Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Month: March 2014


This post arises from two events today

  1. The ASCILITE’2014 call for papers came out today and I’m thinking about a paper I might submit.
  2. The first #edc3100 assignment is due today and my use of BIM has struck a unique problem that I need to solve.

The third is that I’m a touch fried from answering queries about “I submitted my assignment the wrong way” (the main problem with these queries is that they mean I have to engage with a horrible online assignment submission system) that I need to engage in something else.

The paper

The working title for the paper I’m thinking of is “The story of BIM: Being BAD as a way to bridge rhetoric and reality”.

BAD is an acronym that captures what I think is missing from the institutional approach to university e-learning

  1. Bricolage – the LMS as Enteprise Systems doesn’t allow or cater for bricolage.
  2. Affordances – resulting in an inability to leverage the affordances of technology to improve learning and teaching.
  3. Distribution – the idea that knowledge about how to improve L&T is distributed and the implications that has for the institutional practice of e-learning.

    i.e. current methods rely on the single, unified view of learning and teaching. A view that is expressed most concretely in the form of the LMS.

    This component will draw on a range of related “network” type theoretical perspectives including connectivism, Complex Adaptive Systems, embodied cognition and ANT – to name but a few.

The idea is if institutional e-learning is to get better, it needs to be BAD (more BAD?).

The following is an example of how the reality of using BIM in action supports the idea that it needs to be BAD. Or at least it’s a very small step. It captures the messiness (the distribution) of e-learning in a typical university course. A messiness that isn’t captured properly by PRINCE II and other methodologies, hierarchical organisational structures, appropriately total quality assured forms and processes and “theory” based abstractions like adopter categories.

And yes, there is some strong connection (repetition) with earlier perspectives/frameworks of mine. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.


300+ students in EDC3100 are currently using their own blogs to reflect on their learning journey (to varying levels of engagement). Their blog posts contribute almost 15% of their final result in the course.

BIM is being used to keep a track of what they are sharing. The students create their blogs on (or anywhere they like) and register them with BIM. BIM then keeps a copy of all their posts.

But BIM’s capability don’t match the learning design I’m using in this course. BIM was originally designed to have student posts made in response to specific prompts/questions and then have the posts marked manually be human markers. In EDC3100, the students blog about anything they want. We offer some prompts, but they can ignore them. Student posts aren’t marked, instead students have to post a certain number of posts (on average) every week, the posts have to average a certain word count, and a certain number have to contain links to online resources and the blog posts of other students.

This analysis of student posts and the subsequent mark they get is done by a program I wrote. A bit of bricolage that takes bits and pieces of information extracted (with some difficulty) from various institutional systems and makes use of them in a way that solves my problem.

With a bit of bricolage each of the 300+ students have received an email recently telling them what the system knows about their progress. This gives them sometime to tick all the boxes prior to the first assignment being due (yep, still have due dates, haven’t travelled too far from the well-worn paths).

The problem

One student has reported a problem with what the system knows about their blog. The system says that only one of the posts links to another student post, but the student’s blog actually has two posts that link to other student posts. This is confirmed.

But no-one else is reporting the problem. There’s something unique about this student’s blog that has picked up a bug in the system.

The uniqueness of this bug appears to me as one of the problems associated with the failure of institutional systems to deal with the Distribution aspect of BAD. In a complex, distributed knowledge network there is no one view. But the trad approach can only ever respond to one view. This argument needs a bit of work.

Typically this problem is because the author of the post has used a link other to the other student’s blog. The program I wrote knows the URLs for all the student blogs. It checks all the links in a post against the known student posts.

I’ve visually checked the students blog posts in BIM and they are showing valid links to student blogs.


The solution – Chrome is too smart – it’s distribution

This is what I see when I look at the blog post using the Chrome browser

Chrome by David T Jones, on Flickr

The link that is shown is to the blog of another student. The program should pick this up and count it as a link.

Here’s what I see when I view it under the Firefox browser

Firefox by David T Jones, on Flickr

See the difference?

The student appears to have used some form of URL shortener. Looks like a WordPress tool. While this shortened URL does point to the post of another student. My little system doesn’t know how to convert a shortened URL into a full URL. So it doesn’t count it.

It appears that I must have a plugin installed on Chrome (or perhaps Chrome is smart enough on its own) to automatically expand out the shortened URL into the full link and change what is shown to the user.

I as the user is ignorant of this change happening.

Not a bad example of Distribution. How cognition/smarts/learning is distributed amongst all of the tools. Change on bit of the network and the outcome changes.

Some areas of improvement for #edc3100

It’s over a month since my last post. Start of semester will do that to you. 350+ students having EDC3100, ICT and Pedagogy inflicted upon them always makes for a busy time. No more so with the first assignment due in a couple of days. In a slight turn up for the books, rather than complain about the holes in the various institutional systems and processes make this worse, it’s time to save a couple of observations for future consideration.

The following is written as if it is the fault or limitations of students that are the problem here. It’s not intended that way. The course contributes, as does many other factors.

Knowing how to solve a problem

A feature/problem with the course is it doesn’t focus on teaching specific ICTs. Students are expected to use Diigo, WordPress and perhaps Twitter as part of their learning and beyond pointing to some online resources there is limited instruction in using these tools. There are a couple of screencasts showing some common tasks and explaining how it fits in the course.

But there will be problems, and it appears that a fair number of students aren’t very good at recognising the need to employ the tech cheat sheet, let alone use it.

Activities early on need to help develop this.

Accept resources at face value

Students are shown Scootle and love it. Especially the integration with the Australian Curriculum. Select your content descriptor, look at the elaboration and click on the Scootle link to see a list of resources that match. Learning design made easy!?

But many don’t see (or haven’t explicitly mentioned where I can see) some of the reservations I have about these repositories and the quality of the information in them.

Enabling them to be more evaluative of the quality of the resources would seem to be a good idea.

Aren’t focusing on learning yet

The first assignment is asking them to come up with the three reasons for using ICTs to enhance student learning. So far, many of the reasons are of the general “enable 21st century learning” fluffy-bunny type observation, rather than because of specific ways in which the use of ICTs will improve the learning experience/outcome.

Given the material and experiences they have this early in the course, that’s not surprising. Fluffy bunnies is about all they’ve seen. Not sure it gets significantly better throughout the course. Need to work on that.

Not showing off the new knowledge society

One of the objectives of EDC3100 is

Examine, discuss and reflect on core ideas about the knowledge generation and knowledge economy and the implications of these for curriculum and pedagogy

As part of this we show the obligatory “the world has changed because of ICTs” type videos, but then we proceed to return to largely traditional learning and teaching practices. The course has moved on a bit, but I’m not sure it’s enough. Especially in terms of assessment.

One of the students did pick up on this point in one of her blog posts. Of course, I didn’t save that post.

Need to do better at this.

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