Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Google wave

I like a number of others have been provided with a Google wave account. I have been looking at it for about two months now, and more than any other application in my experience, I am asking the question, does this have a place in education? If so, what is its place?

After I set up the account, I invited a number of people I know who are not afraid to try something new and guess what happened, after the initial flurry of exchanges, the communication channel died and for the past four weeks it has been entirely dormant. I have read one account of a professor that used Google wave as a means of communication between classes on different sides of the Atlantic, but that could have just as easily been accomplished using other, more well established and understood, mediums of communication. So to the occasional viewers of this blog, or visitors, do you have any examples to share? How was it evaluated? Would you use Google Wave again?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Voting with their virtual feet!

Here is evidence of an unanticipated outcome for teaching, learning, the impact of technology and the increase in the offerings of the open-content and courseware in last week's Chronicle of Higher Education. Not withstanding the claimed importance and engagement (by some) of face-2-face classes and the potential for direct engagement, students are voting with their virtual feet to get their education from online courses being published by the likes of MIT or Harvard or the University of New South Wales (some quite popular courses). See HERE or

This recent story begs several questions, not the least of which is: "What happens when your line manager/ Departmental Head finds out (from the ubiquitous teaching and learning evaluations that every student in universities and colleges completes at the end of every course) that the students in your class prefer an online presentation from you?" What does this mean for staff evaluations of teaching? How is likely to impact on tenure and promotion? What does this mean for student enrollments, university reputation, and esteem to which a department is held?

Good teaching is not really a secret. Good teaching includes such things as profound knowledge of the subject domain, being focused on key concepts and ideas rather than just covering the content domain, being pro-active in addressing student learning problems and responding quickly through a variety of channels, having high expectations of students, employing teaching and learning strategies that are aligned with the activities, elements of assessment and intended learning outcomes, a commitment to support and encourage independent learning, and an ability to motivate and engage students, to name a few key factors. Good teaching is not necessarily easy either.

I am not for one second taking the view that teaching is more important than research output in such questions related to tenure and promotion (not in my part of the world anyway) but teaching does count for most academic staff in their performance reviews. Very poor reviews such as those articulated by the students in the Chronicle article would not sit well with senior staff concerned about the reputation of the university (at least not in my institution). Ultimately, students may initially vote with their virtual feet for a few classes or lectures, but eventually they are likely to take their custom elsewhere as well. Something for all of us involved in teaching and learning to remember.

I remember my first year undergraduate physics lecturer well - but not kindly. If I could have gone elsewhere at that time, I would have!

Comments welcome.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Research article on mobile learning

The impact and effect of using for mobiles for learning can be a mixed bag. This recent publication (finally, :-) ) highlights some of the issues, most particularly the impact of learning design (particularly assessment), and students' perceptions of what may or may not be important for their learning. The paper has been ranked in the top 10 most accessed articles in September - really pleasing to know.

Vogel, D., Kennedy, D. & Kwok, R. (2009). Does Using Mobile Device Applications Lead to Learning?. Journal of Interactive Learning Research. 20 (4), pp. 469-485. Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from

The paper may be found HERE.
The students have the devices, use them socially and, to a limited extent, for learning. However, what is interesting is that the key issues of 'what will be assessed?', what instruments will be used for assessment?', and 'what are students' perceptions of what is important in learning?' are still constants. Comments welcome.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Social media and Pedagogy

There is a very interesting interview with Associate Professor S. Craig Watkins (found HERE) on the impact of social media on teaching and learning, pedagogy and future employment. In a recent presentation at my university with over 1000 students present, nearly ALL admitted to having Facebook accounts, and with mobile phone ownership in Hong Kong approaching 170% you can guarantee that no students are without a mobile phone (and therefore, SMS).

The question I would like to ask is: as university faculty, what should our reaction be to this information? There is evidence that students don't want faculty staff in their personal space (see HERE) but equally there is evidence that Facebook and the mobile world is where the students are. One anecdote from the University of Hong Kong Library in which late-book reminders were sent via SMS. The income from fines decreased by 90%!. Communication via SMS was clearly more effective than the previous approach, email. In another recent study (see HERE) librarians who set up a Library Facebook site observed that while the use of email and Facebook were almost equal for inquiries, the Facebook site inquiries were dominated by undergraduate students.

Now, social media and mobiles are converging - fast. The plethora of applications that allow social technologies and mobiles to connect grows daily. Applications that support microblogging (Echelon, Twitteriffic), blogging (Blogger), social networking (Facebook, Fring, Skype, iPadio), content upload/download etc etc. are growing. The trickle-down of applications that were traditionally the domain of desktops, then notebooks and now mobile computing devices has turned into a flood.

