Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Category: teaching Page 2 of 8

Beyond the early adopters of online instruction: Motivating the reluctant majority

The following is a summary and some reflection on Hixon et al (2012). I’m particularly interested in this topic due to my belief (based on 20 years experience and observation) that most institutional approaches to change in learning and teaching has only been successful in moving the same 10% of staff. A 10% that didn’t need a lot of help in the first place.

Thoughts and to do

Fairly disappointed with this paper. Didn’t engage at all with the perspective of Geoghegan (1994) who took the implications from the adopters categories a lot further and questioned some of the fundamental assumptions.

Misc thoughts, questions and to do

  • Is there anyone doing interesting research/thinking around the inherent diversity in academics and the inherent consistency in what passes for institutional e-learning?
    Looking at the work referencing Geoghegan would probably be a good start.
  • How/what does the increasingly universal adoption of e-learning in Oz Universities imply for the adopter categories and from there how e-learning is supported and the subsequent quality of it?
  • Can learning analytics of LMS usage identify/support the adopter categories? Or at the very least some difference between staff?
  • Look at the conceptual paper (Barczyk et al, 2010) that informed the survey

In the following, where I remember, my comments are emphasised. Other text is a summary of Hixon et al (2012)


Now that most of the innovators and early adopters of online instruction are comfortably teaching online, many institutions are facing challenges as they prepare the next wave of online instructors. This research how faculty in this “next wave” (the majority of adopters) differ from the innovators and early adopters of online instruction. A specific online course development program is described and the experiences of the “majority” in the program are examined in relation to the experiences of previous participants (the innovators and early adopters).

There is probably a refinement to be made here. There are a number of universities in Australia where the majority of, if not all, courses are taught online. These institutions already have the “next wave” online. The problem though is that the quality of the online experience leaves a great deal to be desired.


More folk have to move online. This study designed to help inform best practices “in bringing the ‘majority’ online”

Based on the Distance Education Mentoring program at a Midwestern university. Cohort-based mentoring program to help faculty develop an online course. Over four years of operation it’s been noted that faculty participants are changing. Looks at Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation theory to understand the changes. A few paragraphs explaining DOI getting to categories of adopters. Moves onto some literature on those using it exploring technological innovations.

Interestingly, they don’t reference Geoghegan (1994) who used Moore’s extension of these to make some points along these lines. Interesting largely because Geoghegan is one of my theoretical/literature “hammers”.

Approaches to development of online courses

Posits two approaches

  1. faculty-driven approach;
    An approach that can work if faculty have the skills.
  2. collaborative approach.
    Seen as the solution to overcome the difficulties (especially pedagogical) of the faculty-driven approach.

I’d argue that the same observation (lack of skills) can be made with the collaborative approach. I’ve been in situations where the “collaborators” haven’t had the necessary skills either. What isn’t explicitly noted in the above is that both normally assume that course development is separate from teaching. A course is redesigned before/after teaching.

Struggles faced by academics from the literature include

  • learning the necessary skills;
    A contributing factor here is the really poor quality of the technical tools. Some of that difficulty arises because the tools are from another context and don’t match the local context.
  • adapting the pedagogic strategies for the online environment;
    At the same time workload formulas, room allocation, legal requirements, policies and student prejudices mitigate against the adoption of those pedagogical strategies.
  • conceptualising their course for the new environment;
  • finding increased time required to develop quality online courses.
    Wonder if the faculty had developed “quality” face-to-face courses? What’s the source of this difficulty online?

The assumption here is that it is course development that must be collaborative. What would it look like, how would it happen and what would be the impacts if the course delivery process was collaborative? i.e. don’t assume that faculty skill-development and course redesign only occurs before the course is taught. What happens if as I’m teaching the course I make changes and am able to learn more about what works. More importantly, that the organisational e-learning systems/policies/processes can learn more.


The mentoring program “is design to educate and certify faculty members in the principles of instructional design”. Each faculty participant (protege) has a mentor from outside the discipline. Uses the Quality Matters rubric. More detail given on how it works.

Courses are taught and then evaluated and given a pass/fail based on the rubric.

By the 3rd year of the program, noticed participants “are hesitant, or even resistant, to consider new approaches and technologies, or even to teach online”. Which is argued to be fitting to the idea that they are “the majority”. Would be interesting to dig further into this? Were this “majority” being required to participate?

Program changed in fourth year. More structure. More defined structure in the online course they complete. Submission by specific deadlines. Formal meeting schedule. A contract required to be signed. Mmm, not a great fan of that. I wonder if they actually looked at when Rogers and others have said about the characteristics of the majority and if the changes to the program were based on those insights? e.g. their communication networks tend to be vertically oriented, wouldn’t having a mentor from outside the discipline be a poor match?

Research questions

  1. In what ways do faculty members participating in the 4th offering differ from prior offerings?
  2. In what ways do the experiences/perceptions of the 4th years differ?

Survey questionnaire developed to ask: skill development, mentoring relationship, its effectiveness, perceptions of teaching as a result, program satisfaction, general beliefs about online education. Wouldn’t connecting this to DOI have been sensible?

