through this model with a group of eight lecturers here at my university and around twenty students in separate online courses, i hope to continue to work on the model and its application to further enhance the lot of the adult distance learner and those engaged in professional development.

There are many influences on the model. As a starting point the model embraces the “seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education” as outlined by Chickering and Gamson (1987)1 At the heart of this teaching model is the use of an online synchronous classroom using web conferencing software, supported by a community orientated learning ethos that utilizes Web 2.0 technology. The underlying theory that drives the model is what can be described as constructo-connectivism, where formal learning activities are driven by a constructivist approach to teaching and learning, whilst a connectivist approach is taken in utilizing web 2.0 technology to facilitate the informal learning that occurs in the learning network and the acquisition of personal knowledge management skills which are invaluable in the digital era of the twenty first century.
To reflect the nature of this teaching model it has subsequently been named as the Synchronous Community Orientated Reflective and Experiential 2.0 model (SCORE 2.0). Conceptually the model is aligned with Race's 'ripples' model of learning2 . The online synchronous classroom is at the core and is the catalyst to drive the learning. This is where the motivation (the want) is created and reinforced. From here learners participate in intersession tasks (the doing) and then go on to consider what they have learnt through further discussion in a learning network and through posting entries to a reflective blog (the digesting). Throughout the whole process due to the nature of web 2.0 technologies there is opportunity for teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction (the feedback). Note also that the online synchronous class itself is a microcosm of this model of learning. Guiding and shaping the teaching and learning strategy is the community of inquiry model by Garrison and Anderson (2003)3 with the important emphasis on teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence.
This model of online learning has been developed for the individual lecturer or ideally a programme team that enjoys building rapport with students and values dialogue with students. There are two very simple aims 1) to invigorate the process of online distance learning, making it an enjoyable, engaging and motivating experience and ii) to maximize the learning. Developed with adult distance learners in mind, the model has the potential to be used effectively for staff development purposes both on and off line.

1. Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann (1996) Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever AAHE Bulletin, October, pp. 3-6.
2. Race, P. (2001) The lecturer's toolkit - A practical guide to learning, teaching and assessment (Second edition) London: Kogan Page.
3. Garrison, D. R. and Anderson, Terry (2003) E-Learning in the 21st Century: a framework for research and practice London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Higher Education, Work based learning and Web 2.0

After reading David Gray’s (2001)[i] “A Briefing on Work Based Learning” this document picks up on the main points that characterize work based learning (WBL) and briefly explores their relationship with higher education and web 2.0 technology.

Work based learning and its value
Three common understandings of the term work based learning are:
  • Learning for work e.g. work placements on a sandwich degree programme (may be referred to as work placed learning)
  • Learning at Work e.g. in house training or personal development programme
  • Learning through work with formal accreditation
Understanding 1 (even though it as a long history at higher education level) and understanding 2 are not usually assessed or accredited. For higher education (in consultation with employer organizations and the employee) the newer understanding 3 brings with it the role of providing academic rigor by way of i) defining appropriate learning outcomes, ii) effective teaching and learning strategies and iii) valid and reliable assessment.
If these three elements are met then the work based learner will more likely be in a position to reap the satisfying rewards of self fulfillment and self development which will be important in motivating them during the period of a course. For work based learning to be of value to an employer organization, then at the end of the learning process, amongst other things they may like to see that the learner has i) acquired specific skills ii) demonstrated general problem solving skills iii) demonstrated ability to be creative in generating ideas, in addition to iv) a mechanism to identify what level of skills and ability an individual has achieved. With the advent of e-learning in general and web 2.0 technology in particular, Higher education is in a position to take advantage of the ease of use and flexibility of 21st century learning tools to i) improve communication between all three parties ii) provide opportunities for learners to present and externalize their knowledge iii) engender a dialogic framework that can easily elicit feedback from tutors, employers and the wider world and iv) foster the development of a learners own personal learning environment and personal knowledge management skills to enhance their development as a lifelong learner.
This last point may have additional resonance with employer organizations that have a mindset of a learning organization, as they will be looking to go beyond isolated programmes of learning and look to embed systems which encourage learning and will benefit the whole organization as an ongoing way of being. This sort of organization will ideally have structures in place that encourage individual participation, create opportunities for interaction and create mechanisms to share ideas so that a culture of learning from each other ensues.
Differences between WBL and classroom learning
David Gray refers to Raelin (2000) who argues that work based learning is different to classroom learning in a number of important ways:
  1. Work based learning is centered around reflection on work practices
  2. Work based learning views learning as arising from action and problem solving within a working environment.
  3. Work based learning requires not only the acquisition of knowledge but the acquisition of meta-competence – learning to learn.
For these reasons and the fact that the adult learner is perceived to be self-directed, has personal experience and motivation to bring to the table of learning assessment methods for work based learning need to be reflected in a student-centered, problem-based approach rather than formal examinations that characterize traditional assessment methods. With this in mind assessment methods could include:
  • Self and peer assessment
  • Assignments and projects
  • Portfolio building
  • Presentations
  • Practical assessment of professional competence in the workplace
In addition it’s important to note that “the link between a learner’s objectives and the outputs of learning can be bridged through the use of learning contracts”. Gray (2001)1
With employers having an investment in the learning of work based learners and the benefits that this will offer in the future this further “underlines the need for developing the higher level skills of analysis, evaluation and synthesis as well as the ability to be an independent learner”. Gray (2001)1
WBL and Web 2.0
Web 2.0 technology sits nicely within a student centered, problem based approach learning and the socio-constructivist approach that this implies. There are many web 2.0 technologies that can become home for student developed resources; The staple web 2.0 tools will be Blogs for reflection, wikis for collaboration and resource management and e-portfolios for presentation of knowledge, ideas and the products of the learning process. Also in this connectivist age in addition to their own Personal Learning Networks, there should also be a role for an institution or employer initiated web 2.0 based learning network which can help to facilitate the informal and incidental learning that can be so useful.

