Monday, 29 November 2010

Teaching students real world skills

Was approached today by an academic who wanted to incorporate version control in their engineering course.  Now VC is something which is used in the 'real world' and is an industry standard practice.  This also includes project management methodology, so why not start introducing them to project management tools!

The academic wishes to create groups and wants the groups work to be locked down to that group. But also have a place for them to discuss the project.

So some of the things we will have to look into is
  • Who will support the technology (IT,e-learning)?
  • What tech would be best suited?
  • How can we link into what we are doing into other similar modules
This is a showcase of some of the places we as education have to go, by replicating real world scenarios and infrastructures.

Some of the ideas is using elgg/sharepoint as the communication platform, subversion as the version control and microsoft project/Trac as the pm.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Gaming in E-learning

Gaming/Movies has already been proved to be very influential in the way we learn.  For example think about after you have played need for speed, when driving have you thought, Im just going to try to slip stream that lorry or take the inner lane on a corner.

It intrinsically builds into you the desire to replicate the game into real life.  Same as real life replicates into the game, you see UFC and you want to control Brock Lesner in UFC Undisputed and you want to elbow smash into Frank Mir.  All these things are exiting, which is at the core of learning, if you have motivation and excited about something you will want to learn.  If its dreary you wont take much in. 

One of the most important aspect of gaming is levelling, you want to test yourself against certain situations that allow you to progress.  If you are on a linear module designed to cater for all skill levels you will either fail to learn enough important stuff or if you are on the higher end feel less stimualted to learn and so pass along the module course like its a breeze and it doesnt challenge.  The role of the teacher in that sense is to try to gauge the level of the course based on  their own academic and peer experiences, this is hard when most academics in the field are not teachers first they are content experts.

In order to build these quality gaming simulations takes time, money and experience.  All of which poses a major risk especially in this economic climate.  It is still something which I would like to triall and if the chance ever came about would like to partake some research on.

Monday, 18 October 2010


First post in a while, been busy learning OER stuff and just getting to grips with my new post.

Well this post is going to be about time!

Time is generic, if there was no time , there would be no then??

Well anyways, one of the concepts that we have identified is that it would be useful for almost every course if there was a generic timeline tool created.  Even better if this tool could have overlays, sort of like you used to get with the transparent slides.

So one of the projects we have commisioned is to come up up with a generic tool that would have a database backend that would feed into a site with checkboxes, sort of like autotrader.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

New Start

Well as from last week I finished my 6 year post at the University of Derby, I started there as a temporary developer and managed to work my way up to a senior position.

Yesterday I began my new role at Harper Adams University College as a Instructional Design Leader, where I got to meet the new team I would be working with.  There's a broad range of skills and the developers were whittled down from 80 applicants down to 5.  So these guys are the best of the best.

Theres a lot of exitement kicking about the project, with the fact that we can try new things and push a few boundaries.  Not only that but we all get brand new laptops complete with BioMetrics! Cool, always wanted to have a play about with that.  So as always we got them to start with a SWOT analysis, always good to find out about each others strengths and weaknesses. I think one of the ways to bring equalness and partnership to the team is to have everyone a owner of a service.  So that they feel they have a responsiblity for something.

Not only that but having met the e-learning team that already exists, it sounds like they are pushinng a few boundaries themselves with respect to the services they offer.

Since there is no e-assessment at the college one of the points of the project is to bring CAA to Harper and for that we are going to have a look at a range of options.

Definatly looking forward to the challenges that the project will bring.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Learning in Waves

Nope not google wave,

The concept is old but I thought I would do a bit of reflectiveness on the subject for my own benefit.  In the old classroom when a student would learn a bit of information, the wave of retention would begin.  Reinforcement would start the process again, in the old days and still to now this would be achieved via homework.  This would carry on until either it dissipated or the barrier broke and it entered the long term memory.

Nowadays people are thinking about how they can support the student to create their own wave.  Formally this occurs using groupwork or now socially.using social network sites.  We can support this by creating social learning tools or by creating social learning areas (SEA) within our learning centres.

E-learning can be seen to strengthen the wave by creating bursts at different intervals.

Constructivism occurs in a similar method, by planting the idea or item of knowledge within the subject the item can grow and change according to how the subject views and changes much like a tree with branches.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Google Shmidt Gone mad

So the best the CEO of Google could come up with was for teenagers to change their name, in order to escape the openness of the web.

Instead of spouting stuff like that, why not add more privacy to the web instead.... its like shouting heads or tails and turning the coin over if you lost.