Observations. Clearly social networking and mobile devices (particularly SMS) are going to continue to dominate the lives of our students, particularly the younger students arriving at our institutions. How these vehicles for communication and (potentially) interaction can be used effectively for learning (rather than merely low level reminders or a basic information medium) still remains issues of affordability, pedagogy, willingness (staff and students), available applications, support and most especially, learning design. What are the affordances of mobile devices that can be used to address higher order thinking skills (HOTS). The research evidence is growing - mobiles + social networking for field studies and language learning are just two that have been described recently.

More to come.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Changing institutions on July 17 2009

I have not been publishing or commenting on very much as late due to my impending move to Lingnan University in Hong Kong. I am taking up the position of Director of the Teaching and Learning Centre there on September 1 2009.

Hopefully, this will give me even greater incentive, and maybe time, to publish more about the use of learning technologies for enhancing the design of teaching and learning, particularly in regard to adoping an outcomes-based approach.

On another matter, the impact of Swine Flu or Mexican Flu or whichever name you are using in your country offers real opportunities for changing practice. Here in Hong Kong, the experience with SARS (the wikipedia entry seems reasonably correct on this matter means that the HK government is very cautious and is closing schools across the territory. All of the students are being sent home, but the teaching and learning continues! Teachers have not been sent home and are required to report for work. They are expected to continue to assist their students to accomplish the learning goals for the semester. After a week of worksheets being emailed to students, change is setting in.

The learning technology gurus and early adopters in the schools have suddenly become the most popular people to know - the question, how do we (the teachers) make this more interesting and actually develop activities that are more engaging (e.g., using student-generated audio and podcasts for language learning) and motivating for students? The learning technologists I know have their time completely filled meeting requests for 'how to (skills)', and 'how can (pedagogy)' I (the teacher) make my teaching more interesting, engaging and meaningful to students.

The same happened when SARS closed down the universities and schools in 2003. (see Chan, D., McNaught, C. & Cheng, R. (Eds). (2003). Narratives of teaching and learning in the time of SARS. Education Research Journal, 18(2).) However, there is little evidence that the impact of those changes on practice were adopted full time once the crisis had passed.

We can but hope that the changes this time might be more substantive. Having gained more confidence, people continue to develop their pedagogical knowledge and learning technology skills in the future.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

The great technology debate

I came across a interview by Tom Holt with Mark Bauerlein, the author of 'The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30.), see with This is a very interesting read for those interested in how we engage with 21st C students.

I was reminded of some of the activities my peers and I engaged in during our school lives (BC - before computers). One of the most powerful technologies was 'paper'. We had many inappropriate uses of paper, but the one that seemed to generate the most ire from our teachers was the act of passing notes in class. As I remember, this did not lead to a paper ban, or the pencils and pens that were used to construct the notes.

In his article Tom observes:

"Technology is a tool. Just like a pencil. Just like an overhead projector. Just like a chalkboard, just like a ballpoint pen. I have never ever heard someone ask the question: “I wonder if overhead projectors make a difference in student achievement?” “I wonder if using a whiteboard is better than using a chalkboard?” I wonder why no one looks at books, at notebooks, at desks, at the lights in the classrooms and asks, “I wonder if these things make a difference in student achievement?” No one questions the use of pencils. But they question the use of computers."

Consider also this very ancient quote:

"The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves. So it's not a recipe for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered."

So which invention was the writer referring to? Writing of course (Plato in conversations between Phaedr and Socrates -!

It is the what we do with the tool. Maybe the questions we should be asking are what is the nature of activities we ask students to undertake using the tools, or what pedagogical advantages (affordances) do the tools offer in achieving the learning outcomes. It is clear that in Hong Kong many students are familiar and knowledgeable about blogging, but NOT in an academic context. In recent unpublished research in Hong Kong, it is clear that students require scaffolding to use blogs appropriately in an academic setting. The blogs offer ways for students to share knowledge, use media, receive feedback that can be public or private, and learn what is deemed appropriate in an academic setting (e.g., critical thinking, using supporting literature, and logical argument). There are numerous advantages of using blogs in an academic setting but without a framework and appropraite support to undertake the activity, experience has shown that many such postings become a 'stream of (un)conscious thought' and personal opinion.

I started this blog as a response to the argument by Bauerlein that the use of technologies in the digital age makes our students dumb. Students would no more give up their computers for learning than his generation would have given up books. I don't recall any questions such as, 'do books improve learning?' in recent times. According to Socrates we have it wrong, or maybe we are just asking the wrong questions.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

It is what you do with the tool that is important

I am currently the guest of Pyatigorsk State Linguistics University (PLSU) in Russia ( and it is interesting to observe that culture and language make little difference to the problems and potential solutions to the effective use of technology in teaching and learning (T&L). It is often said that pedagogy is the key issue, and so it is, but it is only one part of the complex problem of using technology to support T&L. There are a number of others. One of the more important is to acknowledge that information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer new ways of working and to make this part of the strategic plan of the institution. This requries a significant input and vision from the senior management of the university. PLSU has such support, both from their Rector who is championing the changes, and key academic staff (Deans). Another key factor is the flexibility, willingness to listen and innovative approaches to solving problems by the information technology support group. PLSU has a young dynamic IT Head who sees opportunities rather than threats (e.g., tight budgets = work smarter by using free and open source software). A third factor is the willingness and support for staff to work in new ways. Change is always difficult but there is a synergy of key factors working together here and I am certainly learning a lot from interactions with the staff and students.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Excellent report on eLearning