47 of the 92 proteges completed the survey: 27% of year 1, 52% of year 2, 57% of year 3, 58% of year 4.

Responses from years 1-3 combined to compare. But they’ve said they noticed differences in year 3?


Those in 1st three years had been teaching longer than 4th years. Simlarly, the earlier group had higher ranks. Oh dear, it appears the 4th years might “junior” academics fighting to establish themselves as researchers forced to engage with the program

Year 4 less likely to identify as early adopters of technology. Continuing stereotypes would have required age to have been mentioned by now wouldn’t it? No significant difference in age.

Both groups were equally looking forward to the program.

Year 4 group reported more benefit from online course. Well this measures the changes in the course, rather than the people Both groups satisfied similarly with program.


Barczyk, C., Buckenmeyer, J., & Feldman, L. (2010). Mentoring professors: A model for
developing quality online instructors and courses in higher education. International
Journal on E-Learning, 9(1), 7–26.

Geoghegan, W. (1994). Whatever happened to instructional technology? In S. Bapna, A. Emdad, & J. Zaveri (Eds.), (pp. 438–447). Baltimore, MD: IBM.

Hixon, E., Buckenmeyer, J., Barczyk, C., Feldman, L., & Zamojski, H. (2012). Beyond the early adopters of online instruction: Motivating the reluctant majority. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(2), 102–107. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.11.005

Developing personal learning networks for open and social learning

The following is a summary and touch of reflection on Couros (2010) and is the another step in thinking about the design/implementation of a course I’m working on.

Thoughts and to do

As expected a good overview/rationale for the type of approach I’m interested in exploring with EDC3100. Some interesting departures to think about. For example,

  • Alec’s course had 16 registered students, mine will have 200+ (first semester), perhaps another 80+ (second semester) and possibly have to be taught by someone else in semester 3.
  • Alec’s much more effective and engaged with his PLN than I am.
  • Alec’s course is post-graduate, mine is under graduate.

to do

  • Look at Tabak’s (2004) concept of distributed scaffolding.
  • Engage in an analysis of the learning environment available for EDC3100. Is Moodle appropriate? Would a self-hosted WordPress be a better fit? Having 200, rather then 20, registered students is an argument for Moodle (perhaps).
  • Think about the question about whether to be overly explicit in terms of what students should post to the blog, or take the more open approach.
  • How many of the student blogs are still active today?
  • Over time it appears there’s been a move away from the Wiki assessment, I wonder why that is?
  • Is it still difficult/different to read social media?


Tells the story of EC&I831 an open access, graduate level, educational technology course at the University of Regina in 2008. 8 non-registered participants for every official student. Experience provided insight into the potential for leveraging PLNs in open access and distance education.


Course title – “Open, Connected Social”. Fully online course developed using FOSS and freely available services. Design demonstrate “open teaching methodologies: educational practices inspired by the open source movement, complementary learning theory and emerging theories of knowledge. Students builts PLNs to “collaboratively explore, negotiate and develop authentic and sustainable knowledge networks”. Couros (2010, p. 110) writes

It is my hope in writing this chapter that I capture and document relevant reflections and activities to provide starting points for those considering open teaching as educational innovation

That’s what I’m looking for Alec.

Three sections

  1. key theoretical foundations;
  2. the course experience
  3. discoveries related to the role of PLNs, techniques for developing and leveraging PLNs in DE courses and the role of emerging technologies.

Theoretical foundations

  1. The open movement
    Educators participating in FOSS communities had strong tendencies toward: collaboration, sharing, openness in classroom activities and professional collaborations. Technology was a barrier, but Web 2.0 etc addressed this. Now they could easily create, share, collaborate. Added is the greater availability of educational relevant content. So much so that

    The dilemma of the educator shifted quickly from a perceived lack of choice and accessibility to having to acquire the skills necessary to choose wisely from increased options.

  2. Complementary learning theories
    Influences include:

    • social cognitive theory – suggests it is the combination of behavioural, cognitive and environmental factors that influence human behaviour. People learn through observations of others. Self-efficacy is important.
    • social constructivism and
      Related to the above. Sociocultural context and social interaction are important for knowledge construction. Tabak’s (2004) concept of distributed scaffolding – an emerging approach to learning design.
    • adult learning theory.
      Adults learn differently from kids, which results in principles such as: adults be involved in planning/evaluating their instruction; experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities; interest is generated from subjects that have immediate relevance to their job/life; learning is problem-centred rather than content-oriented.
  3. Connectivism
    Heavily influenced by theories of social constructivism, network theory and chaos theory. Digital technologies become important to learning. Stresses metaskills of evaluating and managing information and the importance of pattern recognition as a learning strategy.
  4. Open teaching
    Defined as Couros (2010 p. 115)

    Open teaching is described as the facilitation of learning experiences that are open, transparent, collaborative, and social. Open teachers are advocates of a free and open knowledge society, and support their students in the critical consumption, production, connection, and synthesis of knowledge through the shared development of learning networks.

