Archive for technology

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Whose driving E learning 2.0??

The new 360 report by the e learning guild on e learning 2.0 has some fantastic data on what and who is driving the adoption of web 2.0 tools in e learning. I’ve been trying to make sense of the data, especially in relation to other reports that have just come out like the BECTA report on web 2.0 in UK schools I wrote about yesterday, and the Technorati survey of the blogosphere from a few weeks ago, which suggested that there were a significant number of older bloggers, with more than 50% of those in the USA and Europe over 35. All these reports make significant issues of the age issue, and made me question who is driving e learning 2.0, younger workers coming into industry with facebook accounts or older e learning specialists who have been using email and macs since before many of these digital natives were born??

The E learning 2.0 report was authored by some big names in the industry, including Tony Karrer, Michele Martin, Jane Hart, Steve Wexler and Brent Schlenker; and is based on almost 3,000 replies from e learning professionals who are members of the guild. Overall, the whole membership is completely sold on the idea that e learning 2.0 works, with almost unanimous feeling that it had delivered substantial benefits to their organisation. Europe, Middle East and Africa are significantly further down the web 2.0 line than the rest of the world, with 57% reporting some use of e learning 2.0 compared with 39% in the US and 40% overall. (I have to say it would ahve been much more useful if europe had been separated from the middle east and africa to get a more nuanced view of adoption)
One key set of conclusions that seems to be buried at the back of the report if the ranking of web 2.0 tools in use by sector, which is topped by business e learning training providers followed by universities. However, if you look at this data a bit more carefully, you see that in the key areas of growth in web 2.0, blogs, wikis and, universities are way ahead and leading the pack by a substantial margin, with Europe and Asia/rest of world leading  the way by a significant margin over the USA.  Corporate e learning providers make massive use of electronic performance systems, learning games  and simulations, which greatly increases their overall score.

So this got me thinking, who is driving the adoption of e learning 2.0? To me it seems that universities and higher education, especially in outside of the USA, are playing a key role as the transitional zone between the workforce and companies, and are effectively giving the students who are coming from schools with a good grasp of the social networking tools that are out there but as the BECTA report noted, no real critical awareness of what these tools can do to enhance understanding and knowledge, and without the ability to evaluate and assess them effectively. Businesses, according to the guilds report, see the pressure from new younger staff to adopt web 2.0 as a major driver of the need for e learning 2.0, with 66% of respondents citing this as a major factor for them. 57% felt that Using web would allow their organisation to attract more and better talent. However, half felt that their staff didn’t have either the skills or the infrastructure to enable web 2.0 activities, and half felt that there want any real demand from staff to adopt them anyway. so there is a misfit between schools an industry, a misfit that higher education perhaps needs to bridge.

In terms of what guild members saw as the engines of adoption, 52% felt that their own personal use of tools was the most important factor, with only a third claiming that Learners or staff are requesting it, and just 25% that it was management driven.

Where it gets very interesting is in examining what members felt were the most effective strategies to drive forward the implementation of successful projects, with half citing engaging content as being the most important, and just less than half seeing management backing and tutoring as vital. Things like reward systems, helpdesk and internal advertising showed a poorer response, with less than 20% seeing them as significant. However, when the figures are broken down by length of e learning experience, a different picture emerges, with 44% of older, more senior specialists maintaining that effective change management was the most important thing.
One very interesting and slightly counter intuitive point is that the more experience a member has the more likely he or she is to embrace new approaches to education, with older members of the guild showing a higher propensity to use things like blogs, wikis, social networking and communities of practice.
So trying to make sense of this it seems to me that the real driving force behind e learning 2.0 is the e leaning community, especially its’ older, more established members, people like the team that put together the guild’s report, people with the significant important blogs, people like my fellow participants in the work literacy workshop, people who are in high enough positions within their organisations to effect change but not so high that they don’t have the time to experiment with web 2.0, to try it themselves and as Jane Hart maintains, lead by example. Within this, higher education is playing a key role in helping workers navigate the transition from using facebook and myspace as predominantly for entertainment, to using them for learning, understanding, knowledge production and analysis.

