Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Month: February 2012

Is your digital footprint ready for teaching?

Am in the process of creating a new blog to be called “Is my digital footprint ready for teaching?”. The following describes the why and what and records some initial planning/design.

Keen to hear any suggestions folk have.


This idea is killing two birds with one stone. First, is the need to demonstrate some sort of online learning event so the students have some ideas for their first assignment. Second, is the need to make them aware of digital citizenship type issues.

The current intention is for the blog to act as a stand-alone learning event. Something that a learner can dip into at anytime and answer the question “Is my digital footprint ready for teaching?”.

The inspiration for this idea is, in part, the “pink bits” talk given at the CQUniversity GDLT induction. A talk designed to encourage pre-service teachers to be certain that they are dressed so as not to show any “pink bits”.


The aims of the site are to allow visitors to

  • Discover what their public digital footprint is.
  • Compare this with what might be expected of a new teacher.
  • Learn about some of the negative experiences a poor digital footprint has had on teachers.
  • Identify strategies they can adopt to address any problems.
  • Find out where this fits with broader issues around digital citzenship.
  • Gain insights into what and how they might share these insights with others.

In general, I shouldn’t be creating lots of content on this site. It’s meant to be a portal to existing useful resources. Which I know have to find.

Looking for resources/activities

George Couros’ page on digital footprint.

Via Doug Pete’s about page is infographic generated based on my Twitter activity.

Nice video from one of Michael Wesch’s students

And the obligatory US news story

One of many warnings




The clash of corporate IT and open source learning management system: a nascent research idea

Following up on a broader research idea the following paragraph summarises a nascent, more specific idea a colleague and I are stumbling toward. It fits within the broader agenda.

Suggestions, volunteers, pointers and criticisms welcome.

For now it’s just a single paragraph.

Open source education is seen by Davidson and Golberg (2009) as one of the principles key to the rethinking of learning institutions. Perhaps the most prevalent incursion of open source into Universities has been the adoption of open source Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Moodle. Currently, at least 15 of the 38 Australian universities have adopted Moodle. The typical implementation of such systems appears to be informed more by best practice in enterprise systems implementation with its focus on scalability, consistency and cost savings (Jones, 2008). The governance and management of these open source LMSs seems likely to be an early focal point of the struggles between traditional organisational practices and policies and the requirements of the digital age. The aim of the research will be to investigate what is happening, what is changing and what might the future hold within the context of this struggle.

Defining the digital age and its influence on work integrated learning

If you hadn’t realised by now, this blog is often used as a notebook to record ideas in development. This is by no means complete, but the record is there.

Did you catch the high buzz word content in the title of this post? It can possibly mean only one thing, academics and grant writing. As a jobbing academic – saw that phrase used last week and like one definition, but then found this definition from professional wrestling which perhaps better fits some aspects of grant writing – I’ve fallen into writing a research grant on very short notice and with no real planning and forethought.

The perspective taken with this grant has evolved in an ad hoc way over the last week – which itself says something about the reality of this sort of work and how it is far from planned and relies much on chance – into something which may be looking at how the digital age might influence work integrated learning. This post is an attempt to quickly define what is meant by the digital age.

Don’t go looking for the definitive answer. Even if such a thing does exist, you won’t find it here. The following is hoping to be enough to given an idea and excite folk… the end I’m hoping it’s sufficient that I don’t need to do anything more.

If you have better definitions, resources etc to share, please do.

The following starts with the definition, following that is the rough working that went into forming the definition.

Defining the digital age, at least our interest

Davidson and Goldberg (2009, p. 15) paint a picture of the digital age bringing to an end the future of conventional learning institutions unless they recognise the urgent necessity of fundamental and foundational change. This research seeks to engage with, evaluate and respond to the type of fundamental and foundational change being created by the digital age. Changes so foundational that Lankshear (2003) describes four ways in which the digital age is challenging what it is to know and how this has potentially far-reaching implications for educational practice. Technology, however, will not transform learning by itself, instead it will be shaped and constrained by social, cultural, and economic factors (Warschauer, 2007). These changes and challenges should be properly considered, challenged and engaged with. After all, as Selwyn (2012) suggests there may be subtler and less disruptive methods through which educational institutions can effectively engage in the digital age, than radical alteration or disposal.

The future of learning institutions in a digital age

I’m starting my boning up on this topic with Davidson and Goldberg (2009) and some related resources – including Tony Bates’ review. The book was collaboratively/openly developed via a website. Practicing what they preach. I believe what I’m referencing (Davidson and Golberg, 2009) is a report, rather than the complete book.

Davidson and Goldberg (2010, p. 49)

This book advocates institutional change because our current formal educational institutions are not taking enough advantage of the modes of digital and participatory learning available to students today.

(this quote is from Bates).

So, what are the changes wrought (or to be wrought) by the digital age?

  • “Modes of learning have changed dramatically over the past two decades” (p. 8)
  • “How do collaborative, interdisciplinary, multi-institutional learning spaces help to transform traditional learning institutions and, specifically, universities?” (p. 11)
  • “A key term in thinking about these emergent shifts is participatory learning. Participatory learning includes the many ways that learners (of any age) use new technologies to participate in virtual communities” (p. 12)
    Which brings up echoes with connectivism and Downes’ views on what becoming a professional is (becoming part of the community of professionals).
  • “The concept of particpatory leanring is very different from “IT” (instructional technology)….IT tends to be top-down, designer determined, administratively
    driven, commercially fashioned. In participatory learning, outcomes are typically customizable by the participants.”. (pp. 12-13)
  • “This puts education and educators in the position of bringing up the rearguard, of holding desperately to the fragments of an educational system which, in its form, content, and assessments, is deeply rooted in an antiquated mode of learning” (p. 14)

The big quotes

  • “The future of conventional learning institutions is past—it’s over—unless those directing the course of our learning institutions realize, now and urgently, the necessity of fundamental and foundational change.” (p. 15)

In the end, not the sort of thing I was after, but will purloin a couple of quotes.