    Typical activities of open teachers include

    • Use of FOSS tools where possible and beneficial.
    • Integration of free/open content into L&T.
    • Promotion of copyleft content licences
    • Help students understand copyright law.
    • Help students build PLNs for collaborative and sustained learning.
    • Development of learning environments that are reflective, responsive, student-centered and incorporate diverse learning strategies.
    • Modelling openness, transparency, connectedness and responsible copyright etc. use.
    • advocacy for the participation and development of collaborative gift cultures in education and society.

    That last one is interesting

The course

20 registered students. Mostly practicing teachers or educational administrators. Normally there is a maximum of 16 students (I wish). Development funded by $30,000 government grant. Important: this funding was not used in the design and development side, but instead on hiring learning assistants who “were hired as social connectors, and their primary responsibilities were to support students in the development of PLNs” (Courous, 2010, p. 117)

In terms of selecting a learning environment, WebCT, Moodle, and Ning were rejected. Wikispaces was adopted. Wikispaces (hosted) was used. The site 2007-2010) and now. Have moved to a WordPress site (by the looks).

Course facilitation model

  • Major assessment (3) guided the activities
    1. Personal blog/digital portfolio
      Student responsible for developing a digital space to document their learning through readings and activities. For many these became showcases and acted as distributed communication portals. Most remain active beyond the end date.
    2. Collaborative development of an educational technology wiki resource
      Wiki with collaborative content.

      I’m wondering how collaborative this process was? A group or a network (a la Downes).

    3. Student-chosen major digital project.
      Range of projects (produce videos, instructional resources, social networking activities, participation in global collaborative projects, development of private social networks etc) developing resource specific to their professional context.

    It’s changed a bit and is described somewhat on the assessments page

  • Tools and interactions
    1. Synchronous events
      Two each week. 1.5-2 hours. First on content knowledge in form of invited presenters. Connect/elluminate and used and associated recordings. The second was a hands-on session for technical skills and pedagogical possibilities.

      Combination Skype and became the preferred method for video conferencing. How is explained here

    2. Asynchronous activities
      • reading, reviewing and critiquing course readings in blogs.
      • sharing resources through social bookmarking.
      • Creation of screencasts, tutorials etc for personal learning and that of others.

      And a bunch of others including reading blogs, participation in open professional development, posting content to open sites, microblogging, collaborative wiki design and collaborative design of lesson plans. Most were unplanned.

PLNs in Distance education

First session in course was closed and explanatory. The author’s PLN became important to support the model. Which does raise the question of how someone without the author’s PLN might go.

Conceptualising PLN

Mentions absence of definition and the need to discern PLE from PLN. Offers two images (click on these to see the original) The old and new style “PLN”. A discussion picked up a bit more online here. In short it appears that the PLE are the tools, processes etc that allow management of learning. The definition used for PLN

personal learning networks are the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment.

TypicalTeacherNetwork by courosa, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  courosa 
Networked Teacher Diagram - Update by courosa, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  courosa 

PLNs for teaching and learning

Strategies deemed effective in the course

  • Immerse yourself.
    i.e. use and understanding of the social media tools, how they can be used, and how the students can use them.
  • Learn to read social media.
    Social media is read much differently than traditional media. Tools aren’t great. Need to use what’s available.
  • Strengthen your PLN
    Creating content and commenting on the work of others is important.
  • Know your connections
    Be aware of skills/backgrounds of PLN allow identifying who can help students.
  • PLNs central to learning
    Courses/communities hosted in the institutional LMS die. The community in this course lived on.

Final thoughts

two questions often asked after conference presentations on this

  1. How did you get away with this?
    Institutional support for open teaching is essential. Colleagues are “constructively critical of technology, but strongly supportive of innovation in teaching and learning”.
  2. Where did you find the time to teach this way?
    Good teaching always requires more time


Couros, A. (2010). Developing personal learning networks for open and social learning. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging technologies in distance education (pp. 109–128). AU Press.

Tabak, I., (2004). Synergy: A complement to emerging patterns of distributed
scaffolding. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(3), 305–335.

Chasing dreams and recognising realities: teachers' responses to ICT

Doing a bit of reading of the literature. As preparation for the redevelopment of a 3rd year course helping pre-service teachers figure out how ICTs can be integrated into/transform their learning and teaching.

This is a summary of Underwood and Dillon (2011). The abstract is

The teaching profession’s response to the inexorable march of new technology into education has been a focus of research for some 30 years. Linked with the impact of ICT on measurable performance outcomes, teacher attitudes to technology and the impact on pedagogic practice have been central to that research, a research that has often seen teachers as a barrier, not a force for change. The current article brings together findings from a decade of studies that have explored the ways in which teaching staff have responded to the growing notion that ICT is a core part of the teaching toolkit. In doing so we question the simplistic stereotyping of Luddite teachers. Drawing on findings from rare, but crucially important, longitudinal projects the article discusses hopes and fears raised by teaching staff when confronted with changes to existing pedagogy, before moving on to explore issues such as the ‘technology dip’, how maturity modelling can inform our understanding of technological change in schools and ways forward for helping teaching staff to embed technology into their teaching. The article concludes with a discussion of why it is important that the educational system meets this challenge from a learner’s perspective

The paper gives some insights into lines of research in this field, though I’m not sure whether the paper actually delivers anything earth-shaking.