This certainly fits with my experiences of trying to move my institution forward, most of the growth has been grassroots, driven by individuals at course director level who are in their late 30’s to 50’s, and who have always used technology in their lives. They are now in positions where they can influence eat least the courses around them and drive forward the adoption of new ways of thinking, teaching and learning; management tend to be the generation above who haven’t the time nor the incentive to grapple with the tools, but are more than happy and supportive for us to do so. Slowly we are shifting though out of the e learning pocket into an e culture, where the tools that seem so new today will merge into our lives as seamlessly and ubiquitously as the internal combustion engine, the book, cell phones and the internet itself.

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Feed the Beast: Tina Brown and the future of interactive, collaborative online courses

Is this the future of interactive, collaborative online courses?

Tina Brown’s new online vessel, the Daily Beast, has just launched, with the philosophy that means it is not an aggregator, but rather in Tina’s words, a site that  ”siftssorts, and curates.” What this means is that it provides a variety of ways to intersect with a story, and entry points to interact with it too. A range of invited experts on the  ‘buzz board’ give their recommendations on a range of topics including foreign affairs, entertainment and politics; highlights from other news sources provide the ‘cheat sheet’.

There is one ‘big fat story’ of the day which provides roll overlinks organised a bit like a mental map of the story. All of this is dynamic and updating constantly. The home  page is too cluttered and confusing  for my taste,but the other pages are much cleaner with lots of white space and clean design, with big images and a pleasing grey font that is easy on the eye.

For me Tina’s philosophy chimes exactly with where I think education, especially higher education and lifelong  learning, is going. We are shifting from the top down model of teacher/student to the bottom up model of collaboration and equality, and of guide, mentor, curator and collector. This resonates with Michele Martin who in a post on Instructional Designers and Trainers as Digital Curators? argues that  the

‘role of the “trainer” or the “instructional designer” really is fundamentally changing into someone who may no longer be designing learning “events” but is in fact facilitating the development and ongoing use of personal learning and work environments’

and Steve Rubel, who in  ‘The digital curator in your future’ maintains that

‘The call of the curator requires people who are selfless and willing to act as sherpas and guides. They’re identifiable subject matter experts who dive through mountains of digital information and distill it down to its most relevant, essential parts. Digital Curators are the future of online content.’

So something like the Daily Beast, with a core team of ‘curators’ mixed in with invited experts to give fresh and deep insights into the subject area, and then combined with interaction from the participants adding their links, uploads and insights provides a powerful model for what an online course site might look like in the future…..

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

Social Media Tools Are Like Phones

From Chris Brogan’s blog, Social Media Tools Are Like Phones

“One thing we misunderstand frequently when talking about how great and amazing social media is comes from the fact that we’re thinking from the perspective of what we want the tool to do while the people who are receiving the message might be thinking about the tools in the abstract. When we talk about how Twitter forges real time conversations and delivers business value, others show up and see us bitching about a late flight and live tweeting the baseball game. When we talk about how blogging changes the world, other people are slogging through all the crap blogs indexed by Google when they’re looking for actual useful information.”

He makes a very interesting point that when a new technological tool emerges, we spend the first part of its life trying to figure out what it is useful for. At a certain point, that process becomes transparent, when the tool just becomes embedded in our daily lives – think of the cell phone or even email, how they didn’t exist a generation ago, then they were a minority interest mainly for professionals and now are ubiquitous and we couldn’t imagine life without them.

his key point is that social media tools are just that, tools for communication that allow for more “nuance”, the revolution as he sees it is in how we use them.
In his case it is to market products to consumers, but in our sphere i think the key is in personalising learning, so each learner feels more like they are getting a bespoke educational experience that is tailored just to them, a unique learning journey where others have laid out some signposts, but by forming alliances and communities of practice with like-minded voyagers, their journey is a far richer experience than it could have been previously.