Hi All
A new report titled, 'Learning 2.0: The Impact of Web2.0 Innovation on Education and Training in Europe' has just been published by the Institute for Prespective Technological Studies. This report is worth a look, especially since it addresses the issues of Learning 2.0 and the potential impact of social networking technologies in particular. The abstract is reproduced below.

"This report presents the outcomes of the expert workshop held at the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) on 29 and 30 October 2008 to discuss the impact of the social computing on Education and Training (E&T) in Europe.
The workshop aimed to validate the results of the Learning 2.0 study, launched by IPTS in collaboration with DG EAC. The study explored the impact of social computing on E&T in Europe (in terms of contribution to the innovation of educational practice, and to more inclusive learning opportunities for the knowledge society). It also assessed Europe’s position in the take up of social computing in formal educational contexts and - by identifying opportunities and challenges - devised policy options for EU decision makers.
The report offers a structured account of the debate that took place during the two day workshop. It reflects the discussion on the potential of social computing take up in organized educational contexts, focusing on innovation (from the pedagogical, organisational and technological standpoints), and on inclusion. It further discusses how, despite the recent emergence of the phenomenon mostly outside E&T institutions, its primarily experimental nature within formal E&T contexts, and the speed of its evolution, there are clear signs that it can transform educational practice and that a new schooling culture is called for. The report then presents the main risks that were identified by the experts and proposes a number of items for research and the policy agenda to respond to the educational needs of society as it is being transformed by the social computing wave. Finally, it summarizes the trends identified as likely to affect the future evolution of the learning landscape."

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Web 1.0 and Web 2.0
This blog has been inspired by recent conversations with a number of colleagues. The buzzword is, without doubt, Web 2.0 leading to education 2.0, a rethinking of student engagement, teaching and learning. There are some that would have us believe that the elements of a Web 1.0 environment are somewhat old-fashioned and that somehow transmission of information is less desirable. Web 2.0 and Education 2.0 are where the up-to-date teachers are now!

I prefer to think of a Web 1.0 and 2.0 applications as offering a possible synergy of potential activities and engagement that can be conveniently organised and managed. Web 1.0 applications, particularly in education (for example, learning management systems) offer a number of affordances that are useful in large institutional settings. A little bit of bureaucracy is a necessity when faced with multiple groups of students undertaking a myriad of different subjects and taught by a variety of academic staff. In particular, learning management systems help structure groups of students with common interests and provide mechanisms for scaffolding and organising learning. Personally, I prefer the mix master approach. Does everybody remember the Mix Master? You bought your basic machine for mixing eggs and creating cake mixes. However, you could also buy attachments which could slice onions and carrots, beat dough for bread, juice oranges or lemons, and grind coffee or nuts. Modern learning management systems such as Moodle fit the idea of a mix master, with the LMS providing the 'engine' for managing the student learning experience. For example, creating student profiles, enrollments in courses/subjects, grouping students, grading and grade books, access to content, forums and glossaries, to name a few. Into this environment one can now add Web 2.0 applications such as YouTube videos, Blogs and Wikis, ePortfolios, and RSS feeds, for example. For too long learning management systems have been not unreasonably described as being too teacher centred. The flexibility (for example Moodle) offered by a second-generation LMS allows teachers to enrich the learning environment by adding additional Web 2.0 applications and links to these applications as required by the learning outcomes. One of the combinations I have been particularly impressed with is combining Moodle and Mahara, or what is now described as MaHoodle. The two applications provide a learning environment that can be co-constructed with students. The organisational component is provided by Moodle with single sign-on into Mahara. In Mahara students have the ability to organise their own groups, publish and tag blogs, develop and present a personal eportfolios, embed media created by them or from external sources (e.g., YouTube) and comment on other student work. In effect, the two applications provide an environment which supports what teachers are expected to be able to do well (designing an effective learning environment) and what students are encouraged to do well in enlightened learning environments (articulating their ideas, mentoring others, interacting with and creating a variety of media artifacts which may also be used for presenting and structuring arguments). Moodle supports RSS feeds and Delicious or Diigo bookmarking, to name just two Web 2.0 applications. Mahara supports publication of student work in the form of an ePortfolio, Blogging and tagging. Initial observations in a recently taught Masters subject (module) suggest that students value the organisational framework provided by Moodle while relishing the freedom offered by Mahara to express their ideas and collaborate with peers of their choosing. Feel free to share your comments about these two applications.