Rethinking the future of schools in the digital age

A bit of Selwyn (2012?)

(Selwyn 2012, p. 11)

Yet as with all debates about the “future” of education, it is important that we take time to properly consider and challenge these proposals and assumptions

(Selwyn 2012, p. 14)

We should be wary of giving up on the entire notion of the industrial-era school or university as it currently exists. Instead, it may be more productive – and certainly more practical to set about addressing the “problem” of formal education and technology in subtler and less disruptive ways than radically altering educational institutions or even disposing of them altogether.


Brown, J. S. (2001). Learning in the digital age. The Internet and the university: Forum (pp. 71–72). Retrieved from

Davidson, C. N., & Goldberg, D. T. (2009). The future of learning institutions in a digital age. Digital Media. The MIT Press. Retrieved from

Davidson, C and Goldberg, D. (2010) The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age Chicago: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Selwyn, N. (2012). School 2.0: Rethinking the future of schools in the digital age. In A. Jimoyiannis (Ed.), Research on e-Learning and ICT in Education (pp. 3-16). New York: Springer.

Warschauer, M. (2007). The paradoxical future of digital learning. Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 41-49.

Does school ruin learning?

As the semester starts warming up the online students are starting to post their introductions using Popplet (essentially a simplified Prezi, but one which is being a little unreliable today), Prezi or other tools. One of the interesting threads that run through many of these posts has been the amazement at how young children, as young as 1 or 2, quickly become proficient at using information technology. My two young suns are currently getting into pocket edition of Minecraft on their iPads with no advice from me.

I then compare this with some of what I have heard from university academics and various pundits over the last few weeks. The common refrain of “where’s the professional development” (PD). If you dig a bit into the change management advice around organisations and new technology you will find the provision of training one of the critical success factors. But there is some blow back on that idea.

In this post Jonah Salsich captures an alternate perspective suggesting that teachers need to relearn how to learn. He suggests that teachers hold a particular paradigm for their learning

they feel that they need to be taught something in order to learn it. I’m not sure that they know there is now another way to learn, especially where learning about technology is concerned.

A paradigm created by the system of education

We come from a system of education where everything was fed to us. As a student (even through my master’s degree), if I was told I needed to learn something there was a clear process I had to go through to learn it; sign up (and pay) for the right course with the available expert, buy some textbooks, go to class, follow directions, and collect my credits to show that I had learned it.

At the moment, I am reading Seymour Papert’s book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas. Here are some examples

Children being their lives as eager and competent learners. They have to learn to have trouble with learning in general and mathematics in particular.

One of the main lessons learned by most people in math class is a sense of having rigid limitations.

And this rather damning comment about the folk involved with education

..influences the selection of people who get involved in education. Very few with imagination, creativity, and drive to make great new inventions enter the field. Most of those who do are soon driven out in frustration. Conservatism in the world of education has become a self-perpetuating social phenomenon.

The problems of being right

Another related point Papert makes, which resonates with me strongly as an ex-/sometime- software devleoper

many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either “got it” or “got it wrong.” But when you learn to program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting “bugs”, the parts that keep the program from working…….The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition, we all might be less intimidated by our fears of “being wrong.”

I’ve watched my boys grapple with a new app on their iPad. The method of learning has more to do with the debugging approach than the right or wrong approach.

Perhaps its time for teachers (and education systems) to worry less about being wrong and think more about debugging. I wonder if this focus on being right (and not being seen as being wrong) is a contributing factor to “waiting for the PD”? Is it ruining learning?

One Moodle course design: approach and trade-offs

Almost 20 days ago I started thinking about the design of the Moodle (1.9.x) site (called a StudyDesk at my institution) for my course. As O-Week draws to a close, the following describes the current final product.

Note: The focus here is on the (pragmatic) physical design and layout of the site with just a bit of pedagogy/learning design.

What does it look like?

The following photo (click on the photo to see it larger) is what it looks like.

EDC3100 home page (Sem 1, 2012)

Non-topic based resources

I’ve stuck with the topic course format, mostly because that was what the prior offering used and given the absence of an ability to back the course site up, I wasn’t game enough to play with that.

The trouble is that there are some resources/activities that are not really topic based. For example, the specification for the two assignments doesn’t really belong to a single week/topic. Discussion forums, getting help etc are all examples. Students don’t I wouldn’t want to go searching through topics to find them.

Hence the “Course background” and “Course content” navigation blocks in the welcome area of the course site. Implemented with a bit of CSS to look appropriately institutional.

Avoiding the scroll of death

I’ve used the “Jump to: Topic” navigation bar to allow folk to jump to a particular topic. I’ve also ensured that the HTML is such that tooltips work (i.e. hover over “1” for topic one and the tooltip will show the topics name).

A number of staff here have used graphical icons/buttons instead of the numbers. Frankly I don’t have the skill/resources to create meaningful, good looking icons and frankly they take up too much screen space.

I’ve also made significant use of the Moodle book module. Rather than having a long list of labels and activities under each topic, this is mostly hidden away within Moodle books. e.g. the “Getting started”, “Course background” etc links under Topic 1.

The photos

Each of the topics in the course site will have a specially selected photo taken from the ECMP355 photo stream. Each photo is produced by one of the students in the course taken by Alec Couros’. My thanks to the students and Alec.

Two main reasons for including the photos

  • Inject some visual interest.
    Most moodle sites are text heavy, boring and if no care is taken, ugly. A bit of visual excitement was called for.
  • Illustrate “Explore, Create, Share”.
    I’m trying to encourage the students to become digital residents. I want them to be exploring, creating and sharing with the broader community. I’m hoping that the example of the ECMP355 students will be somewhat inspiring.