Are teachers the problem or the solution?

Starts with a quote from Aviram and Talmi (2004) that argues for the inevitability of an ICT revolution arising mostly out of the “omnipresence of ICT in our everyday lives”. Then proceeds with references suggesting it isn’t so inevitable

  • Research showing most people don’t use advanced features of technologies (e.g. mobile phones) which may explain lack of readiness to use m-learning despite heavy use of mobiles.
  • Technologies “often fits uncomfortably with teachers’ professional judgements”.
  • Technologies that move teachers outside their comfort zone have slower take up and higher rejection rates (Watson 2001).
  • Jamieson-Proctor et al (2006) note that teachers want to enhance the current curriculum rather than transform with ICT, a reluctance to go beyond familiar practices. Arguing teaching is a conservative profession resistant to change. Which leads to the conclusion that positive impacts are more likely when based on existing pedagogical practice. With the example of the IWB given – though some mention of teacher unease around this

Comment: This is human nature 101. People are pattern matching intelligences. Anything that goes outside their established patterns doesn’t really register. It gets transformed into what they know or ignored. Changing this is difficult, but then that is the nature of learning. Learning anything knew is difficult. Which is one reason why I think an ICTs course for pre-service teachers has to try and engage pre-service teachers in the use of ICTs in new and interesting ways and challenge them to re-think their “existing pedagogical practice” AND show them how ICTs can be used to support their existing practice.

Underwood and Dillon (2011) continue with the idea that it is more than professional practice. The idea that the type of people go into teaching is a factor. “If teachers, as a group, are inherently low technology users compared to the general population, does this mean there is a natural resistance to the embedding of technology into the educational processes and practices?” Limited references to support this view and then they suggest there is evidence that the profession actually more constructive than this, if a little cautious.

Comment: If “teacher as a group” are prone to low technology use, what might this say about teacher educators?

Three ways forward

  1. A minimum emphasis on technology – a laissez-faire approach.
    Argued this is not an acceptable alternative as it leads to a digital underclass.
  2. Bend the technology to the system.
    Argues that there are some benefits, but also leads to an impoverished world in digital terms.
  3. Merge and evolve.
    So we need a merger of technology and education and then an evolution. An evolution that requires a skilled teaching work force.

The first two “options” tend to remind me of Cnut the Great (King Canute). But even the 3rd option suggests to me Cnut the Great. As if the education system will have ability to pick and choose what is merged. Who in the education system makes this decision? Is it the government (which level?), the principals and school leadership, or teachers? How do these folk propose to stop students using ICTs anyway they wish? How do principals/school leadership propose to stop teachers using the ICTs they have in their pocket to teach better? (and so on up the chain). The evolution will happen, the question of anyone being able to control it is much more open.

The Technology Dip

Suggesting that change is not linear, but arises from a set of complex, interacting influences. Change takes a long time and the “grammar of school” is a barrier. p. 321

“To truly embed change we have to unveil the hidden mechanisms that rule school first”

Argues that there is a “technology dip” an “unequivocal confirmation of the existence of, and recovery from, the ‘technology dip'”. From Somekh et al (2004) – school performance on national tests dipped in the years following the introduction of resources into the Test Bed schools. But research shows that there are swift and strong recoveries post dip.

Comment: The graphs demonstrating this seem somewhat light on with data about the statistics. There is the question whether national tests are a good measure.

Talks a bit about the assimilation of technology into the grammar of school, but that this uninspiring use of ICTs can often hide more interesting changes.

Mentions Crook et al (2010) in-depth case studies of 85 teachers. Finding that ICT largely used to support expository, construction and search activities.

There’s a bit of talk about VLEs and maturity models. The purpose wasn’t obvious.

Comes back to this

A consensus that emerges from much of the research on teacher responses to technology is that perceived usefulness is the most influential predictor of satisfaction and intention to continue e-learning usage.

with a range of research supporting it.

Ends with identifying the need to bridge the gap between current concepts of learning/schooling and the need for flexible thinkers and “debatable citizens” (a strange term).


Underwood, J., & Dillon, G. (2011). Chasing dreams and recognising realities: teachers’ responses to ICT. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 20(3), 317–330. doi:10.1080/1475939X.2011.610932

The dilemma of open courses in an Australian university

The great sage of our time offers the following definition of dilemma

A dilemma (Greek: δί-λημμα “double proposition”) is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable.

I have at least one course that I should be redesigning, but I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. The two unacceptable possibilities I see are:

  1. I keep the course as a standard course.

    i.e the Australian standard blended course delivered across multiple-campuses and via distance education. Course site, textbook, individual lecturers at each campus running lectures and tutorials, fixed study schedule and learning outcomes to box tick. Students completing and submitting assignments. etc.

    An approach that fulfils the organisational expectations, resourcing, policies, processes, tools, and doesn’t offer any surprises (i.e. run any risks). Saves me time, which I can spend on other tasks (i.e. research)…..and is just slightly hypocritical for a course talking about transforming teaching through ICTs, 21st Century Skills etc. Not to mention going against much of what I use in my own work.

  2. I follow in the footsteps of some intrepid Canadians such as Alec Couros and open the course up and get the students engaging in the broader community.

