Elluminate

First session with the web-conferencing tool Elluminate this week.  A tutorial with 5 participants on Sfard’s paper.  Afterwards, we were invited to share our impressions on the course forum.




Elluminate, owned by Blackboard, an American company, is used in the course to discuss synchronously (in real time) with fellow students and the tutor.  Time and date are fixed, and participants are asked to read the paper and study some questions beforehand.


The session starts with a 10-minute intro by the tutor, highlighting the main points of the paper.  Next, participants form small breakout groups to discuss the questions.  After 15 minutes all get back to the plenary session to present and discuss their ideas. The software has a white-board screen for notes and a chatbox.


Unfortunately, my first session was pretty much ruined by continuous technological problems, probably caused by a lack of bandwidth.  This made that I missed part of the presentation and discussion, and couldn’t use the microphone.  I was therefore limited to the chatbox, and even then, I dropped out a few times. 


Nevertheless,  if technological problems can be solved, the tool offers potential benefits:

  • It carries a higher status than posting on the course forum.  You need to book the session explicitly in your agenda, it becomes a shared event.  This also reduces flexibility, and some may regard it as an intrusion.
  • Peer pressure is higher.  You don’t want to be the only one who hasn’t read the paper or prepared the questions.
  • Sessions can be nice for social bonding.  Hearing each other’s voice makes the learning a bit less “distant” than merely working asynchronously. You get more “social statements” during a live session than in the forum discussions.  This feeling was shared by several participants.
However, there are some criticisms:
  • One student remarked that due to all kinds of technological issues, only a fraction of the originally planned lesson could be finished. Often, it was the group work part that was dropped, since that caused the most technological problems.
  • Technological problems may offer an easy “excuse” for less motivated students.

So, the jury is still out, next session is planned for March 1.  Hopefully with fewer hiccups.




Elluminate



First session with the web-conferencing tool Elluminate this week. A tutorial with 5 participants on Sfard’s paper. Afterwards, we were invited to share our impressions on the course forum.

Elluminate, owned by Blackboard, an American company, is used in the course to discuss synchronously (in real time) with fellow students and the tutor. Time and date are fixed, and participants are asked to read the paper and study some questions beforehand.
The session starts with a 10-minute intro by the tutor, highlighting the main points of the paper. Next, participants form small breakout groups to discuss the questions. After 15 minutes all get back to the plenary session to present and discuss their ideas. The software has a white-board screen for notes and a chatbox.
Unfortunately, my first session was pretty much ruined by continuous technological problems, probably caused by a lack of bandwidth. This made that I missed part of the presentation and discussion, and couldn’t use the microphone. I was therefore limited to the chatbox, and even then, I dropped out a few times. 
Nevertheless, if technological problems can be solved, the tool offers potential benefits:

  • It carries a higher status than posting on the course forum. You need to book the session explicitly in your agenda, it becomes a shared event. This also reduces flexibility, and some may regard it as an intrusion. 
  • Peer pressure is higher. You don’t want to be the only one who hasn’t read the paper or prepared the questions. 
  • Sessions can be nice for social bonding. Hearing each other’s voice makes the learning a bit less “distant” than merely working asynchronously. You get more “social statements” during a live session than in the forum discussions. This feeling was shared by several participants. 

However, there are some criticisms:

  • One student remarked that due to all kinds of technological issues, only a fraction of the originally planned lesson could be finished. Often, it was the group work part that was dropped, since that caused the most technological problems. 
  • Technological problems may offer an easy “excuse” for less motivated students. 

So, the jury is still out, next session is planned for March 1. Hopefully with fewer hiccups.

#H800 What is Learning?

Courtesy Marc Kjerland

There is a lot of research on how people learn, and it’s a central objective of the course to investigate how technology can enhance learning.  This assumes that we know what learning is.  However, learning is not a scientific process or unit that you can define unambiguously. Therefore it seems a good idea to discuss in Week 3 what learning actually is. By lack of a clear definition, we use (without realizing) metaphors to describe what we mean by learning.

Core of the discussion is a paper by Anna Sfard (1998), in which she describes two main metaphors that are used when talking about learning: the acquisition metaphor (AM) and the participatory metaphor (PM). The idea at the heart of Anna Sfard’s article is that metaphors are basic units of conceptual development. The metaphor you choose, determines how you see learning and also how you will see the potential of technology in learning. Two extracts explain the main point.