The weekly ramble

I’ve implemented the weekly ramble idea for the first week using the Moodle book module. It’s ugly and doesn’t provide a lot of the extra functionality that I’d like, but it’s there.

Future tweaks

I think the next explorations will be around bringing the outside world into the course site. I’m trying to make the course site the course portal, i.e. a path to all of the course related resources and activities. Increasingly I’m hoping all of the course participants will help construct those through social networking tools.


The real reflections will start next week and for the next 15 weeks or so as students interact with the site and tell me what works and what doesn’t.

In the meantime, here are some of my reflections:

  • The amount of HTML/CSS I needed to implement to workaround missing or ugly defaults in both Moodle and the institutional CSS was not exactly surprising, but “interesting”.
  • Editing a Moodle site when response times are long is an exercise in frustration.
  • Most of the links I’ve put into this site are going to be broken when it is copied into the next term.
  • All this extra work seems just a little bit wasteful.
  • Apparently the institution is going Moodle 2.x next semester, so it probably really is all wasted.

Faculty-centered, peer-reviewed online course development models

So after three weeks at the new institution and busy thinking about how I’m going to do something interesting with my course design I find out that EOIs for a fairly large and beneficial set of research grants is due in a week or so. Bugger. No way I’m going to get my head around the new field, teaching and meet that deadline.

Which is when a fellow new staff member points me at Mears (2011). The following is an initial attempt to skim this and see what it means to me.


Seems to be a useful annotated bibliography of what I would class as the “systems” approach to course design. Heavily influenced by instructional designers/expert educational folk.

As I mention below and elsewhere I have grave concerns about this sort of approach in terms of its effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and sustainability. They all seem to end up being gamed.

I also wonder how much of these design models is influenced by the folk researching and proposing them either being digital visitors or having to deal primarily with teaching academics who are digital visitors. Or worse still, are working within the confines of a university that is a digital visitor. I wonder if you were able to work with digital residents or in a digital resident university, whether the necessary models would be radically different?

From the conclusions (Mears, 2011, p. 119)

Faculty engagement is shown to be the single most important arbiter of quality assurance in online instruction as reflected in the literature of this 30-study bibliography

This makes me wonder whether engaging in a mechanistic development process with appropriate quality assurance processes is the best way to engage faculty.

My prejudice here is that an approach where you actively seek to address the problems of faculty on their own terms leads to much better engagement.

The argument here seems to be that standards provide “offer a neutral point of discussion for transforming pedagogy” (Mears, 2011, p. 120). And that the academics ability to engage in self-directed discovery of how to meet the guidelines gives academic freedom etc.

And then (Mears, 2011, p. 122)

faculty engagement is dependent upon a perceived value that the institution designates for all the activities necessary to support interrelated features that scaffold quality in online instruction

This assumes throwing resources at the identified standards will be perceived as valuable by faculty. Too often these efforts become seen as wasteful or self-serving. wonder/believe that seeing the institutional actively trying to help address faculty problems. e.g. producing and disseminating coffee cups and coasters emblazoned with Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) 7 principles of good practice for undergraduate education.

And there is the four-phase teleological process (Mears, 2011, p 123)

  1. Chart: Resource and needs assessment, and long term, explicit strategic investment institutional plan for online infrastructure and faculty development
  2. Adopt: Collegial process selects competitive online mix of course offerings, integrates with department curriculum and gains institutional approvals; department seeks institutional incentives for faculty course development and delivery
  3. Build: Team-based faculty development concurrent with course development, supported by instructional design and technology team. Requires course online with homework.
  4. Launch and Assess: Plan, develop instruments and process, and apply periodic departmental assessment for program quality, student satisfaction and learning, and peer review of courses

My basic problem with this is the assumption that with something as young, diverse and fluid as online learning and teaching, it is sensible to identify before actually doing anything a set of standards by which to evaluate quality.

And here – with some comments from me – are the key characteristics of “quality, standards-driven course development”:

  • targeted faculty development in the use of teams to build and administer courses online;
    I agree, but the focus should be on building upon what is already there.
  • standardization focused on learning patterns with detailed assessment rubrics;
    Disagree, waste of time.
  • faculty-driven pedagogy;
    Agree in terms of working with what the academic wants and moving on from there.
  • encouraged student engagement through alignment with millennial preferences for
    social media and action-oriented projects;
    Really don’t think this is a millennial preference.
  • prompt and individualized feedback;
    Obviously, but the trouble is that an overly teleological process only provides feedback within the constaints of the identified purpose. A teleological process can modify itself based on the feedback it receives and changes it makes/sees.
  • soft skills of teamwork with substantive dialog emphasized in student project discourse;
    Yea, perhaps.
  • peer review and assessment.

There is much more here than I’ve covered in this. If you’re interested, I recommend taking a closer look.


The abstract is (Mears, 2011, p. 3)

The engagement of faculty in development, course design, and peer review is central to quality online instruction. Thirty refereed case studies of standards-driven online course development in higher education since 2004 are annotated and analyzed for common principles, procedures, or recommended practices. Discussion explores strategic planning for faculty and online administrators, including four phases of implementation, faculty support needs, barriers to engagement, and instructional and technology characteristics faculty must weigh carefully in specific pedagogical designs

I like the first sentence – faculty engagement. From there it starts to lose me with “standards-driven” and extracting “common principles, procedures, or recommended practices” from case studies. Not to mention strategic planning and the idea of four phases.

Reminded of something from Papert (1993, p. xiii)

Intellectual activity does not progress, as logicians and the designers of school curricula might want us to believe, by going step-by-step from one clearly stated and well-confirmed truth to the next.

It sounds like this articles is taking a very teleological approach, while I’m an ateleological kind of guy – my prior summary of the difference between teleological/ateleogical.

But must allow biases to prejudice reading. Must be objective.