[1] Gray, D (2001) A Briefing on Work Based Learning LTSN generic centre Learning and Teaching Support Network

Monday, April 07, 2008

More of my Blogging

During the course of my study I have also been contributing to the DMU pathfinder blog. The pathfinder research project of which I am a participant is investigating the use of web 2.0 technology throughout the institution. I have made 20 contributions to this blog. My contributions can be found here . I have included a list of my blog titles and categorised them in the list below for your reference.
· Another Digital Resource
· Cool CatTeacher Blog
· Passion Based Learning
· Staff Engagment - show them this!! - Thanks Nick Allsop
· Students 2.0
Web 2.0 Tools
· 90 days free use of online Survey Software
· Betty Collis Seminar - "Wikis: Flavour of the month or the tool that can change learning
· Google Calendar
· Reasons to use Ning
· Social Bookmarking - Are you doing it, if not why not?
· YouTube
Web 2.0 Learning and Education
· Bob, weave and procrastinate, but you can't hide
· Britt Watwood's Posts - - College 2.0
· Burnout
· Give me a 'learning' network anyday
· Learnadoodledastic: Community Building, Learning Networks and all that Jazz
· mobilicious
· The most influential blog of the year - Edublog Awards 2007
· Web2.0: Security, Privacy, Safety & Legalities
· Facebook Research

Monday, March 24, 2008

Razzle Dazzle: Converting VHS Video to Digital Format

Converting VHS video recordings to a digital format is made easy using the Dazzle video capture device and the bundled Pinnacle V11 software, which is easily obtainable from Maplins the excellent electronics specialists store. In addition to this hardware/software combination you will need a SCART socket with composite video 3 Pin (yellow, red and white, known as 3 Phono (RCA)) male plugs which will connect with the dazzle hardware.

So to recap, what you need to capture the video in a digital format is

  1. Video cassette player connected to a TV with a SCART Socket,
  2. Dazzle video capture device with Pinacle V11 Video editing Software £49.99
  3. SCART socket lead with composite video 3 Pin (yellow, red and white, known as 3 Phono (RCA)) male plugs at the other end of the lead £9.99

(I actually paid £39.99 for the hardware/software combination with a months free trial of the software.I'll need to pay another £20 for a full upgrade.)

You have all you need now to convert VHS Video to a digital format of your choice. The issue now becomes to what digital format and level of quality do you convert the video. Initially i tried to save approx two and half hours into an AVI format in DVD format. I could not quite manage this as i ran out of disk space at 25GB at about the 2 hour mark. I was hoping to edit the end product into manageable chunks at my leisure in front of the computer. In the end i decided to work through the video in real time and saved it to file in chunks of 10, 15 or 20 mins.

I decided in the end to save in an MPEG format at CD ROM quality to save disk space and to make them as easily transferable as possible on a memory stick or CD ROM. Not quite sure what this means for transfer to DVD (Does it need to be in VOB Format? (i think so, but will look into this).

