This is my second post inspired by proceedings from the recent Durham Blackboard Users conference.
There were a number of presentations covering aspects of HEIs attempting to get to grips with effective online course design, support and delivery.
First up was a very encouraging presentation by Nicola Hayes from the University of Leicester. She discussed their relatively new Distance Education Centre and their new approach to marketing and supporting students when thinking and then applying for an online course. In her presentation entitled “Three Steps to Success: Building the Right Foundation – A taster, induction and first module reconfiguration course design for students studying at a distance” Nicola described a very supportive model of creating carbon copies of the live courses to give prospective students a real a taste of the real thing. If students did sign up, they were then given access to a second module, with more authentic tasks to complete. This method essentially provides a pre- course authentic student experience, which extends the idea of the Gilly Salmon 5 stage model to pre course activities. Chatting to Nicola after her presentation, confirmed my previous experience and research of the importance of high quality student support, before, during and after online learning. Nicola’s previous experiences as an online tutor at Liverpool Hope University will certainly add weight to their ongoing plans for distance learning courses.
Tag Archives: Durham BB Conf. 2011
This is my second post inspired by proceedings from the recent Durham Blackboard Users conference.
“Has Education Changed In the Digital Age” was a presentation by Ralph Holland of South Tyneside College. He was mostly presenting quantitative data from a survey he conducted of use of technology to enhance teaching at South Tyneside College.
Most of the results from this survey in my opinion were very unsurprising. There seemed to be the typical curve of a small minority using hardly any on-line tools, a large majority dabbling but not really pushing forwards and again a small minority pushing ahead and really trying to enhance their teaching through technology. I believe this is a pretty accurate picture of technology enhanced teaching every where. In my opinion you could do this survey at almost any FE or HE institution in the UK and get very similar results. One of the interesting things about what I’ll call this “average spread” is that from the lectures who responded (15% of those polled, pretty respectable in my view) the largest age group category was the 51-60 year olds which Ralph refereed to as “Digital Immigrants”. If the notion of the digital immigrant was true then I would have thought that “age as an indicator to technology use” would have meant that we should have seen more negative results from the later questions. This didn’t appear to be the case though, but concede that I didn’t intensely analyse the data so my view could be incorrect.
What I did find surprising was the reliance on the “Digital Natives” (Prensky, 2001) concept. I felt the under current of the presentation was one of; “we must use these tools because our students not only expect to use them but are adept at doing so because they have grown up around them”. I may have read to much into this, but I even asked the question at the end for Ralph’s thoughts about Digital Natives, to which he responded positively and that he was behind the concept. My personal experience of this is quite the reverse. We have a lot of students who are within the age range of the “digital native” who have problems with what I would consider to be basic computer skills. We still run computer skills sessions for students of all ages, backgrounds and year of study. If as Prensky suggests those born after 1981 think differently and have different skills then surely these courses would be surplus to requirements.
Although there is plenty of anecdotal tales to suggest that “young people can use technology” its is not across the board, with all technology. Are they good at using their mobile phones for instance, because they were born into a world of “digital everything” or because they have been exposed to mobile communications and are motivated to learn how to use them? This piece of research threw up anecdotal evidence that totally contradicts this idea. Teaching staff seemed to being having problems getting students to access resources in the VLE and in some cases students couldn’t even remember their own Hotmail address.
I have a personal issue with the Prensky’s Digital Natives concept and as such I must acknowledge that I may have let this cloud my judgement and so misinterpreted the general tone of the presentation. Hopefully I will be able to present some initial findings from our own research soon, that is attempting to test the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant theory.
At the recent Durham Blackboard users conference we witnessed a demonstration of the new IMS [global] Learning Tools Interface (LTI) standard. This function is now available to deploy in BB from service pack 4 release (December 2010).
This function essentially allows 3 party vendors tools to be added as seamless features into BB VLE. The IMS LTI interoperability has been created by the www.IMSglobal.org consortium. This new interoperability standard will be deployable in three levels, allowing data to be securely passed between VLEs and 3 party tools. IMS LTI is currently available in 2 flavours of functionality;
1. Basic; user authentication, course information, and role
2. Full; offers all the above + personal information, etc.
The full version is out soon, which will allow the passing of data such as grades, groups, etc, between BB and 3rd party applications.
• VLE administers have flexibility ( 3 options) controlling how the VLE connects to any external tool using the LTI functionality.
• For a full explanation of the IMS LTI functionality see video: www.vimeo.com/14100773
A presentation at the conference covered a JISC funded project (www.celtic-project.org ) which demonstrated the LTI functionality. A (service pack 4) version of BB 9.1 was linked to ELGG and WebPA (both Open Source platforms). The parameters of the link between BB and each tool took minutes to set up via LTI. When initiated by course instructors each tool appears within the VLE, with only the top frame set, and breadcrumb trail visible to the user – essentially appearing as a BB tool.
Designing Augmented Spaces to Ensure Effective Information Visualisation and Critical Knowledge Formation.
The first key note of the Durham Blackboard conference was presented by Carl Smith of London Metropolitan University, around the idea of Augmented Reality. The main concept of what he was presenting was showing how augmented reality can be used in teaching and learning.
Personally I didn’t think the examples used were maybe the best for the audience. This conference was very much focussed on very practical examples of how we can get more out of the systems we have and use them in better ways. The examples were very “blue sky” in some respects and I know that a lot of delegates found it difficult to translate them into ideas about how they could use the technology, which is a shame as I think there are many real world applications that would enhance learning. I came to this presentation already primed with an interest in the technology so possibly I was already on board and so had a more open mind about it.
Below are some points and reflections that I took from his talk.
- There can be a perception that augmented reality can actually dumb down the user as opposed to empowering. Being able to have instructions at your finger tips can mean that you don’t need to learn anything any more, or so the argument goes. Personally I feel this is totally wrong and applications that are in danger of dumbing down the user are just poorly designed as opposed to it being a problem inherit in the technology or concept. Its like suggesting a map is a “bad thing” because you don’t have to “know” where you are going.
- The world is the interface. I think that learning in context could be very useful to aid understanding. For example a map of the constellations would surely be more useful if you could see the names of stars while looking at them, instead of having to refer to an abstracted map. I had an experience recently where I was fixing part of the gearing system on a bike. I had to compare a printed diagram of the unit with the physical unit and attempt to work out which screw it was I was looking for. It would have been extremely useful to wear a pair of “smart glasses” and the augmentation highlight the screw I was looking for.
- Another important aspect of design of augmentation is to not fall in to the trap of just labelling objects and thinking your work is done. Just because you know a lump of metal is the face plate, doesn’t mean you know how to remove it, which is probably the reason you want to know where it is in the first place. Design needs to be smarter than this and has to really understand what it is a user is trying to do.
An example that was used is shown below in this video from BMW. I decided to use this one as I think this was the most practical example used and the easiest one to take ideas from. I think the implications for our engineering school are obvious.
A week or so ago, I along with several colleagues at Aston, attended the 2011 Durham Blackboard Conference. This conference has been organised and hosted for a number of years by Durham University to provide a more user focused and driven event. Although Blackboard were heavily represented they take a more back seat role and try to let the users dictate the event, chipping in where appropriate. In this respect I very much enjoyed the tone of the event as I never really felt that I was being sold anything. I always felt the input from Blackboard was appropriate to give there side of the story and to help move things along rather than just giving the corporate spiel, which has been my complaint of late about some other Blackboard events.