This is an annotated bibliography that aims (Mears, p. 10)

to provide an overview of
faculty-centered, peer reviewed online higher education course development models

where “course development models”

may reflect a systems approach to structuring the production of teaching courseware and implementation processes by targeting specific learning objectives and aligning them with both learning and interactive media strategies, utilizing a range of expertise

This might be done by:

  • purchasing courseware;
  • using teams of faculty and instructional designers; or,
  • individual faculty using varying strategies.

The literature chosen must cover at least one of three aspects

  1. standards-driven faculty development for online instruction;
  2. faculty see a fit between the model and the pedagogy/curriculum they use; and,
  3. effects of uniform online delivery on quality.

I really do hate words like uniform and consistency when used to describe learning, teaching or course design. I much prefer Chris Dede’s comparison of learning to eating, sleeping and bonding (1m39s mp3 audio).

Ahh, it is perhaps not the first time this reaction has been formed. Mears (2011, p.11)

Embedded within this assumption is the notion that
a standards-driven model provides a framework for quality rather than similarity (Lewis et al., 2011; Olson & Shershneva, 2004; Seok, 2007; Shelton, 2010); quality standards may be shown to support the intellectual richness that is the promise of academic freedom in higher education (Lewis et al., 2011; Lam & McNaught, 2006; Olson & Shershneva, 2004; Shelton, 2010).

In extracting principles from these case studies, one of the aims is to address some of the concerns about “uniform delivery of standards-driven instruction”, including

  1. Compatibility between different pedagogies and computer-based instruction;
  2. Impact on academic freedom;
  3. Intellectual challenge of coursework; and,
  4. Competitive difference for institutions.

Uniform delivery

With the LMS, and print-based distance education before it, there was a tendency to what I called “quality through consistency”. It appears that “uniform delivery” is the more academic term and refers (Mears, 2011, p. 29)

course development models that follow “a common format for course structure” to “provide consistency for both instructors and students” (Knowles & Kalata, 2007, p. 5). Uniform delivery is not a proxy for quality, but standards applied uniformly can maintain the quality of content while gaining efficiencies in interoperability and re-use or collaboration among institutions (Seok, 2007).

Must remember that.


The following are some of the more interesting references from the annotated bibliography

Graham, L. & Thomas, L. (2011). Certification in distance learning for online instructors: exploration of the creation of an organic model for a research-based state institution. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 4(1).

The mention of organic makes this sound interesting, maybe some ateleological type thinking.

Eib, B.J., & Miller, P. (2006). Faculty development as community building: An approach to professional development that supports communities of practice for online teaching. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 7(2), 1-15.

The community aspect sounds interesting.

Green, N., Edwards, H., Wolodko, B., Stewart, C., Brooks, M., & Littledyke, R. (2010). Reconceptualizing higher education pedagogy in online learning. Distance Education, 31(3), 257–273. Charles Stuart University, New South Wales Australia: Routledge. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2010.513951

I hear the lead author is a very talented and insightful academic, teacher and researcher. Plus some of the theoretically underpinnings appears potentially useful to my mumblings and bumblings around course design.

Ward, M., Peters, G, & Shelley, K. (2010). Student and faculty perceptions of the quality of online learning experiences. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(3), 58-77.

Might have some application locally in what I’m doing. Ahh, it’s focused on synchronous teaching. Still possibly useful as I dislike synchronous. Apparently the authors develop arguments around the weaknesses of asyncrhonous.


Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

Mears, L. (2011). An Overview of Faculty-Centered, Peer-Reviewed Online Course Development Models for Application within Accredited Institutions of Higher Education. Higher Education. AIM Capstone 2011; Linda Mears. Retrieved from

Papert, S. (1993). Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful ideas (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Basic Books.

Designing the weekly ramble

Another weekend and I’m thinking about EDC3100, and thanks to an IT maintenance day bringing Moodle down I have the time to post here. The following is an attempt to conceptualise and describe what I hope might become the replacement for the lecture/tutorial model that is dominant in this course. It is informed by/borrowed from the work of many I’ve seen over recent years, especially the Siemens/Downes MOOC movement

The following describes the metaphor I’m going with and documents the design of the initial implementation of the weekly ramble. There are constraints in place which mean this won’t immediately leap to something really interesting, but hopefully it might evolve over time.

Don’t read this expecting anything insightful or complete. This is very much a work in progress and doubtful of containing anything world-shatteringly innovative.

The weekly ramble

The metaphor I think I’ll use is that of a ramble. Not the “long and confused or inconsistent speech” definition, rather the “walk for pleasure, typically without a definite route” understanding.

Reflecting at Silver Lake

I like this metaphor because while the students in this course will generally have the same broad destination – success with the course assessment/getting better at using ICTs and pedagogy (hopefully the same thing). The route, however, that is best for each student will be very different. Beyond individual differences as a learner, they are pre-service teachers in very different areas.

Rather than follow a single lecture/tutorial route, I really do want to encourage and enable them to guided in the discovery of their own path (not sure how close I am to this).

The design

The following is constrained by my understanding of the institutional context, the expectations of participants, and the available technology. Hopefully I can push back on these as time progresses.

  • The destination.
    This won’t be specific, but the aim of a ramble is generally to get somewhere. A fairly broad, but accessible, description of the outcomes/products of this week. The aim here is to encourage students to think about whether they should be heading as they ramble.
  • Suggested stops.
    A collection of resources and activities that students are recommended to “stop” at. Essentially the basic route. A minimal lecture might be part of this. This will be a merging of lecture, tutorial and additional activities.
  • Other points of interest.
    Those other special places (resources/activities) that provide the bit extra that makes the journey really worthwhile. Eventually this should be largely student centered/generated. This is where students in different specialisations (e.g. early childhood, VET) will break out on their own.
  • Reflections on the ramble.
    It’s not uncommon for ramblers to keep a blog/diary of their rambles. Reflection, at least for me, is essential for learning. This section is where the students will be encouraged to reflect.