    This would better much how I learn, think and work. It would, I strongly believe, provide the students with a much better experience. It might even win a few kudos with the organisation, enabling senior management to say “Oh MOOCs/open courses, we’re already doing that”.

Yes, an argument could be made for a third option. Use aspects of the open (#2), but stick largely with the standard course (#1). This is essentially what I do already. This is possibility #1 for me (I could never run a purely standard course). I’ve done this combination for a year. It’s chafing, constrained and makes me feel a little inauthentic.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to reflect on the factors at play.

The MOOC fad

For those of you who have missed it – and apparently some have –

MOOCs are the latest fad to hit higher education.

In the last week, I’ve heard stories about two Australian Vice-Chancellors (not at my current institution) hearing about MOOCs and asking people within their institution for insights into this phenomenon. The first one asked his/her IT division, the second his/her Marketing folk.

So, there’s a bit of a mixed message. It’s increasingly important to the senior management of the institution, which could prove useful. But at the same time it’s a fad and at least some Senior Executive seem confused about the idea.

I also think most senior executive are probably more interested in the Massive letter of MOOC, rather than the Open which is where my interest lays.

Been there, done that

I offered my first totally open, online course in 1996. We evolved those over a few years, with this being the last. The Systems Administration course included a textbook we wrote that was widely used and translated into other languages.

The point is that I’m not the standard University academic. I have a preference for and experience with open courses. I have some technical capability.

Great examples to learn from

As mentioned above, Alec Couros – and others – have designed and implemented significantly better designs that could be used to inform an open re-design of the course I have in mind. A few tweaks of Alec’s approach would work very nicely.

Courses that are made for it

I’m currently teaching two courses, both of which are tailor-made for an open course. In fact, they almost demand it. One is aimed at helping pre-service teachers explore how ICTs can be used to improve their learning and teaching. The other is a Master’s level course helping participants explore and research the implications of Networked and Global Learning to their own teaching. These courses really should “walk the walk”.

Minimum course standards

I’m going to a presentation tomorrow talking about proposed minimum course standards. Sorry, minimum online course standards. Apparently, there are no minimum standards if you aren’t online.

The proposed standards assume you are using/require you to use the institutional LMS. Which, I believe, is set up so that you have to have an institutional account to access. So much for being open.

Of course, the minimum course standards argument reminds me so much of my troubles in 1995/1996 with the battle between traditional print-based distance education and online learning.

A somewhat inappropriate meta-level for networked learning

In this earlier post I suggested that the meta-level of institutional networked learning – i.e. the systems, processes, people and policies used to implement institutional networked learning – are not generally known for their capability to enable and encourage

community, openness, flexibility, collaboration, transformation and it is all user-centred

The nature of the teleological, management science-based processes and practices being adopted by universities means that the meta-level of institutional networked learning is configured to ensure that everyone is using the same institutional resources and approaches. e.g. minimum course standards. The meta-level is not set up to learn, it is not set up to innovate or transform. It is set up to efficiently achieve the decided upon status quo.

Any action that breaks this status quo is problematic. It is seen as inefficient or wrong headed. This creates a need to fight battles to explain the point of the innovation/mutation, rather than receive support. It also means that the meta-level must assume and provide the same level of support for everyone.

It leads to situations where academics are reported to the University solicitor for using a Google doc to allow students to book a Wimba classroom for their group (because when the students put their name and email address in the Google doc this is apparently breaking data privacy laws).

Bringing the students along is hard

This blog post from Dave White talks about the use of the digital visitors and residents metaphor at a conference. It includes the following

Even if this is the case many find being visible in their practice online stressful. Reflecting on her own teaching practice Lindsay Jordan highlighted that moving students from a Visitor to a more Resident mode online is often a painful process. She spoke of how distressing encouraging her students to start sharing in an open manner via blogging was – distressing both for her and for them.

Many students, like many people, don’t like change. They don’t like their expectations being challenged.

Bringing the staff(ing) along is hard

At least one of these courses will have other teaching staff associated with it. This means that the organisational staffing and workload calculation processes are involved. This creates two problems. First, just like the students some of the staff may not adapt well to the new approach. Second, I know that the workload calculation formulas will not work well with the new model.

Workload and research

All of these last few factors create workload. Many of these factors can be gotten around, but they require more work (Yes, another whinging academic complaining about the workload). This could be worked around, if not for the increasing priority on research. Just last week a fairly senior member of staff mentioned that the faculty I belong to is behind expectations in terms of research output. In preceding months, I’ve heard other mentions about research outputs being a major priority for the university.

What’s next?

The obvious question is whether or not the other folk appropriately involved in the redesign of these course(s) can be effectively drawn into the attempt to address these issues. And whether I can be bothered to expend the effort. Can this type of approach be brought in from the edge?

This post is perhaps/hopefully the start of a process of doing this. I wonder what form the process should take?

Redesigning the weekly ramble

The reflections on my couple of days at the PLE Conference in Melbourne will have to wait a couple of days. Semester starts on Monday and I have some course preparation to engage with. The following is an attempt to capture some thinking about the re-design of the Weekly Ramble

The old ramble

Essentially a conversation around a collection of resources and activities relevant to the topics for a given week in the EDC3100 course. Designed quickly before the start of last semester, now being re-designed quickly at the beginning of this semester. The idea being that the resources/activities would serve as springboards for further student exploration.