That’s certainly been my experience with using blogs in my post grad course, they have greatly enhanced the ‘personality’ of the students for me, and opened up their thought processes in amazing ways.


For me, these tools are about communication, collaboration, collective knowledge and connected knowledge.

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

How long is too long for synchronous sessions?

An interesting post on Clive on learning:  Synchronous e-learning myths #1: An hour’s enough for anyone

The accepted wisdom is that webinars need to be short and sharp, but my experience so far on delivering our online masters in photojournalism and documentary photography at the LCC suggests otherwise.

Clive notes 2 presentations at an elearning network seminar Thinking Synch, where several of the presentations discussed how they were working with much longer sessions live, up to 4 hours in one case. both presentations seemed to focus on how concentrated webinars with engaging content can be delivered in a way that maximises benefits in the most concentrated way.

I teach both a f2f and online mode of the same course, with essentially the same content and assignments etc, just delivered in college over one year or entirely online part time over 2. On the online mode,  most of the teaching is done live in real time using synchronous web conferencing – we use the Wimba live classroom. Our sessions are typically 2 hours long for lecturers, seminars and tutorials. In my opinion, if the experience is engaging enough, and uses good visuals and materials, then a live web conference can be sustained over a long period of time – in fact our group usually want to go on longer!!


I think that one reason is the intensity of the experience, and another is that it is easier for them to schedule one long session once a week than several shorter ones – they are mostly working professional freelancers – and it is easier to block out one longer slot a week than several shorter ones. Also I feel that the energy generated in a 2 hour session is just right – we typically have 2 ‘lecturers’ on different topics, with group discussions etc, and then a general informational session where we cover course admin, assignments etc.


I even think that webinars offer several advantages over a traditional classroom environment. Once you are over that strange feeling of talking to the ether that soon passes, I feel like the intimacy and intensity generated by having the headphones on and the work right in front of me on screen, filling most of my field of vision, creates a performative space where i get energised and excited just as much as in a f2f lecture. in fact the fact that i cant see my audience in a way enhances this, because I don’t get upset if someone looks like they are dropping off! From the feedback we are getting from the participants (there are 16 on the course each year), they feel a similar sense of engagement. One proof of this is that although the sessions are all archived, our attendance levels for the live sessions are typically around 75-805 which isn’t bad for a traditional lecture, never mind one that crosses transatlantic time zones and freelance work patterns.

Another major advantage  I think is that they are all archived and stored with an easy to navigate timecoded system that makes going straight to a particular part of a talk or session very easy.

But the real killer app is the range of feedback options that the participants have. They can put in chat/text messages, either to the whole room or privately, and in a good session this amounts to a running commentary on the presentation, with approvals (and disagreements!); questions that can then be rolled into the talk; and even a whole team of ‘researchers’ who can quickly google a reference when its mentioned in a presenation and post the url to the group.

Wimba has various emoticons and yes/no tick boxes, an they too add to the sense of involvement, its easy to ask ‘is everyone following this’ and thne get a series of green ticks if they are, or red crosses if they are not.

And there’s nothing quite like a round of virtual applause emoticons at the end of a great session!!

Wimba themselves have a long running series of online lectures that typically run for an hour each with up to 200 participants at a time, they have done over 500 of these and again the problem is running out of time not going on too long.


And the ability to annotate and draw onto images as in the example above is invaluable in dissecting how and why a particular photography works – or doesn’t. 