The stops or points of interest on the ramble will be a collection of online resources, references to print resources (i.e. the set textbook), and activities. The activities will hopefully have the students creating and sharing artifacts.

Walking the walk, not talking the talk

If this metaphor is extended just a touch, then perhaps teaching staff should be giving a lecture (talk the talk). Instead, they should be walking the walk. i.e. rambling along with the students, engaging in the activities, modelling expected practice. Perhaps a good way to model thought processes etc…

Perhaps this might be what the face-to-face lectures and tutorials might become. A mixture of my rambling, the students observing and then rambling off on their own path. Mmmmm. We’ll see.


Currently working on the first ramble. It’s fairly easy to come up with stops, more difficult to brake the tendency toward a single path. i.e. to focus on creating alternatives paths for the students.

Please help, are there "dating services" for online courses?

Do you know of any “dating services” for online courses?

That is, a service by which a cohort of (often 100+) students can put in a few details (e.g. I’m an early childhood pre-service teacher, I’m technically competent etc., I’m interested in X) and on request the software will match up the students in groups of two or more.

I’m particularly interested in software where the students can manage the process.


In a little while I’ll be teaching in a course where the majority of my students are online, but where I do want them to complete a range of activities as small groups. I want to encourage the students to work with different folk and enable them to manage the process with a minimum of fuss.

I’ve been unsuccessful in finding a Google search phrase to find anything interesting.

Perhaps the simplest I can think of is something like

  • Set up an Google spreadsheet for each task.
  • Populate it with the students (rows) and the required information (columns).
  • When the students are ready, ask them to fill in the cells.
  • If there are enough students, have them sort the sheet on the columns so that matches are grouped together.
  • Group members are chosen and deleted.

There’s a bit more to it, but you get the idea. Kludgy. Has to be a better way.

The process of designing a "Web 2.0" introduction

The following tells the story of how and why I designed the following “Web 2.0” (and yes, I am very reluctant to use that term for a range of reasons but will for a range of other reasons) introduction of myself.

The following image (click on the image to see a large photo) shows the final state. You can also view it here.

The finished introductory Popplet

The above was produced using Popplet. A fairly simple site to use. Popplet is essentially a slightly easier to use, not quite as functional, slightly different version of Prezi. Popplet doesn’t really focus on being a presentation tool (it can sort of act like that) it is likely to be much more powerful as way to collaborate on the above, rather than simply disseminate information.


The design of the course I’m teaching this term asks the students to create a “Web 2.0” introduction of themselves as their first task. The design also calls for the teaching staff to create their own introduction for the dual purpose of providing an example and also to allow the students to know a bit more about the teaching staff.

I’m blogging about the process because it allows the students (if they so desire) to have some insight into my thought process. Which is typically seen as a good thing.


After a few iterations, we’ve decided to copy/borrow/lift the introduction used the ECMP355, Computers in the Classroom course taught by Alec Couros at the University of Regina. The introduction should include (the following is taken from the ECMP355 site):

  • A brief description of your own personal background (school, family, career, etc.).
    Of course, only provide information which you feel comfortable with sharing.
  • Some information regarding your attitudes of or previous experience with technology in your own personal, school or work experience.
  • Insight into how you currently feel towards computing technology in the K-12 classroom.
    For example, what are the potential benefits or limitations of technology in the classroom? How do you feel that technology should or should not be used in K-12 learning environments?
  • A description of your expectations for this class and from your instructor. What do you hope to learn or accomplish in this class? Is there anything that the instructor should know about your previous experience or lack of experience with technology?

Which tool?

Given I know what I have to produce, which tool will I use?

On suggestion was to use a concept mapping tool to map out the introduction, or perhaps something like Prezi.

These are fairly well known. I’m wondering whether the Web 2.0 environment has thrown up anything a bit different and out there.

This Top 35 list is form 2010 and includes many of the well-known options. The “added from Twitter and comments” addendum has some options I wasn’t aware of, including

  • Popplet – “see what you think together”.

That list was going to be quite large, but Popplet looks interesting enough to stop (plus time is getting away from me). The following video is the Popplet preview video that sucked me in.

What’s the model/sweet spot for the tool?

All technology is designed to achieve a certain purpose (of course most technology can also be used for unexpected things – exaptation) a certain way. To use a tool well, you need to understand what the purpose is and the model it uses to achieve it.

From the video, Popplet seems to be based on the idea of boards – which contain just about anything: audio, video etc – and that these boards (as in cork boards perhaps) can be linked in various ways and then displayed. There also seems to be support for people to comment on the boards.

This example Popplet is on the history of Napoleon. Almost a poster but on a grander scale. This one is a flowchart around playing Street Fighter.

From looking at these, it appears that a Popplet is made up of popples. The small chunks of text, graphics and other resources. I imagine you can re-arrange these into useful structures.

This seems well suited to a four part introduction and is somewhat related to a concept map.

Using it

So time to start using it. I will learn more about the tool as I go.

Creating an account seems all fine. Don’t like the fact that the standard practice of tabbing between fields in a form doesn’t work.

And onto the introduction:

  • So, “Popplet is the best app for visual ideas”
  • You can create galleries, record thoughts, explore ideas, collaborate together.

And we’re ready to “make new popplet”. As is typically the case with these types of tools, Popplet walks you through the process, providing advice as you need it. A strategy adopted/adapted from games.

So, that’s the four main “structuring” poppies created.

Step 1: Creating a Popplet

Now to add some multimedia around it.

Oh that’s nice, can search Flickr for photos to include.

Mmm, adding comments works, but not sure how that is integrated into viewing the Popplet. Looks like I’ll be adding some textual descriptions. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to add an audio narration to a poppie.

The model for Popplet certainly seems to be to drag in content from other locations. Trying to save their resources I guess. This means that creating a Popplet does assume you make use of other online services.