The conversion quality options that are available are to DVD, SCVD and CD. The CD quality seemed adequate to me and during the conversion process for all formats i never noticed and it was not indicated at the end that any frames were dropped during the conversion process. In terms of disk space usage i noted that the following disk storage space was used:

Disk Storage space per 1 Minute of video captured:
  • AVI to DVD: 70MB
  • MPG to DVD: 46 MB
  • MPG to SCVD: 19 MB
  • MPG to CD: 10 MB

For completeness i will look at the other AVI conversions another time and as it stands i am only left with CD Quality originals and i am not sure if they can be transferred onto DVD (I suspect not).

I shall investigate more, when i have time to get the best balance between disk storage and quality of conversion.

Pinnacle V11 + Dazzle Video Creator Combo Pack
Maplins Search for DazzleSCART to 3 Phono Plugs

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Video: Clive Thompson on blogging «

If you have ever wondered "what is the point of blogging", like i did early on in my blogging escapades then this short video clip summarizes nicely why it is good to blog and just gives a rather all round enlightened view of how blogging fits into one's life.

Video: Clive Thompson on blogging «

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Live Synchronous Classes: Pencils, Paper and Planning for differing levels of ability

The planning of interactive live online synchronous classes in a web based classroom is challenging. One has to have a good knowledge of the tools and the environment, an appreciation of effective instructional design and an appreciation of the subject matter.

in order for a planned session to be useful to others, the plan in the form of a leader guide, should be comprehensive and clear to enable many teachers to use the guide to deliver a lesson. This can be a time consuming process, usually done initially in powerpoint. As you build the slides appropriate notes can be added.

This short blog is a note to self - to say, that as a starting point the plan should be mapped out using pencil on A3 paper. This will be the quickest way to kick start your plan, finding content to suit your teaching and learning objectives will figure in the decisions made. So plans will need to be adjusted according to the content that is available.

How the sessions are conducted will vary with the level of ability and what you hope to achieve. The areas of concern to me are education, learning technology, web design and multimedia. In these fields often Introductory sessions may veer more towards brainstorming of ideas, demonstration and short bursts (5-10 mins) of student self study with sunbequent clarifications.

For intermediate and advanced lessons different strategies will be required which may involve more online discussion between participants, more pre-lesson work in order to facilitate the discussion, more input from participants in terms of recanting their experiences and stories, more in-depth problem solving tasks and more creative tasks.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

It’s a Mash-up 2: Capturing the Learning

Lesson: PgCert Teacher Training: Online Assessment and Evaluation – Thursday 31st Jan – Groups 2 and 3


Following on from the Wednesday lesson with group 1, on Thursday I again teamed up with Heather Conboy to deliver the PgCert online assessment and evaluation lesson to Groups 2 and 3 of the PgCert teacher training course. We had the interesting situation this time around of having participants with a bit more experience of using online assessments in their current practice.

Participants have a lot to contribute

What was useful to remember is that there is a wealth of insights to be gained from participants on a course and that encouraging participants to share there experiences is very valuable for other participants. We saw this in two ways I) a verbal explanation of how one participant was using wikis formatively in his lessons and ii) with two other lecturers demonstrating and presenting their ideas to the others. The explanations and examples from peers has a much more captivating effect on the rest of the participants rather than the 'detached' overview of how these technologies can work for them from the lecturer in transmission mode.

Socratic Questioning

Although the transmission mode is required and can still be effective in small doses, participant involvement adds greatly to the lesson, both for online synchronous and classroom based lessons. In this situation in my role as a facilitator, it was important to listen to what was being said, follow the discussion and at the appropriate time summarize and highlight the main points that were addressed, add new topics or angles that are relevant but have not been discussed and to perhaps prompt the participants with some supplementary questions to further stimulate debate and discussion. I think I did this reasonably well, but this is something I am keen to improve on as I believe the skills of the Socratic questioning approach are valuable in teasing opinions and insights out of participants and therefore making them think a little deeper about issues.

The group wiki is still great :-)

The practical group wiki exercise once again contributed to the social and active learning approach, but in the sessions with groups 2 and 3, the discussion and debate seemed to be the dominant medium through which participant learning occurred. This was confirmed in participant feedback, where discussion with colleagues was the dominant theme of what was the best aspect of the course.