Last semester the rambles we’re implemented using Moodle Book module. With one book per ramble per week. A very quick and dirty analysis of the student feedback reveals the following

  1. Many of the students loved the change away from online lectures which, in their experience, were little more than reading of the slides. The rambles had them being more active.
  2. Many of the students hated the rambles. Their major concerns seemed to be the uncertainty about how much to do, but also the apparent loss of that verbal connection the lecture gave.
  3. Both sets of students tended to mention the difficulty of finding that great idea or resource that was mentioned in one of the rambles that they’d seen previously.

The last point arose from the nature of the book module, how I used it, and the absence of a decent search facility within Moodle (Aside: this stikes me as a pretty big hole in functionality.)

What follows are my current ideas for solutions to these problems.

From one to many books/activities

Rather than a single book activity each ramble, the plan is to break it up into very separate activities with (hopefully) meaningful titles. Enabling folk to see the content of the ramble from the course site. Perhaps evolve into using groupings etc to give different activities to different groups of students.

Why am I using the book module at all? Why not simply use a range of Moodle activities? Part of the reason is that I doubt I’ve truly yet got the Moodle model. It’s quite a bit different from what I’ve used previously. But it’s also a desire to have a conversation, to give some context to the students before launching them into activities.

Explicit direction

How it all fits together needs to be a bit clearer. The “why” and “so what” questions for the activities need to be clearer for the students. Both through me being more explicit about it, but also encouraging them to answer those questions.

Investigate encouraging teacher identity

A part of making it clearer and having the students engage in this thinking, is to move them beyond seeing themselves as students. Even with the rhetoric of “pre-service teacher” it seems that many of them think of themselves as students. And particularly pragmatic students at that.

I’m wondering if, within the constraints of the experience of University life, it is possible to encourage them to identify more as teachers, than students? I also wonder if this is successful whether it will actually encourage changes in practice/behaviour from them? I think this is going to be difficult in that I’m not sure that the assessment (e.g. a 70% final assignment) and other characteristics of this course are conducive to encouraging this mindshift.

Perhaps I should start referring to them as teachers. Wonder how that will go down? Will it annoy some that I’m using that title for people who haven’t been officially accredited? Reminds me of Dr Karl’s habit of calling everyone “Dr”. Is getting the pre-service teachers to think of themselves as teachers the right identity anyway?

Continue with the “Ramble followups” – perhaps with some structure

To address the feeling of loss associated with no online lectures/tutorials, we started a ramble followup. A gathering in a Wimba room at the end of each week to discuss any questions the students had. While only lightly utilisied it seemed to address some of the concerns. There is perhaps some value in adding a bit more structure to these sessions, especially in terms of encouraging identity formation.

Greater encouragement with external connections

Given the #pleconf experience and the subsequent mini-explosion of connections I have to useful and interesting people and resources for pre-service teachers, it seems sensible to try a bit harder and a bit smarter at encouraging the teachers in this course to connect with other teachers. Perhaps it is establishing these networks that will truly get them thinking as teachers.

Why do (social) networks matter in teaching & learning?

After a week of increasingly intermittent engagements with Twitter I stumbled back into the Twitterverse this afternoon and one of the first things I see is this post from @marksmithers. It is Mark’s response to the call for help from @courosa for his keynote at the Melbourne PLE conference next week. Alec’s question is

Why do (social) networks matter in teaching & learning?

What follows is my response.

Apparent serendipity

It is largely serendipitous that I am posting this. Without Mark being in my network and me happening to dip back into that network today, I would’ve probably missed this thread altogether. I echo Mark’s though that with a network of the appropriate make-up (the balance between similarity and diversity so difficult to achieve) answers to questions crop up in the network as you need them.

For example, I’ve just about finished teaching teaching this course for the first time. There were a number of times during the course when purusing my Twitter feed would highlight some really good resource or example of a topic I had to “teach” that week.

Teaching by learning

Which brings me to a slight disagreement with Mark, though it is achieved by the typically academic practice of arguing about definitions. Mark wrote:

I’m going to ignore the ‘teaching’ word and just concentrate on the ‘learning’ word because that is far more important and far more enabled by the network.

I’m a fan of Downes’ basic theory of teaching and learning

to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect

The courses I’m currently teaching are focused on the inter-connection between Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), networks and pedagogy (teaching/learning). So I am trying to “teach” these courses by showing the students how I learn about using ICTs and networks to teach them. The main approach to doing this is visibly engaging with and constructing networks. This includes reflections on my teaching posted on this blog, comments on Twitter, bookmarks shared via Diigo etc.

I don’t do this as much as I’d like. It’s difficult, but without these (social) networks it would be far more difficult to share this activity with the students.

Teaching as making connections

The flipside of Downes’ definition is “to learn is to practice and reflect”. Having students engage in (social) networks while they are learning is a great way of making this visible. Something I’m struggling and hoping to increase significantly over time.