This model probably creates some problems for the use of Popplet within schools where sites like Flickr and YouTube may be blocked. Certainly the search Flickr images feature of Popplet could create the problematic (for some) situation where students see images they probably shouldn’t.

It also creates problems when you’re trying to attach recent images.

Oh, there is a presentation mode, a bit like Prezi. Can’t seem to get it to work for anyone but me (the author) on the web. How there is a desktop application (both Mac and Windows) to show Popplets and I got presentation mode working with that.

And there is Popplet blog

But does it have to be a lecture?

This Chronicle-based blog post titled “Four things lecture is good for” is resonating with a lot of people. At least judging by the retweets etc.

I wonder if the article really should be title “Four things that make lectures (or any teaching mode) better”.

I can see why the post resonates. The author (@RobertTalbert) proposes four really good purposes for which a lecture is suited, including:

  1. Modeling thought processes.
  2. Sharing cognitive structures.
  3. Giving context.
  4. Telling stories.

I also agree with two other points he makes.

First, that the lecture is not good for information transfer. I like the argument that made that a lecture is being used to “cover material” then the design of the course has failed. I still like this quote for defining the lecture

A method for transferring the content of the lecturer’s paper to the paper of the students without it passing through the minds of either.

Heard this quote years ago, but can’t remember the reference.

Second, that inspiration does not equal learning.

Why limit these methods to a lecture

I’m not sure I’d limit these purposes to just a lecture. For me they sum up some important aspects of teaching in general.

Too much of the teaching I see – whether in lectures or in textbooks – does not model thought processes. To often the abstract representation of much research is presented to students as a fait accompli without showing students how/why this developed.

It appears that education is especially great at developing and presenting models and frameworks to represent a problem area and expecting students to base future action on them. I’m not sure adding a Think/Pair/Share, Jigsaw or other activity on the end is sufficient.

For me, I’ll be using each of the four techniques in most of the modes of teaching I’ll be using. Face-to-face lectures, online lectures, tutorials, discussion forums etc. Posting on this blog is also part of this.

Are teacher preparation programs dangerously irrelevant?

This is in response to a blog post with the same title. The title attracted me I’ve just started work within a teacher preparation program and have some concerns about such programs being irrelevant.

Very briefly, the post reports on a study the interviewed 39 US-based national award winning teachers (part of this project). The aim being to learn about what worked for the top teachers.

31% of the 39 completed a traditional four year teacher certification program. Online 10% (4) of the 39 agreed that their official teacher training was relevant to their current practice.

It appears that these teachers came from a number of fields and that their training in that field influenced their teaching more heavily than teacher training.

I like the post because it adds some evidence to argue against an over-emphasis on standardisation and credentialism of teaching. i.e. if you haven’t done X, Y and Z you can’t be registered as a teacher. Not that is inherently a bad idea, it’s just when it gets taken to extremes…

And I don’t think anyone could argue against the ineffectiveness of traditional professional develop as illustrated by the photo in the original post. But…

Some problems

This study doesn’t really establish causation.

It doesn’t answer, and probably doesn’t aim to answer, questions like:

  • Are these teachers national award winning teachers because of their non-traditional background?
  • Are there other teachers who have non-traditional backgrounds that are not national award winning teachers?
  • Are there non-traditional background teachers who are very bad teachers?
  • Will ignoring traditional teacher training and focusing on non-traditional training create a greater percentage of good teachers?
  • Do teachers with non-traditional backgrounds succeed in the current system because of the nature of the system or some other factors?

The question of purpose

To figure out if something is irrelevant, the question has to be asked “irrelevant for what?”. What’s the purpose of teacher training. The purpose of traditional teacher training may not be to produce the type of teachers who win national awards. I can quite easily see a few educational bureaucrats being quite happy with the relevance of traditional teacher training.

Traditional teacher training certainly has its flaws. As does traditional training for just about every field. Whether or not its irrelevant is probably another type of question.

How to replace the lecture?

Almost 16 years ago I gave my first presentation at an academic conference. It was AusWeb’96 and I was talking to a paper titled “Solving some problems of university education: A case study”. I started out my presentation with “Lectures suck!”.

Some additional encouragement to study
I proceeded to explain why I thought that, especially in my context of a course with 26 students on-campus and 62 off-campus. Including Allen in Cyprus (see the photo).

Fast forward to today and I’m about to take on a course with at least 120 students off-campus, 60 on the campus I’ll be teaching, another 60 at another campus, and yet another 40 or so at another campus. Guess what? There is still an assumption that there will be a 1 hour lecture and 2 hour tutorial for the on-campus students. It is also typical practice to record the lecture (either live during the on-campus lecture or pre-recorded) and make that available to the off-campus students. These off-campus students also get a synchronous online “tutorial” in Wimba.

And this is for a course that seeks to show pre-service teachers about the transformation of learning and teaching made possible by Information and Communication Technologies!!!!

My challenge now is to figure out what (if anything) I can do to move away from what I see as far from terrific modelling of the course message.

My question to you. What good examples have you seen of University courses replacing lectures and tutorials for something different, something better?

A contextual aside

This should not be taken as a criticism of the folk who have taught the case before. The decision about how to teach a course has to be taken within a given context and I’ve yet to see a University context that is truly conducive and encouraging of transformation in learning and teaching. It’s mostly tweaking around the edges.

All of the infrastructure, software, policies and expectations at a university are based around lectures and tutorials. You can’t get fired for giving a lecture. You can annoy an awful lot of students by not meeting their expectations of a lecture.

Which is not a reason to do avoid this, but it is a reason to weigh up the effort required against the other requirements of being an academic and having a family. e.g. 16 years ago when I did the first transformation I was single. I now have a wife and three kids.

Having the time and energy to adopt any transformation is going to be a factor.

Vague current idea

Without any great thought, my current idea is to use a the Moodle book module to create a “learning path” for each week. The path would use a lot of external video, audio and other resources to provide the “content” and use various Moodle (discussion forums, database etc) and external services (Google docs, Twitter etc) to activities. The idea being that all students are able to work through this material when and where they want.