Certainly I don’t feel that synchronous has to be short…nor does it have to be technical


BTW here’s a great list of myth busters about live online teaching from Jennifer Hofmann, president of InSync Training (,


And Clive has just added another post that confirms my experiences even more, especially this


Further evidence came from Matthew James and Dr Kathy Seddon from NCSL who presented on ‘multi-layered synchronous learning’. They made the point that web conferencing encourages multiple dialogues among participants. Online you can be viewing a slide and listening to a speaker while simultaneously interacting with peers through text chat. In other words, online learners have excess capacity for interaction that the formal aspect of the event will not always utilise; online that capacity can be used to the full. And, this additional channel is not superficial or frivolous – the speakers reported that many participants asked if the session could continue after the facilitator had left, so they could continue their discussions. This dynamic of what the speakers called ‘co-construction’ is not typically evident in a face-to-face environment.’


Monday, September 29th, 2008

Work Literacy

The first session of the work literacy workshop started today. The session is on social networks and focuses on facebook, linkedin and ning, and it has already inspired me to do 2 things that I was mulling over doing already but lacked the final incentive to set up.  One was to properly set up my linkedin account and pay for it, and pretty quickly I found lots of colleagues and friends were already members, so  have built up a network pretty fast – its fascinating to see who is liked to who as well. and i worked out how to put the badge up onto my blog (see right…).

The other thing was to invite the MAPJD online students I work with to the ning site i set up ages ago, but wasn’t sure whether or not to make it live. The choice of ning by such an experienced group as the facilitators of this workshop gave me the confidence to go with it. So I’m interested if anyone else is using it for running a course in higher education, we are hoping to use it as a ‘virtual commons’ to mirror the physical social spaces of a f2f environment, as well as to keep the group informed of key dates, classes etc etc.I am part of a team at my university who are trying to ‘demonstrate the need’ for a more web 2.0/social networking approach to HE, and we are trying to find something that can sit within our existing VLE (blackboard) and offer more interactivity and feedback, so we can then get the investment that building something like elgg would need.
One problem with this is that ning doesn’t seem to be able to sit ‘inside’ a window in another browser so that it ‘looks’ like it is embedded within BB, which netvibes can – has anyone used netvibes as a portal for information etc? -  its what michael wesch uses on his anthropology course at kansas.

We as an institution are stuck with BB for at least the next 3 years or so, so there is a team of us trying to work from within it – it does do some things like student enrollment etc etc reasonably well – so we populate our courses from bb and then add the content using whatever plug in software we want. So far we are trying things out, and i suspect that something like elgg or drupal wil be the final solution, but until we can justify the investment in something like that ning et al provide a realistic short term way to experiment and  ‘demonstrate the need’

The Q is how much work needs to be done in order to create an environment where the average user can easily get in and set up a site like this one- we talk a lot about targeting the ‘hump’ – the middle area of staff who will use new tools if they are easy and quick to master, we will never impact on the bottom of the hump – those who are so old school that they will never change – nor do we need to affect those at the top – the early adopters who are already doing stuff. We need to create the conditions for change amongst the middle to see real benefits.

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

engage me……..

just came across this wonderful video ‘a vision of k12 students today’,

which makes a perfect compliment to michael wesch’s ‘a vision of students today’ (see my previous post). The message is ‘engage me’, exite me, energise me, let me use technology and the www – whatever, wherever, whenever. teach me to think, to create, to analyse, to evaluate, to apply.

You can see it at edublogs tv or youtube


It’s had 175,000 hits on you tube, but only 1000 on edublogs tv, which is a little sad, as I believe it deserves to be righ tup there with a vision of students, as it is more positive and leads somewhere that is going forward than ‘students’


Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

mashing the vle???

Enterprise VLEs and LMS like blackboard (aka blackweb) are getting a bad press these days with the rise of web2 and the edupunk concept of finding your own open source tools to create the learner centred environment everyone wants. But we have to face the fact that most large organisations like universities (mine is no exception at the UAL) have invested heavily in VLE’s and they do have a usefulness in terms of managing the huge numbers of students and all the enrollment data and grades that they generate.