The language of “knowledge acquisition” and “concept development” makes us think about the human mind as a container to be filled with certain materials and about the learner as becoming an owner of these materials.(p.1)

“Participation” is almost synonymous with “taking part” and “being a part,” and both of these expressions signalize that learning should be viewed as a process of becoming a part of a greater whole (p. 4-5).

The metaphors basically refer to the objective of learning.  In the AM it is gaining knowledge as an individual, whereas in the PM, it is actively being part of a community of practice.  Learning is an ongoing process, that is embedded in a particular context, embedded in a  culture, and influenced by a particular community and idiom.  This relates to the “learning to be” idea, put forward by John Seely Brown the previous week.  He referred to the open source movement as an example of learning by being amidst experts. Students are observing or contributing in the periphery, and gradually, as they become experts, move on to the core of the community.

Both metaphors don’t refer to how learning occurs.  In both metaphors this can be in group or individual, and based on various learning theories, such as learning by transmission or learning or the constructivist models stressing development of knowledge and the construction of meaning.

Sfard warns against the exclusive use of one metaphor in learning, or what she calls “theoretical excesses”.  Educational practice should be based on  different recipes, catering for various study preferences.

Dominance of the AM was present in most geography courses at the K.U.Leuven.  Course material consists of a tome of hundreds of pages, studying entails transferring the information from the manual to the brain as good as possible and assessment is based on recollection of  knowledge elements from the manual. Group tutorials aim at a better understanding of the course material.  In this kind of course, the use of technology aims at a better “storage” of information.  Examples are concept maps, databases and text processing.

Dominance of the PM was very strong in the recent LAK11 course.  A wide range of learning materials was made available, learners were invited to select resources most interesting to them and to engage with the material through contribution (active or passive) in the forums and during the lectures.  Here, technology supports the active involvement in the community, examples are online Moodle forums, Eluminate and possibly Twitter and Facebook.

However, as more information is stored online and is abundantly available, finding, selecting, assessing and retrieving it becomes a matter of participating in a network of people, rather than using your network of neurons.  In this way technology is used to “acquire” information through “participation” with a community, confusing or blurring the boundaries between the metaphors.

Reference

Sfard, A. (1998 ) ‘On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one’, Educational Researcher, 27(2), March 1998, American Educational Research Association

#LAK11 – A MOOC’s End

The LAK11 course is not yet completely over – the last week even looks busy and interesting, with various lectures on the future of learning analytics -, but why not make a short round-up already?

A MOOC (or OOC, since MOOC apparently sounds similar to the Catalan word for mucus) is a massive, open and online course. This earlier blog post outlines the characteristics of the genre.



1. The pluses

a. The participation at the course of experts from a wide range of domains guaranteed interesting forum posts and a range of contacts and resources outside the regular course materials.  Learning learning analytics by joining with the learner analysts, in real connectivist tradition.  These “expert participants” formulated critical questions and comments, and thus helped avoid the “group thinking” pitfall in online courses.

b. The course facilitators were excellent in moderating the discussions.  They managed to make the guest lectures and the round-ups interesting for both experts and non-experts.

c. The materials were high quality, with a lot of variation in content and in media and a series of software tools.  The materials were complemented by suggestions from participants. (materials will stay online and available after the course)

d. The open character of the course gives you the freedom to contribute how and when you want.  If you have a lot of time, you can do all the readings and create a summary.  If you’re too busy, you can limit yourself to reading a summary from a fellow learner.  A daily e-mail with a short round-up and a few links is sent out daily by the course facilitators.

e. The online character is perhaps an evident point, but I keep finding it amazing that you can participate from Phnom Penh in a course on learning analytics, organized from Canada with speakers from Canada, the US and Europe.

Courtesy Zigazou76


2. The minuses

a. How can such a MOOC be economically sustainable.  Preparing and facilitating the course takes a lot of time, and nobody is paying a course fee.  Offering accreditation on demand (and for payment) could be an option, but I don’t think this was an option for this course.  Improved positioning of the organizing university could bring economic benefits maybe?

b. Forum activity decreased strongly after a few weeks.  I’m not sure (since this was my first MOOC) whether this is a recurring trend or because of the more specialized course content during those weeks.  To complete a MOOC however, intrinsic motivation needs to be strong (and remain strong). 

The minuses are much shorter than the pluses, what indicates (correctly) that I found this MOOC a very interesting experience.  As a tool for continuous professional development (CPD) it’s excellent. I’m looking forward to other ones…

#LAK11 – Week 5 – Organizational Implementation of Learning and Knowledge Analytics

A concept on the forefront this week was action analytics.  It refers to the application of academic or learning analytics with clear action component in mind.   Most universities collect a lot of institutional stats, but struggle to provide more than reports.  In an earlier blog post I briefly described the Signals Project at Purdue University.