If biometrics, identifiable dna etc is all planned for the future, a person should be able to link data to themselves and then choose to delete whatever information they want... except maybe criminal records.  To think that everyone has to change for the web is ludicrous thinking and if that's what the people steering the web are thinking then god help us.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Encouraging Formal Informal Learning


That after all is what drives us an enables us to do the things we do.  Today we had Interviews for the new Dean of 'Learning Education and Innovation' department.  Almost all of them were focused on Students Learning 21st Century skills.  When asked what how we could support that as a department they talked about us working closely with Academics.

Here's my idea .... With all these informal learning learning spaces, we could utilise them better.  Having workshops, ran by academics and training staff on technology throughout the semester could prove valuable.  Students could pick n chose what workshop they wanted to attend.  Having them certified would be even better!

We talk about getting students to use web 2.0 technologies etc, but what are we doing to encourage the use.  We push stuff out to academics all the time, but what are the odds of it filtering through?

I think having informal workshops now and again would not prove too difficult, would enable students to feel in control of their teaching and help towards there PDP.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Custom Questions in Blackboard

Ever wanted to do custom questions in Blackboard but didn't know how... read on.

If you need to do a drag and drop question, balance sheet or have your own randomly generating questions then you can.  We have been looking into this for a migration project to convert from our current existing assessment system to another.

Using the HTML question box in the blackboard quiz creator your can insert a link to your externally hosted flash question file and then by using JavaScript pass the answer from the flash piece to standard Blackboard question.  For example

Question  >  Pass question answer  >  Blackboard text entry  >  Check Score > Auto Input to Gradebook

Any questions feel free to ask

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Skills For Life (21st Century Skills)

At the LTA forum I attended an event hosted by Elani.  Elani is an academic who is using PDP (Personal Development Plans) within her modules.  The reason being is Elani believes that by encouraging students to branch out into different areas of the field will allow for a better student learning experience.  Also at the course was an academic from ADT who is using similar methods within his module and is looking to support 21st century skills through it.  The exeption is that the academic from ADT changed the name from 'PDP' to 'Passport to Learning Certificate', this is more friendly on the ears to students and they seemed to engage more with this than the offical PDP.  Elani agreed with this and noted it was something to change in her modules.  Now since I am coming at this from a technologists point of view, I was thinking how can we support this process.
Something similar to what Adam has done with his SQM could be used as it take into account some of the Basic Structure, see below for a mockup of a system.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Portable Social Profile

t would be dab handy if there was a way of transferring a student socially to other applications and transferring their links, friends etc.

Please find below a mock up of the concept,

To be able to plug your own social network outside of facebook would be ideal.


Example Piece

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Interactive E-Books

Ive been reading the Horizons Report on the up and coming technologies to watch.  One of the technologies they mention is e-books.  Now the benefit of e-books is that they save paper and are pretty mobile you can take them anywhere.

Now if you where to treat it as a e-learning course and have the text along with interactivity then user might receive a better learning experience.  The old books used to have mutliple choice questions at the end so lets make e-books more interactive.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Whats in a VLE...

Mobile can be added to the list,

With Stanford University and a lot of other Universities using the MobileEDU (Now Mobile Central) iphone app from Blackboard the world of the student has opened up, now they can easily check module information, assignement information, sports info etc on the go.  The app is even 'fashionable' in the sense it looks up to date.

Now Moodle have stepped into the arena with their own app Moodle4iPhones though this is still in development it would be interesting to see what it can offer students, especially since the project is open source.

I will run a comparison on the two once the moodle one has been released, in the meantime I am going to be looking into the Iphone app from Blackboard and will report back here

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


While I was browsing I came across a demonstration island for weather studies,

This was developed by the earth system research lab of the NOAA.  They have took the simulations of second life to the next level, demonstrating such things has how hurricanes occur, what happens in a tsunami etc.  This is a really good useful way of demonstrating the effects and what it would look like to be in one, though maybe second life graphics itself could be improved, the concept behind it is really good.

I suggest you take a look...

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Academic Involvement

When starting major University pilots, it might be useful to propose for academic involvement.  We have all these skills here in the University so it might be time to utilise them.  For example the social networking project, it could be useful to try and get a psychologist involved, or for the QuestionMark project we could get an e-assessment expert.  This would provide a comfort for the academics in the pilot and allow for a an easier involvement process.

As an e-department and learning technologist we have skills in multiple areas but are generally experts in none.  This is where these resources could come in useful.  Whether we pay for them or that is in their interest I think the way we go about these things could be improved.