So perhaps the solution is to take your VLE and mash it up a little. I started playing around in blackboard and pretty quickly realised that you can create links from it to external sites very easily, and make those sites your course start page within the secure bb environment. So inspired by Michael Wesch’s course site at netvibes, I’m playing around with a version for my course, with lots of RSS feeds from relevant blogs and sites. Add in student and staff blogs and create a course facebook, ning or myspace site and you are away. The IT dept are happy because you are still using their expensive gateway, you have a secure site that is password protected, and your students think that their course site looks way cooler than it used to.

Thoughts welcome from anyone else who has tried this approach.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

from citizen journalism to citizen educators??

In A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism, Jay Rosen of NYU’s Journalism programme defines citizen media as

‘When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.’

That got me thinking as always as to how this insight about the media might be applied to education. So we could reframe it to say

‘When the people formerly known as the students employ the research tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen educators.’

The parallels between media and education are striking; both are seeing a massive shift in their role from monolithic providers of knowledge from on high to just one possible source of material competing with many others. Michael Wesch’s experiments with his social anthropology class, particularly in things like his class collectively taking notes on his lectures and then putting them together as a wiki resource for future and current classmates is a great example of how he classroom can be turned inside out, so that the traditional one way route from lecturer to audience is reversed, and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ of the students is enhanced. There are countless more ways that social media could help with this flow reversal, from graduate students helping undergrads as mentors using blogs and wikis, social networking sites to enhance cross faculty and course collaborations, and sites like delicious and diig to share and collaboratively build databases of links relevant to an area of research or practice that would take an individual researcher years to compile.

Apply this too to the professional world, and you can harness the experience of senior players to the enthusiasm and contemporary knowledge of their juniors, and build research and learning environments to enhance the knowledge of the whole organisation. The parallel with academia is again relevant, think of switching the focus from training to research, and then develop activities that combine both together, so that the training that is delivered produces a real world benefit in terms of a new piece of information or understanding for the institution. That way the learning is enhanced by being mare more experiential and relevant, and the research is enhanced by being embedded into the staff development of the company.

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Moodstream from Getty

Moodstream is a new site from Getty images, and is a rather strange beast.

It takes images, video and music from the Getty archives and mashes them up into a constant stream of material, which the viewer can modify according to their mood by entering their ‘emotional state’: you can be hot or cold, excited or calm, nostalgic or contemporary. Moodstream then selects content according to your criteria and pushes content out to you accordingly. The result is a rather peculiar kind of moving audio wallpaper, a bit like high tech elevator music, and I’m not entirely sure what the point is, unless its meant to be projected in the background in your office or home. Still, its kind of fun, and an interesting insight into how media might be personally tailored in future, where you will feel like things are being done specifically for you rather than just a generic audience.

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

mapping the news 1

Mashing up google maps and news events is a potentially killer app for delivering a better understanding of events on both a local and global scale. Ushahid is a very interesting site that was set up during the post election violence in Kenya to act as an incident reporting and tracking monitor for acts of violence.

anyone who witnesses an incident or has information on it can send in a report and the data is added to both the map and a searchable database: the map can show incidents by type (e.g. arson, rape, murder) and or date. This gives an immediate sense of the scale and distribution of the situation in real time.

One of the pioneers of this type of approach is (formerly, see the story on its development at which mashes information from police, local government, businesses etc with a detailed city map to provide an amazing amount of useful stuff on local neighbourhoods: from crime rates and types to building permits and more. Founded by Adrian Holovaty, one of the pioneers of interactive online journalism, it has grown to cover New York and San Fransisco as well as Chicago.

This is a viable alternative to making local news exciting, the ability to ‘drill down’ into your local area on a street by street level is tremendously powerful.

This puts me in mind of charlie beckett’s post a few days ago about the parochial yet over the top nature of US news, and how UK local news is no where near as comprehensive, nor as energetic. This kind of mapping of local news trends is a potential answer to the conundrum of how do you package news in an interesting, accessible way without the overblown production values of the local US networks