This project provides an “early warning system” for students at risk of dropping out.  Socio-economic data, educational data mining techniques and (increasingly) social network analysis.

The background for this trend is an increasing demand for higher education, combined with a drive towards increasing cost efficiency and quality.  Action analytics can (among others) help to increase the retention rate (early drop-outs are costly), improve admission and provide a more personalized learning experience (for example through the use of recommender systems, cfr. Amazon).  Action analytics are currently most found in for-profit educational institutions.

Linda Baer from the Gates Foundation recalls in her LAK11 talk the use of action analytics (coupled with measurable targets) as central in the organization’s functioning.  Analytics is not limited to the research department, but requires buy-in from all departments (and the leadership) within an institution.  Furthermore, she argues that the use of analytics is not limited within the institution, but that the availability of cross-institutional performance data will grow dramatically.   A driving force is the growing success of “open architecture” approaches, instead of earlier, closed “data silos”. For example, Education Watch Online! provides for the USA “state by state” summaries of achievement and best practice examples of schools (Norris et al, 2008).

Finally, the skills, competences and habits of mind, needed to be employable in today’s flattening world, cannot be assessed by today’s measures of grades and resumes.  The 
use of e-portfolios will rise.  Individuals will be responsible for maintaining a lifelong personal learning record in order to demonstrate their capabilities (Oblinger, 2007).

The 2011 Horizon Report (shortlist) predicts an adoption time for learning analytics of 4-5 years.

Here is a link to the recording of the guest lecture by Linda Baer.

Participation, Learning Ecosystems and the Long Tail in Education

How important is participation for learning?  Is it sufficient to supply learning materials to students, or is that in itself not enough to guarantee a valuable learning experience?
Very important,according to John Seely Brown,(JSB) an American researcher and author of The Power of Pull.  He states that participation in study groups is the single most significant variable to predict student success    (difficult to check this, but it is true that Social Network Analysis uses the disconnection of students from learning networks as an important warning indicator for student failure, see this blog post).
Education is still organized on a rather  traditional basis, with a strong emphasis on knowledge transfer.  It is an authority based learning system, where the teacher has the role of a content expert who transfers knowledge and determines what they have to learn ( and so what is useful for their future lives).  It assumes a stable world view with fixed careers.  However, globalization, internet and geopolitical changes have very profoundly changed society, as Tom Friedman has convincingly laid out in The World is Flat.


Why is participation important then for learning?  
  • Teaching stuff to others is a very powerful way of learning.
  • Communication with soulmates enhances motivation
  • Participation helps to Internalize learning materials into your own framework (connectivist approach).

Courtesy John Seely Brown

Web 2.0 tools broaden the possibilities for study groups, since physical proximity no longer needed.  JSB hails online communities of practice where members learn by contributing to a common project.  He points to the open source movement, where people start contributing “at the edge” with small changes and gradually, as they become experts, move to the “center” of the movement, for example allowed to alter the core code of the software programme.  He calls this Learning to be, as opposed to the more traditional “learning about”.  “Learning to be” relates to immersive learning, learning by being a part of a community of experts, like learning astronomy by participating in an astronomy project (like the Galaxy Zoo project).  “Tinkering” with learning content is an important aspect of “learning to be”.
Besides the possibility to create online study groups, separated in time and distance, web 2.0 also offers access to the “long tail in education”.  The concept of the long tail was put forward by Chris Anderson (check the Wired article here), in relation to the opportunity of the web for retailers such as Amazon, to serve a market outside the small bestseller segment.  The long tail in education refers to the possibility to connect with fellow learners, even when your subject is very specialized, let’s say neutrinos, and create “learning ecosystems”.   These are places to find content, share it and engage with others and contribute. 

“Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.” (Chris Anderson, Wired, 2004)

JSB is an excellent speaker, knowing how to engage and inspire his public.  He does seem, however, a bit guru-like, presenting very little research evidence to back up his ideas.  I agree with his ideas on immersive learning and the value of taking part in communities of practice  (a MOOC is a good example), although I believe that is doesn’t replace the “learning about” stage.  Having a solid background in a topic is necessary to:
1/ meaningfully engage in a learning community;
2/ identify what really passionates you;
In the H800 course the tutor group can be viewed as a mini-community of practice.  Individual reading and listening assignments are necessary to create a basis from where you can start interacting, sharing and contributing with each other.

