ALT-C 2009 Day Two Roundup

Pedagogic Innovation

I didn’t really see much pedagogic innovation (boy, that phrase is difficult to type on an eeepc 1000 keyboard on a rocking train), but there were a few nice things.

QR codes. I can’t see our lecturers using them in lectures to relay information to students, but the idea of a library book/journal/etc search spitting out a QR code is interesting. Student can then snap it with their mobile, walk to the shelf with all the info they need and more converted into text form on their phone. No need to scibble down location onto a scrap of paper.

Visitor/Resident principle. Kinda like Prensky’s Native/Immigrant idea, but trying to get around the negative connotations of being a digital ‘immigrant’, trying to separate it from being a generational thing. There still seems, to me, to be connotations that being a resident is better than being a visitor, but that’s my own bias, seeing myself as a resident. This distinction however isn’t about competency, but about the use one makes of online systems. You could be as ‘power-user’ fully knowledgeable aboutt using online systems etc, and dip in and out where necessary to ‘get the job done’ without maintaining an online persona, without ‘leaving something of yourself behind’ in the sense that a resident does.

But what’s the point? It isn’t about identifying yourself and feeling smug if you fall into the bracket you wanted to be in, and them pitying those that fall into the other. The point is to identify and categorise your students, your target audience, and make sure thst they way in which you present your learning doesn’t exclude them. If they’re all residents, that would allow you to embrace, perhaps, a different teaching style. if you have a half/half audience, that doesn’t necessarily exclude you from a new style, as long as there is sufficient differentiation to benefit all, and you ensure your implemntation doesn’t exclude anyone. If you’re looking for me to tell you how, tough luck.

The paper (271) on flexible working (nothing to do with gymnasts) seemed more like a sales pitch for the beyond9to5 ‘platform’, I wasn’t too impressed with the paper. Though I should make sure I am on record saying I fully support the principle and ideals of flexible working. If we want to embrace the new technologies to teach in new more flexible ways, what’s stopping us working in new flexible ways? Nothing.

Being the fourth paper of the session, I may have been in fatigue-land. Something about drawing pictures, pencil on paper, in order to design stuff. Truly rocket science!

Redesigning Teaching

No Frankenstein-monsters being created by grafting technology and teacher together, although making a campus fully covered by wireless (802.11) and bluetooth sounds like it’ll mutate staff and students (or just insta-cook them!).

But seriously, the little mobile apps zapped out to every phone in the room was pretty cool. Yes we had to be in discovery mode with security off. Yes, we’re naively trusting of the man that told us we could trust him. I seriouslly hope a campus full of students has more sense! If not, they deserve everything they’re going to get from their less scrupulous colleagues.

Tony Lowe’s drag’n’drop apps were also really cool. Needing everyone in the room to have a laptop to participate, I think we’re not there yet for class work. For work at home, awesome. Great tie in to last year’s keynote from ummm.. that guy tottering around on a ladder regurgitating his TED talk, yeah, Hans Rosling.


Martin Bean’s keynote. How to make a keynote fun, take the p out of Americans. No, seriously… yes! Best. Keynote. Ever. (ALT-C 2009 anyway)

I was concerned at Martin’s background working for the great enemy of societ. Yes, I mean Microsoft. An ex-Microsoft guy moving to the OU? Surely a sign that the OU is about to reach singularity, and not in a good way. But once you listen to Martin speak, either he’s a very good Trojan-horse, or his enthusiasm and ideals managed to escape Microsoft unscathed. Freedom of information, or resources, of education. Very inspiring. Best thing I can say is, go watch it for yourself! (I may even remember to come back here and provide a link).

Infrastructure Technologies

Hyperlinked information. And we’re not talking about twenty pages of content neatly linked back and forth. We’re talking aboutsufficient hyperlinking between different bits of information that lets a user choose their own path, rather than have a path chosen for them. Is it really beneficial? Probably not for everyone, possibly for only some. Is it worth going for this approach when designing e-courseware? I find it very difficult to advocate such a seemingly disorganised approach. When it comes to designing e-courseware, should we even be doing so? Or letting students freely search and discover their ownwas materials as suggested elsewhere! educational use

Lecture capture systems, on a large scale, sound grand and appealing. I don’t think there was really anything in that paper that really challenged though, and no reason should. It seems to be working well for them, and I wish we had similar funds to be able to invest in this. What I would take from this, is the approach theyto have two groups, one on raw implementation from the technical perspective, and one one the educational use, to make sure that educational use was being considered at every stage in the wider context without being consumed/distracted by the technical implementation. Of course this does assume that those implementing a project have a clear vision from the educational use group, a vision that isn’t going to change and undo all the worrk of the implementors.