I’ve often thought Erica McWilliams’ concept of the “meddler in the middle” (as opposed to the “sage on the stage” or the “guide on the side”) might be an apt metaphor for this. At least as I conceptualise it potentially working in a networked “classroom” (which is really not separated at all from the broader world). i.e. with students actively engaged with (social) networks their practice and reflection – perhaps their knowledge – becomes visible and enables a teacher to meddle in their network but also more broadly in the whole class’ network by encouraging students to engage in activities that lead them to make new connections in their network.

Perhaps more importantly, it opens up the possibility of other students and people from outside the class to encourage students to engage in activities that lead them to make new connections.

Reducing isolation

Earlier this term I observed a student in my course in a tutorial struggling with a particular task. One that most other students had completed. As I watched the student continued on struggling, not making connections with the knowledge needed to complete the task or with other students. I did intervene, but I do wonder just how many of the 250+ students in this course had moments like this?

Following on from the above, I believe/hope that by making students (social) networks more visible it is possible to reduce this sense of isolation.

Curriculum innovation as an educational technology trend

Came across this post titled “Five Trends to Watch in Education Technology” via Stephen Downes’ OLDaily. In particular, I was really drawn to trend #1 – the Curriculum. In particular, because it connects with some ideas that have burbling away for the least week or so sparked by some questions from a colleague.

Rob Reynolds’ take on Curriculum as a trend includes

Across education, the very notion of curriculum is changing in a number of ways. We are seeing a shift to newer literacies and are even beginning to entertain significant changes to what core content needs to be taught/learned. There is certainly a growing realization that curricula today must be more flexible and open, and that the idea of fixed/static bodies of important information to be taught no longer works.

I’m currently teaching a course that aims to help K12 teachers figure out how they are going to use Information and Communication Technologies in their teaching. It’s a fairly standard University course. It has a set textbook. A weekly schedule. A set curriculum. A couple of large assignments. A course website.

Within context/constraint there have been a few interesting innovations, but it’s all still constrained by the curriculum which is fairly set. It’s week 6 we must be covering “Topic X”.

I just don’t see this rigidity fitting nicely with the notion of a “more flexible and open” curricula.

Curriculum/student mismatch

It doesn’t help that the current curricula approach doesn’t really fit the needs of the students.

There are almost 300 students in this course this term. 120 of them entirely online. Around the same number are split between three different campuses. The next offering will have 100+ students, all of them online.

These students are split across a number of teaching specialisations, including: Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary (including various disciplinary specialisations), and Vocational Education and Training (VET). What it means to use ICTs in early childhood is entirely different in a VET context.

The students come with very different backgrounds in technology – ranging from ex-IT professionals through to “it breaks if I touch it” – and a broad array of ages. See the following graph that shows the age distribution.

age Distribution

In addition, the course is nominally a 3rd year course. Which suggests you can assume that the students have two years of study toward an education degree under their belt. Of course, this is not the case. With exemptions/bridging etc there are some students for whom this is their first course at University.

Given all this diversity it really isn’t all that possible to design a single path through a set curriculum that is going to be appropriate for all these students.

Double loop learning and constructive alignment

Current accepted practice within higher education courses is something along the lines of constructive alignment. I, as the expert, identify the outcomes the students should achieve. I then design assessments and activities that enable the students to develop and demonstrate those outcomes. As typically implemented this approach is the opposite of a “more flexible and open” curriculum. All students are expected to work towards the same goals, often using the same sequence of activities to get there.

Over recent years the Australian higher education sector – with its growing diversity of multiple campuses and alternate delivery modes – has faced requirements to demonstrate that all students are gaining an equivalent learning experience. The tendency has been for equivalence to be reduced to consistent learning experience. Further driving out any notion of a “more flexible and open” curriculum.

A couple of days ago I blogged about a talk given by Gardner Campbell. In it he references Naughton’s From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg and his discussion of “double-loop” learning

it is not enough for managers to adjust their behaviour in response to feedback on the success of their actions relative to pre-established targets; they also need to reflect on the appropriateness, in the light of unfolding events, of the assumptions (the mental model) used to set up those actions and targets

Substitute “learners” for “managers” and you have some idea of what I’ve been thinking about. Is it possible/plausible/desirable for a University course to have a “more flexible and open” curriculum that seeks to encourage and enable double-loop learning amongst the students?

Is it possible to break university managers etc out of the viewpoint that “innovation” around teaching and learning isn’t just about doing the old curriculum with the new technology, but is instead about developing new conceptions of what curriculum could be?

And it's back to a lecture

For a variety of reasons I returned to giving a lecture today. Here’s a quick reflection and thoughts where I might go next.


As originally explained here I wanted to move away from the idea of a lecture. And I have implemented the ramble idea and used it as a basis for lectures/tutorials last week.

However, the pull of the lecture is great. So, I gave into temptation and gave a lecture. Sitting here now, I am wondering why I did this to myself and the students. The first part of the lecture was your typical diatribe and done badly. Little or no engagement from the students and achieved little more than consuming some time.

I did get to use the lecture capture facility on-campus, which seemed to work okay. Of course, given the latter part of the lecture was focused on students doing individual or group work, I’m not sure the recording approach works well. I probably should cut bits out of the video. Though it does appear that the quality of the recording is quite low.