Monday, 22 February 2010


Watched the programme on the 'Virtual Revolution' on Saturday and found it quite informative.  It reiterated some of the ideas I have heard about regarding the lack of deep learning within e-learning.  And one of the concepts it made think about is ownership.  

When you go out and buy a book it is yours you can look at it at anytime and you have control of it.  One of downsides of electronic material online is that it is shared with everybody so the knowledge is distributed.
I suppose one of the way to get around this is to use tablet pc's or e-readers.  I think this is something we should concentrate more of in the future within the University and provide some focus to it. 

Saturday, 20 February 2010

One Big Community

Think about it, we badger on about social networking for all types of things, for business to get together, for students to do collaborative learning and for us all to socialise together.

Now do we practice this ourselves, wouldnt it be great if the University itself had a social network, allowing each other to share best practice/ideas/reasearch etc. Lets say Academic A has been trying some really cool stuff that lecturer B would never probably get the chance to see or hear about. You could make postings that way and allow people to subscribe to feeds on e-learning or whatever subject you wanted to.

Now we things like intranets etc which is sort of like this, but does not provide the personality of a social network, then we could have sub groups for the sub committees, if someone has interest or a speciality that they would like to share then they could join that group as such and provide feedback that way. It could make interpersonal working more friendly etc, I have found social networking does not really work for small teams you need a pretty hefty user group to work best, providing a lot of posts. The other benefit of a large cohort is that you are just a number, this makes it a lot more easier to voice opinions etc without judgement.

That is not without problems:

Privacy etc

But is that not you have with social networks anyway??

Thursday, 18 February 2010

e-learning Overload

Much as the same as us techie's becoming overloaded with 2.0 tools, the same thing seems to be happening with academics and e-learning tools.  We throw so many tools at academics that a lot of them dont really know where to begin or how to fit it in with their modules.

There is always going to be the next big thing, but in the sense that average joe lecturer who designs their module, they dont need constantly inundated with e-learning progaganda, recently a few collegues have came up to me and said that they simply dont have the time to look at anything.  This is due to staffing reductions and more responsibility being put on them.  There seems to be a fine balance of filtering these tools out to everyone, we should give academics a chance to breath..

The worse is when you have multiple tools that basically do the same job, yet we advertise them separetly, all this casue confusion to the user.

Anyway like a tide that will never cease the e-learning onslaught continues..

Friday, 12 February 2010

Excellent diagramming tool

Recently came across a website called lovely charts which provides an online diagramming tool. 

Lovely charts is a web 2.0 tools that allows you create charts for many purposes.  These range from swimlane designs, uml 2.0 to wire framing.  See below for a mock-up I did for the proposed hosting service for Question Mark.  You create and export to png for free from lovely charts but further features require payment.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Project Management in the e-Department

I thought I would do a couple of posts to describe the processes behind some of the work we do here at the e-Department. So I will start with the Project Management software we use.

Agilefant is an open source kit of software (which means its free!) developed by the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland.  The software itself is constantly updated with pathes and features which makes it one to watch. 
We use Agilefant to help project manage some of the projects we have running from, computer based assessments to large scale social networking pilots.  There are a number of heirachys we use in Agilefant starting with PRODUCT > PROJECT > ITERATION> BACKLOG>TODO.  We have found using Agilefant a blessing as we can keep track of where projects are and what is still to do.  Iterations are usually about a week to two weeks in length and we try to ensure that we have deliverables by the end of that iteration, this helps us define what is in scope and out of scope for the project or iteration.
The software allows us to get a rough overview of the work that people have on, though that could be improved. 
All in All a good program and defintaly recommended if your bring project management into your e-department.

Monday, 8 February 2010

What is in a name

Have your ever noticed what departments are called in a University, on looking at ours, we have:

Education Development Unit
IT support

Now where would you go to if you wanted a piece of e-learning developed for you, would you

A) Go to e-resources
B) Go to Education Development Unit
C) Go to e-Dev (e-development)

Answer is ..... B


Now where would you go if you wanted e-learning support help

A) Go to e-resources
B) Go to Education Development Unit
C) Go to e-Dev (e-development)

Answer is .....B + C (unless it was e-books which would be A!)

Answers on a postcard.  What is your institutions departments called?

Friday, 15 January 2010

E-Learning in the snow

First blog of the year so I thought I would talk about the weather.

Theres been a lot of talk on the telly about students missing exams due to the weather etc, Isnt this the time when e-learning comes into its own!  The ability to sit tests and still study when you are stuck at home is one of the fundamental properties of e-learning.  All this talk about students not being able to drive in etc, we should by now be able to accommodate them somehow.

I am just waiting on the amount of ECF's that will be piling into the University.