So, finally, Huddle. This was just a sponsor session, trying to flog their product. As such I wasn’t put off it, which I guess is a small victory for them. I wasn’t however wowed by it. Especially in context of so many other sessions where the concept of a single University-owned product is seen as out-dated with a move to a more open approach letting students choose what they want to use.

ALT-C 2009 Day One Roundup

Well, I am exhausted! It has been a busy day. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything, and yet it feels like I haven’t stopped.

Mike Wesch’s keynote this morning was very interesting. I’ve seen his youtube videos before and the content of his talk seemed very familiar. I don’t think I’ve attended one of his talks before, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I have.

While I don’t necessarily agree with any conclusions he may make, I did find his research fascinating. I’ll go so far as to agree that technology and media do shape how we see the world and how we let the world see us.

There did appear to be the insinuation that the lecture theatre will always limit, to some extent, how far we can change learning and teaching. I suppose it is inevitable that every part of the learning environment imposes a limit of some kind, but does the lecture theatre impose a harsh enough limit that we need to break free of it? He didn’t necessarily say that, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that. ut at times like this (end of a long day at conference) I am reminded of my student days and I now (as then) don’t want to see a lecture theatre for a long time. However, two more days to go, so I’ll have to grin and bear it 😉

As for the rest of the day, there are a few things I want to pick up on.

Last year I attended an ‘audio feedback’ talk, and was very much taken with the idea. This year’s feed-forward paper renewed my interest in forms of feedback that differ from ‘boring’ text. There was, however, an important caveat that I had not thought of before. Audio feedback is a different medium from textual feedback, and therefore does (after the paper today I believe it does) require a slightly different set of rules to go with it. A different way of communicating is needed. Critical audio feedback delivered in an un-careful (so much feedback to record, recording teacher is getting bored/impatient) tone of voice can be very damaging for the receiver to the point of destorying their confidence rather than helping them improve. Speech is a much more powerful means of communicating than text. While there are dangers with text (difficult to deliver a tone of voice which can totally change the meaning of words) there are similar dangers with speech if you aren’t watching your tone or are more critical than you are positive.

When it came to the video feedback, video footage recorded live in the Biology lab of instructors walking around talking to students, asking and answering questions, I saw much potential. Such students did not recognise the value of the feedback at the point in which they received it, but looking back got the benefit of the feedback to themselves, as well as all the other feedback to colleagues. In addition the video played a valuable role in providing instructors lab instruction best practice (where done well) and opportunities to see where improvements could be made (where they see flaws).

Paper 132, the two year switch to Moodle was a very rewarding session. Many, if not all, of the experiences spoken of, could easily have been Kent’s story. One other member of the audience raised his hand at the end to say that he could hhave given the exact same talk, so similar was it to his experience too. One flaw in the project plan was that training had been given too early to their staff. Training that had been mandatory and unavoidable, with the result being that refresher courses had to be run by the time Moodle arrived. Looking at Kent’s Moodle project, we planned similarily early training sessions (although not mandatory) and as a result of poor attendance we have had to run more and more training sessions running into September (the month we said we would not run any!). The result is

  1. an absolutely insane (approx 6 hours a day, every day, 2 weeks straight) training workload for us (grrr!!) at a critical point of the year when we should be free to deal with day-to-day VLE queries (of which there are so many before a new year)
  2. staff that receive training very close the the point at which they are putting it into practice and, hopefully, not needing refresher courses.

Is (2) the silver lining or everything working out for the best? I’ll let others be the judge.

Paper 306, the SLE. It’s interesting to see people looking at the big picture. After implemennting Moodle it would be easy for them (and would be easy for us) to see Moodle as the final and sole product. But instead they are only looking to Moodle as a core set of tools, and specifically relying on a range of other tools to fill in where Moodle may have a feature, but doesn’t do it best.

This is just a very shallow scratch in the surface of Day One, and I am sure that by tomorrow I’ll have forgotten more than I will remember.