Teaching and Learning: Online Versus Classroom

Having spent a lot of time facilitating sessions online recently (very enjoyably) in a synchronous web based classroom, I forgot how good it is to get into a classroom and do face to face teaching. I actually believe that my research and practice in developing a suitable online strategy for teaching and learning has had direct benefits that have flowed over into my classroom based teaching. From my research I have developed a model of online learning that I believe takes advantage of theories based on social and active learning to promote the idea of facilitating learning ultimately in a community of practice. The model is geared to adult distance learners and early signs indicate that this model of online learning is effective in improving learning and is effective in engaging and motivating students to want to learn. Setting aside any financial, staffing or political issues the approach of an online synchronous web based classroom linked to the ease of use and usefulness of web 2.0 based technologies for asynchronous out of class tasks is more than a match for the traditional asynchronous only or blended solutions that do not
rely on a synchronous web based classroom to pull together a community of learners.

In the absence of the option of face to face teaching, this type of learning is tailor made for adult distance learners and also has many benefits for busy professionals in pursuit of professional development qualifications. In the UK as the IT policies (and infrastructure) of many government led organisations and some private companies is slow to react to changing developments in IT and the fact that these organisations are struggling with how to regulate the use of web 2.o technologies in the workplace it would seem that the home user is best placed to take advantage of the model of online learning that I propose. With a bit of planning many organisations in the workplace could quite easily adopt this model of online learning to good effect.

There is no denying the warmth and intimacy that can be achieved by connecting face to face with students is a powerful factor in making face to face teaching enjoyable and the ability to delve deeper into problems on a one on one basis is also an attractive feature for both teacher and learner a like. That said learning in the online synchronous web based classroom can offer many advantages, which include:

  • 1. Individuals can be more focused as they are physically isolated from other participants and have to focus on what is going on in the lesson to communicate effectively with other participants and the teacher.
  • 2. Responses to questions are much more easily collated simultaneously from everyone in the lesson ensuring that it is easier for all participants to be heard in the classroom (whether that be via audio or text)
  • 3. The ability for all participants as well as the teacher to quickly and easily become a presenter. This could be via the sharing of a web browser or the sharing of presentations or documents.
  • 4. The sheer easily accessible variety of ways to implement learning activities, thus having a better chance to cater for a diverse range of learning styles.
  • 5. The ability to capture the learning. with the capability to record all the verbal, whiteboard and text chat interactions none of the learning is lost and can always be available for latter review, not only for the participants themselves, but for participants that have to miss a class. In addition the teacher is in a great position to review their own work.

The capturing of the learning is such a useful feature it has got me wondering whether the principles of my model of online learning can be applied to face to face teaching. One thing that is without doubt is that the use of web2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and educational networking, both in class and for out of class work is a no brainer. These tools give the teacher much more scope to offer interesting and varied in class tasks and are great at encouraging small group work activity (within class). On the face of it the use of the online synchronous web based class may not be workable or required but I am starting to think if the physical environment was set up correctly and everyone was logged into a computer with access to the web based synchronous classroom there are some possibilities. i.e. I) we could still grab everyone's ideas via whiteboard and text chat tools, ii) if everyone had hands free phone with the ability to move around the class, perhaps we could also capture the verbal discussions without chaining participants or the teacher to the desk.


There are undoubtedly some issues to address, aside from the technicalities but in actual fact in a few years time I don't think it will be a problem. With students having lightweight portable computer tablets and wireless mobile phone, hands free headsets we will much better placed to capture the learning

Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's a Mash Up: Online Learning meets Classroom Teaching

Lesson: PgCert Teacher Training: Online Assessment and Evaluation – Wednesday 30th Jan – Group 1


This was the first group of three, to be taught on this lesson. I was drafted in to help deliver this classroom based 90 minute session on online assessment and evaluation with colleague Heather Conboy. It was an interesting and rewarding experience. Rewarding in that I did feel that the session went well, which was by and large confirmed in feedback from the 10 strong group of PgCert group of tutors.

Leading up to the class there was a little apprehension. Reasons for this: I) I was dual presenting, so delivering and writing a lesson plan for two was a new experience 2) The subject matter I had not delivered a lesson on before and the style of lesson was different in that it was a one-off session for me although for the students it did feed into an ongoing series of lessons. Heather and I agreed a lesson plan, which I am acutely aware of is a great anchor to support you through a lesson. The lesson plan gave us confidence that we had a clear strategy (to deviate from :-), I’ll explain more later).