As to deciding what I’ll do next week, am going to wait for feedback from students, but current preference would be not to record a lecture like this again, focus on students doing activities based on the ramble.

Especially when some of the activities done in the subsequent tutorial generated much more engagement and took things in really interesting ways.

The lecture

There are some slides and some video

Implementing a course barometer in Moodle: A kludge

It’s the start of the second week of the course I’m teaching. I’m directly responsible for 60 odd on-campus students and 130 or so online/distance students. That split reminds me a lot of my teaching at CQU in the mid-1990s. The deja vu continues in terms of getting a feel for how the students are going, how are they responding to the course, its model and content? Back at CQU the solution was inspired by course barometer idea from some University folk in Sweeden.

The original course barometer was a purpose-built application in Webfuse, an “LMS” used at CQU from 1996 through 2009. This post records an initial attempt to recreate something simliar using standard Moodle 1.9 modules.


The barometer is meant to be a simple form that allows the students to

  • Indicate whether how they are feeling about the course at the moment: good, bad, or indifferent.
  • Provide some free-text comments to supplement the feeling.

Preferably this is done anonymously – previous research has shown that anonymity isn’t as important as doing something with the feedback – and would allow us to break up the students by campus/mode of study.

Some form of report should be generated to allow teaching staff to analyse student responses. One the nice list is a method for staff to respond.


Thanks to @markdrechsler and @mguhlin the Moodle tool possibilities (with links to Moodle 2.2 docs) are :

  • Choice,
    Appears that the choice module is limited to MCQs, but I do want the free text response.
  • Feedback,
    Looks like this could be the one.
  • Questionnaire (though apparently deprecated), and
    Doesn’t appear to be included in the USQ Moodle instance.
  • my original idea Quiz.
    As Mark suggested, having the concept of a “right” answer built into the quiz means it’s not great for the purpose of a barometer.

Place with feedback

Time to get familiar with what the Feedback module can do. Add a new Feedback activity and the form provides (which seem the same as those documented here)

  • Name and description.
  • Timed release of the activity.
  • An anonymous option – FTW.
  • Allow the students to see the analysis.
    There are two sides to this. Yes is good, allows students to get a sense for how others are going. No it is bad, because of the possibility of “bad” responses. I’ll go with yes.
  • Email notification of submissions.
    Will turn this one, will help mitigate the risk of “bad” responses.
  • Multiple submit – no.
  • It does allow separate groups.
    Wondering if this will provide the separation of students into the different modes.

Creating it’s a fairly simple process. Add the questions. Create a template (allow use of these same questions in other feedback activities). Away we go.

I do wonder if USQ automatically create student groups based on mode of study? And yes they do. And the Feedback module allows separation of students into groups.


Fairly simple to set up and even before I’d formally announced it, one student has submitted their first bit of feedback.

Moodle, blogs, feeds and the Google feed API

Time to tweak the course site again. I attempting to encourage the students to engage with technology, to become digital residents. The assumption is that they will really only be able to design great teaching with ICTs, if the use of ICTs is part of their everyday life. One aspect I’m attempting to encourage is blogging.

To make the blogging process a bit more obvious, I wanted to include some aggregated view of the students’ blogs on the course site to increase the visibility and hopefully the prevalence of blogging. Here’s how I did it with the Google feed API.

What does it look like?

The following image (click on it to see a bigger version) shows what the site looks like now. The new bit is labelled EDC3100 blogs. Every five seconds the link (e.g. “My Animoto video”) scrolls onto the next one. The links are chosen from the 8 most recent blog posts aggregated by this Yahoo pipe.

If you move the mouse over the scrolling blog links, the scrolling pauses. Click on the blog title and you will be taken to the original blog.

3100 page with feed added

How does it work?

The process goes something like this

  1. I created this Yahoo pipe to aggregate the feeds.
    Currently the pipe is hard-coded with the feeds of the student blogs. In the future I need to connect this with diigo bookmarks the student blogs so I (or anyone in the group) can add their blog.
  2. Eventually found this explanation of Google’s feed API.
    It transforms the RSS feed into some nice HTML that can be placed on a web page.
  3. Stuck an iframe in a Moodle label.
    It appears that Google feed API wants to change the head of the HTML, something you can’t easily do in Moodle. So I had to upload a separate web page onto the Moodle service and then use an iframe to include it on the site page.

Reflections and work to do

Time to stop playing with the tech and design some prompts to encourage the students to participate.

Should probably look at putting a “help” or “about” link near the object so students can scratch their itch about what it is.

Need to get the Yahoo pipe interacting with the Diigo group bookmarks.

This was a useful respite from some other work, but in the end the technical aspect won’t be enough with additional work. The work around with the iframe was a bit kludgy. Including the object at the top of the page, does increase scrolling. So I wonder about the value.

I’m also wondering how much of this should be talked about with the students? If feel that an understanding that this form of manipulation of existing systems is important to teachers if they are looking to integrate ICTs into teaching. A bit of the whole Rushkoff, Program or be Programmed ethos.

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




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.

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

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