The current scheduled lectures and tutorials would be used for f-t-f and perhaps online opportunities for students to talk with me. Preferably, I’d cancel some of the tutorials and instead invest the time in participating in the course with the students. Interacting with them and responding to their problems, questions and participation.

It's better at home: One contributor to why ICT integration in schools sucks

I’ve come home early today from my new job within a Faculty of Education at a University. Entirely because the quality of the technology I have at home far exceeds the quality of the technology I have at work. The following suggests that this little anecdote highlights one of the contributing factors as to why the quantity and quality of ICT integration in schools is less than good.

Some consensus?

There seems to be broad consensus that the quantity and quality of the use of Information and Communication Technologies within schools (and I’ll add universities) sucks. Sure, there are some really brilliant work being done by a lot of talented educators, but those contributions form but a very small percentage of the overall education system.

There is also broad consensus that the quantity and quality of ICT integration must significantly improve. The Australian government is apparently spending $2 billion dollars to achieve this, a not insignificant amount. We have to be ready for the digital world.

The wrong end of the stick?

As part of that funding Australia has the Teaching Teachers for the Future project.

aimed at enabling all pre-service teachers at early, middle and senior levels to become proficient in the use of ICT in education

As always there are some good people doing some good work in this project.

But it also seems to be fundamentally flawed.

I’ve heard the rationale for the TTF explained this way:

  • It’s obvious that ICT integration in schools sucks.
  • It’s obvious that new teachers (as well as existing ones) are somewhat sucky at using ICTs.
  • Hence there must be flaws with the preparation new teachers are receiving at University.
  • So, we need to fix this

    by building the ICTE capacity of teacher educators and developing online resources to provide rich professional learning through exemplar packages. The project involves all 39 Australian teacher education institutions.

I don’t deny that there may be some flaws with the preparation new teachers are receiving at University. In fact, I’m likely to create some of those flaws in my new job.

But having a special project with additional funding to create exemplars is not going to create a long term transformation.

Limitations of the school/university environment

One of the reasons it won’t create long-term transformation is that it will do little to change the environment within the institutions. An environment within institutions which is struggling to keep up with what is happening outside.

For example, I’ve just been employed as an academic in an Education faculty. I’ve been employed with a focus on ICT integration. I’ve been employed at a time when the Government is spending $2+ billion dollars on the Digital Education Revolution (including the TTF) and when my new university has a mantra of “digital first” (i.e. when designing learning experiences think about digital experiences first, rather than on-campus etc first).

Given this context, you might expect that the ICT resources provided to academic staff would be designed to engage with the demands of the broader context.

But no, the technology I provide myself at home is better than what is available at work

  • At work I have a Windows Desktop PC with a MOE that includes an out of date version of IE. I can only work with this machine in my office.
  • At home I have a Mac Powerbook with all the latest software and all my papers, data, software etc. It goes with me whenever and where ever I need it. Including to work where I use it instead of the Windows PC.
  • At work I have a network connection for which the Twitter URL shortener ( is blocked. Hence I can’t easily follow all the useful resources my tweeps share.
  • At home I have a network connection that is as fast as the one at work, but without the filtering.
  • At work I make do with 17″ Dell monitors that struggle to output a horizontal resolution of 1200. It’s an ergonomic nightmare when the monitor at your eye level has a worse resolution than your laptop screen below eye level. You either make do with restricted screen space or a cricked neck.
  • At home I have a 24″ Apple Cinema display that will do a horizontal resolution of 1900. Something that makes all the difference when you’re reading and writing papers, websites, blogs etc.

When such a gap exists between what is happening within an educational institution and what is happening outside, it must have ramifications.

If ICT integration is so important, why do I have better tech at home?

Better provided tech or a paradigm shift?

The “solution” to this problem doesn’t necessarily mean that the mean stingy university should give me better technical tools. This might be an indicator of a change in paradigm. Rather than assuming that the university has to provide me with all my technology, perhaps it’s time for the university to work with the technology I already have.

I don’t think that the paradigm shift has happened yet, but the whole BYOT/BYOD movement is starting to be suggested of one likely future.

Either way, there appears to be a gap.

BIM to Moodle 2.x – Step 2

Disclaimer: I started this post in November 2011 and never posted it. It is essentially a development diary for some initial steps in development BIM for Moodle 2.x.

It is probably of almost no value to anyone but me.

Current status: A BIM activity can be added in Moodle 2.x and some of the functionality works, but not all. A fair bit of porting has to occur to ensure BIM uses all the Moodle 2.x APIs.

So I have a version of the old bim code ported to be recognised by Moodle 2.1. I doubt very much that it actually does anything as much of the code still needs to be modified to run properly in the new version of Moodle. That’s the story that the following development journal entry tells.

The first step is, of course, to make sure the changes I’ve made are saved on github these remain unusable, but at least the changes are somewhat safe.

Create a course

With Moodle 2.1 running on my laptop, I need to create a course in which to create bim activities. Easy enough and now to create some friendly users

  • s00[123] – students.
  • t00[123] – teaching staff.

And they are enrolled and all with different roles.

Create a BIM activity

And now to try and create a BIM activity. Turn editing on, add a BIM activity….and error

Coding error detected, it must be fixed by a programmer: Url parameters values can not be arrays!

in the course/modedit.php file.

Time to see if the server is configured to give me all the gory details about errors. Nope. Ahh, that’s better

line 60 of /mod/bim/mod_form.php: call to MoodleQuickForm->addHelpButton()

A quick check reveals the new signature. Some code changes and….

The BIM configuration screen is shown….problems to fix, include

  • Help icons not showing help.
    Problem with new signature usage. Fixed.
  • The Heading is quite large.
    Seems to be out of my hands. Will leave for now.
  • The “About BIM activity” is showing up as “empty” even when data entered, which prevents submission.
    Remove the requirement and use the intro editor

Bugger, that actually works. It is displaying the activity I’ve created. I have commented out all the code in view.php. But that’s still a bit of a win.