Delivering this lesson emphasised the fact that preparation and a flexible approach are vital to try and make any lesson achieve the intended learning outcomes, ensure the lesson goes smoothly and that the students benefit from the lesson. So in addition to the lesson plan, a series of examples to demonstrate were identified by myself and Heather, as well as additional resources that we could direct the students towards. The approach in actual fact is very similar to the recent online synchronous lessons that I have run which is characterised by a very detailed lesson plan, (which has some flexibility built in for the teacher to deliver in their own style), emphasis on participant activity, discussions and demonstrations. All of which are an important part of teaching in both arenas.

Social and Active Learning

From my reading and practical experience I am ware of the benefits of social and active learning and therefore hoped to take advantage of this by using a wiki in class to promote discussion in small groups, thus enhancing the enjoyment of the session(by adding a social element to the learning), laying the foundations to learn from each other and then using the attributes of the wiki to capture and store the thoughts of the small groups as a record for themselves to return to and reflect on and for myself and heather to also be able to reflect on the participants activities and offer constructive written feedback at an appropriate time outside of the class.

Feedback from the participants seemed to vindicate this approach as when asked about the best part of the session many replied with comments relating to this active and social approach saying for example “using the wiki”, “playing with the computer”, “Community as a group”, “practical hands-on”. Other participants commented that the best parts were general discussion and demonstrations. So the feedback was good to me in that the variety of strategies helped to cater for the needs and enjoyment of a broad spectrum of the audience.

Adapting and being flexible

The initial part of the class was planned around the fact that the participants were to have completed a number of pre session tasks, one of which was identifying any online assessments that they currently used in their practice. It was quickly apparent that the participants had no or minimal experience in using online assessment and the initial task planned for; a small group wiki based task was not going to happen. Recognising this fact, it was obvious that the session needed moving along to give the students an appreciation of what opportunities there were to use online assessment and evaluation in their work, so we preceded to demonstrating examples of various technologies to show what could be achieved. Heather led this part of the lesson and I contributed to the discussion as and when appropriate. In retrospect the time initially allocated to demonstration and discussion was probably too short and that for future lessons and bearing in mind the time constraints, a brief discussion to garner the use of online assessments amongst the participants maybe sufficient, rather than a hands on task. However I am aware that there may be a new batch of tutors with different levels of experience and it may be that a wiki based task early on might be the way to go. So being flexible and prepared to adapt I would say is quite a necessary attitude/ skill to possess.

Participant Perceptions

I believe we actually achieved a lot in the lesson. This group of students came with little knowledge and I sensed a little reluctance to be bothered with online assessment and evaluation. There was an obvious lack of knowledge about what is possible and a questioning of whether there was any value in online assessment in comparison with the traditional ways of doing things. After discussions and demonstrations, myself and heather were able to highlight advantages and possibilities of how online assessment could be useful and emphasised the point that there is not a set prescribed method for using the tools mentioned, but once they have an appreciation of what the tools can do they may recognize opportunities for using them. Also it was pointed out that online assessments don’t necessarily need to replace current practices but are there to aid and assist current learning and assessment strategies.

Off the back of the demonstrations and the discussions, students engaged in a small group wiki based task. With one of the group acting as a scribe they devised an online assessment and recorded this on a wiki page. This further shifted perceptions as to the potential uses of online tools for formative, summative or diagnostic assessment. You could sense that by the end of the lesson with increased knowledge, that participants were overall feeling more favourable towards the use of online assessment and this was reflected in participant feedback where seven of the students indicated that would probably or very probably change some aspect of their practice as a result of the workshop, one would change a little, one was unlikely due to work constraints and the other did not respond.


I think a predominantly social and active learning approach is correct in both online and face to face teaching and learning. The use of the wiki as a tool in the classroom is a good medium to pull together small group discussions, where participants can be benefit from face to face interaction and thereafter ongoing discussion, debate, collaboration and decision making online and out of class if necessary and desirable.

The example demonstrations were most definitely useful in laying the foundations of knowledge to comprehend the possibilities and engage in subsequent discussions, where participants benefited not only from teacher input, but also from fellow participants.

This session was very much an introductory and awareness raising session and with links provided participants have some initial signposts from where to gather deeper knowledge. With a more knowledgeable group, discussions may focus on the success or failure of online assessment approaches and this will emphasise the need to be flexible and adaptable in this type of session.

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