Technology enhanced learning: not only about the technology

Week 2 of the H800 course, and two main focus areas this week.  One is the role of participation in learning (the subject of one of the next blog posts) and the other is about the introduction of technology in learning in developing countries.


Starting point of the discussion is a paper the situation in higher education in Bhutan and Nepal, two of the poorer countries in Asia, investigated by Frank Rennie and Robin Mason.  I’ll add some reflections on the situation in Cambodia, based on my experiences and a study from Abdon, Nimomiya and Raab in 2007.


1. E-learning makes sense


Access to higher education in all three countries is severely limited by geographical factors.  Mountains and bad roads in Nepal and Bhutan, monsoon rains and lack of infrastructure in Cambodia.  Academic institutions are usually limited to the capital.  In Cambodia only approximately 10% of the population lives in the capital.  Outside the capital the availability of quality education is very rare.  The few academic institutions have to deal with shortages in qualified personnel to deal with a growing demand for higher education.  Cambodia still has a low participation rate in higher education, with just 1.2 per cent of the population enrolled, compared with an average of 20.7 per cent in all the ASEAN countries (Cambodia Cultural Profile, 2005).


All three countries have a very high proportion of young people (see chart below or here).  The large proportion of young people, combined with decreasing fertility rates, generates a “demographic dividend” in Cambodia.  This is a large generation of young people, with less obligations to take care of large families themselves.  This demographic dividend offers tremendous possibilities for development and economic growth, but is requires sufficient generation of access to higher education and employment opportunities afterwards.  Lack of these may result in a large group of frustrated and angry youth (not unlike the demographic situation in Tunisia).   A degree in higher education is also more and more a necessary prerequisite for a well-paid job afterwards.  Providing access to qualitative higher education seems hardly possible with traditional ways of education.









































2. Yes, there are important technological barriers…


Rennie and Mason list in their paper some technological challenges for the introduction of e-learning in Nepal and Bhutan:
– regular power cuts
– slow, unreliable and expensive internet costs
– low IT literacy skills


These are also valid for Cambodia, although access to internet has improved dramatically the last few years.  Broadband and mobile internet have become more widely accessible at around 20 USD per month, although it’s still more expensive than in neighbouring countries.  Poor mastery of English in Cambodia is not really a technological barrier, but could be classified here as an additional “external” barrier.


These technological challenges can be overcome however (or are being overcome) with a large enough investment of human and financial resources, such as the installation of resource and computer rooms in teacher training colleges by VVOB.


3. …But cultural barriers are more important
Rennie and Mason discuss a set of cultural values that form an impediment to the introduction of online learning:


In both countries is a widespread suspicion towards the quality and the value of degrees achieved online.  The authors point to the fact that this was the case in the West as well until 20 years ago, so this barrier may disappear as more people experience online learning.  In Cambodia, the reputation of (the country of) the university seems very important.  Online learning programmes have not yet established a strong reputation in Asian minds.


Pedagogies in these countries are still very much teacher-centered, based on lectures, taking notes and accepting the teacher as a knowledge expert.  Online pedagogies on the other hand are based on pedagogies of self-directed learning, where the teacher acts as a facilitator and mentor, who motivates students, guides them to interesting resources and stimulates critical thinking, independent working and creativity.  The authors suggest a contrast between “traditional” and “modern” educational thinking.  The prevalence of a teacher-centered pedagogy is enhanced by the lack of resources (in the native language) in the classroom, although there are student-centered approaches that don’t require (expensive) materials and are suitable for large groups.  


A strong centralisation of education coupled with a lack of resources (books, magazines, computers) makes it also more difficult to promote self-directed learning, where learners select and evaluate resources themselves. In Cambodia educational resources need to be approved by the Ministry of Education.


4. The way forward


The authors suggest that “quick wins” can be made by incorporating some elements of e-learning into existing, campus-based programmes.  For example, the integration of video-conferencing lectures or the provision of key articles in an online or digital format.  These allow learners to get used to online learning without disrupting too much the current pedagogical approaches.


On the medium term e-learning requires important changes in the organisation of education, such as the structure of the curriculum or the way of assessment.  Assessment in Cambodia, for example, is still very strongly focused on fact recollection and does not strongly support teachers in adopting a student-centered approach that fosters creativity or critical thinking.


A pilot study in Cambodia in 2006 suggests that online learning can be successful in increasing access to quality education to students outside Phnom Penh, female students (strongly underrepresented in Cambodian higher education) and to working students.  Cultural barriers or prejudices with online education seem to evaporate quickly, once enrolled in an online course.