At this stage, there is a bunch of code that isn’t even being included in bim when Moodle 2.1 runs it. There is certain to be problems there. The current plan is to slowly uncomment and fix bits of this code. The order will, hopefully, be

  • Coordinator – the teacher role configuring the activity.
  • Marker – at least the subset that can be done without student feeds.
  • Student.


The idea here is to remove the “Yay it works” and get Moodle to run the coordinator code.

  • Update ~/view.php
  • Mmm, the “has_capability” thing isn’t working.
    In the short-term, turn this off and see what the code might do.
  • show_coordinator doesn’t produce any output.
    Ahh, problem in my debugging code. Remove that and it seems to be working. Even the tabs are generated, woot.
  • bim_configuration_screen is generating some errors, probably due to inappropriate headers etc.
    Yes, there was a print_footer where it wasn’t needed. Actually, I can see the need to remove the header stuff from ~/view.php and push it down – as per bim. Initially this has been done. Seems to work.
  • Still using print_string and print_heading in a lot of the code.
    print_heading is deprecated.
  • Each of the tabs in coordinator nav not producing output
    This is because the code is commented out and for each one there is/will be errors.
  • get_all_students (part of manage marking)
    Uses an IN SQL approach that is deprecated.
    This is something common used in a couple of places. Time to fix it. Here’s a one off solution (so I remember)
    [code lang=”php”]
    list( $usql, $params ) = $DB->get_in_or_equal( $ids );
    $student_details = $DB->get_records_select( "user", ‘id ‘ . $usql, $params );

At this stage, the initial pages for each of the tabs for Coordinator are working. There remains additional work, but time to move onto marker.


  • TO DO – The help icons are not being placed nicely, nor generating the appropriate text.
  • The View/Mark posts links aren’t really looking like tabs
    Add a box around it. Need to make this pretty in the next round.


  • Use of record_exists, doesn’t have array.
  • Remove bim’s simplepie stuff and go to the Moodle default ….all working.


Most of the basic code for bim2 is working, but the capabilities aren’t. i.e. identifying the type of user and sending them to the right function.

Mmm, all are working, but not the coordinator.

Thinking about Moodle course design

Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be responsible for the design of a Moodle course site. This will be the first time in almost 5 years that I’ve been the academic responsible for a course site, the first time in Moodle and in fact the first time in an “LMS” I didn’t design. Add to this my on-going feelings of discomfort about the affordances of Moodle’s course structure (scroll of death etc.) and the observation of some truly ugly Moodle course sites and I feel the need to be further informed.

The following is a collection of sites and resources I’ve gathered to inform my design of the course site. What have I missed? What are the really good resources for Moodle course design?


  • A very recent effort from Mark Drechsler that gives a introduction to the basics concepts of Moodle course design.
  • Some material from the University of Ballarat (which I’ve referenced previously), very basic background.

Avoiding the scroll of death

  • Video showing how to “Make your Moodle course page look like a webpage”.
    This feels like the “workaround” solution to me. It’s a case of using the linking capability of the web and some unexpected aspects of Moodle (if you reduce # of topics to 1, the other topics remain but aren’t visible) to workaround Moodle’s actual supposed structure.

    I believe this “working around” bites you in the rear-end when you go to copy the course for the next offering. The “workaround” links tend to point back to the resources/activities from the last offering, not the current, which leads to all sorts of confusion.

    Another video that uses the same “unexpected aspect” for something a little different.

  • Description and video of a similar, but slightly different approach to improving navigation.
  • The collapsed topics course format is somewhat related and as it happens is installed at USQ.
  • A blog post that combines a bit of design 101 with four Moodle design strategies.
  • A blog post showing some of the alternate course formats.


  • A presentation on best practices for course design.
    The principles include:

    • Don’t use more than 3 font styles per page.
    • Maintain consistency.
    • Don’t use the course page for content.
    • Do use the course page as a launchpad.
    • Don’t be the one doing all the work (I didn’t get this one).
    • Do let the students participate and collaborate.
      Ahh, the problem with the previous point is a site that contains only content and no ability for students to do something on the site.
    • Don’t make folk scroll side to side.
    • Make sure the content fits.
    • Don’t forget about the value of logs??
    • Don’t over do the activity names, keep them short and sweet.
    • Use labels to guide students.
    • Don’t be afraid of white space.
    • Use topic summaries for titles.
    • Don’t force users to scroll and scroll and..
    • Use images to enhance your course.
    • Simplify delivery.
    • Don’t be afraid to branch out???
    • Give your learner’s completion tracking. (a Moodle 2 feature I believe)
      i.e. turn on a Moodle feature for them to “tick off” what they’ve done.
    • Don’t overdo the conditional activities.
      I think the Moodle dailies breaks this one.

Up a level

The following resources take a step back and connect the low-level task of layout the Moodle course site with the broader task of designing the course.

  • Joyce Seitzinger’s Moodle course design: a high-wire act presentation from Moot’NZ.
    Gives a good “best practice” overview of how an institutional environment/process should work with academics working with learning designers (use appropriate word).

    Does have links to some useful resources. Especially the very useful Moodle tool guide.

  • Article in the IRRODL journal title “Universal instructional design principles for Moodle”.


  • Also from this week is an article describing some “cool course design” from the University of Sussex.
    Seems to break the blocks and scroll of death model. Includes pointers to example sites you can login as guest.

    It appears that this is achieved through a new course format called pages. Which I believe means that the local Moodle admins would have to install the course format into Moodle before it would be available. Apparently Moodle 2.3 will have this.

  • The Moodle dailies.
  • A Moodle instance that lets you see three different course formats (social, topics, and weekly) in Moodle.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén