Some assemblage required

Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

BAM, blogs and problems with spam blog lockouts

Have had a report from one of the students

i am facing a problem since 14 sept. that my blog has been locked by spam blogger robot.i have tried so many times to unlock my blog but it does not unlocked yet i am going late to send my blog for week 8.

Sounds a bit like an attempt to get an extension.

Turns out that there might be something to it.

A “feature” in blogger that “accuses” a blog of being the source of spam and shutting it down.

Still few details from the student but it does identify issues with this approach including

  • Influence of decisions by 3rd parties on the learning process
  • The need for the organisation of have and share knowledge about the decisions of 3rd parties

Google video as a host for streaming/lectures

I’m becoming interested in the notion of Web 2.0 course sites as the next step in the evolutionary development of Webfuse.

This details my first experiment with Google Video as part of that process. The Wikipedia page on Google Video has more detail on competing services, background and drawbacks of Google Video.

The idea

The idea being (am practicing my 30 second blurb on the topic) that instead of a University’s servers hosting all the software and content for a course that the course site make use of the multitude of free web-based services services. The University’s servers would then provide the “glue” that connects these services and any University specific services.

The point being to

  • Reduce cost
    The university doesn’t pay for the maintenance, network bandwidth and other costs associated with hosting the content and services.
  • Improve quality
    Is any University IT department ever going to provide a service as reliable and speedy as Google regardless of location?
  • Increase flexibility
    The reduction in infrastructure costs is one factor that could make the University’s elearning strategy more flexible. i.e. “we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this server, we can’t change yet”

What I did

In the first half of 2006 I was the coordinator for <a href=”http://webfuse.cqu.edu.au/Courses/2006/T1/COIT11134/COIT11134, Procedural Programming. As part of that I used CQU’s video-streaming infrastructure to record my lectures. (I recognise that in a perfect world there are all sorts of pedagogical reasons why this is a bad thing, but there were many contextual reasons why doing this was a good thing).

The lectures page is the end result.

I took the downloadable video of the first lecture and uploaded it to Google Video. Here’s the process

  • Login with a Google account.
    I already have one thanks to my use of the Google news reader.
  • Fill in a form that requires the video file, title, description and then hit submit
  • The upload takes a while

In my case the upload appears to have failed. The browser message I received was “error occured in uploading”. No other information was apparent. Apparently, according to the Wikipedia page this is a known problem.

But not long after I received an email saying it was successful and including the url for the Google Video version of the lecture.

The result

Some observations on the result, particularly in comparison to the CQU services

  • Larger video picture – at least double the size
  • Startup speed that is comprable.
    Google is a bit slower, but not significantly. This should be no surprise
    since I’m doing this test on a computer on CQU’s LAN. This same test from a computer on an external network should show Google Video being quite a bit faster.
  • Much better cross platform support
    I’m on a Mac. Most of the CQU video is quite problematic to run on the Mac, given its Windows/wmv emphasis. Even the quicktime version doesn’t work well. Google video works great. Google uses a Flash based player.

My conclusion is that there are some benefits to giving this idea further consideration.

Helpdesk and training – first step in SDO

Overall Aim

Make learning in SDO more authentic. Make it like the student is arriving at a real organisation as a trainee Systems Analyst.

Making that organisation CQU would enable us to leverage off the students interactions at the campuses, but also with our knowledge of the systems.

Training and Helpdesk

One place for them to start would be with training. Training to know who the organisation is, what they do and what their computing environment is like.

Then move them onto to do some helpdesk related work. Or at least to get a taste for it.

There are issues about the physical security aspect.

All of this is related to the systems operation and support aspect which is currently done in week 10. It should be first.

Assessement/Exercises

Exercises arising out of this could include

  • Assessing the different security levels of the campus at which they operate
  • Assessing the training regime
  • Identifying systems that may be past their use by date, i.e. need reworking

    This one could then lead into identifying a change that is needed and moving it through the entire life cycle. Or at least the first step.

Web 2.0 Course Sites

Thesis

That Universities can provide a better quality, more reliable elearning service and, at the same time, repurpose resources away from low-level infrastructure resources towards higher-level customisation roles, by replacing the current model for learning management systems.

The current model for course sites means that all content and technology used as part of course websites is hosted and maintained by the University and its technical services. The replacement model would instead have a small amount of local customisation but the majority of the technology and content would be hosted and maintained on the numerous free web services now widely available as part of the “Web 2.0” approach.

The Problem

The Top-Ten IT Issues, 2006 as identified by the 7th annual EDUCAUSE Current Issues Survey are (I’ve added the emphasis):

  1. Security and Identity Management
  2. Funding IT
  3. Administrative/ERP/Information Systems
  4. Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity
  5. Faculty Development, Support, and Training
  6. Infrastructure
  7. Strategic Planning
  8. Governance, Organization, and Leadership
  9. E-Learning/Distributed Teaching and Learning
  10. Web Systems and Services

Further on down in the article

For four of the past seven years, respondents to the Current Issues Survey ranked Funding IT as the number-one issue to resolve for the strategic success of their IT organizations and institutions. For the other three years, including this year, the issue was ranked number two

And the obvious conclusion is stated

Being realistic about IT funding when costs are increasing (and budgets are not) means pursuing ways to reduce costs and reallocate savings.

The increasing adoption of e-learning, as currently implemented, generally requires institutions to host the course management system and provide all of the services – including video and audio streaming.

This can be expensive and difficult to do effectively. Especially if the institution is aiming for a global reach. CQU has, for a number of years, had various debates and difficulties around its widely distributed campuses and how best to provide reasonable services to them. In particular, how to ensure that our widely distributed students and staff are able to access resources hosted at the central Rockhampton campus quickly and effectively.

A potential solution

Where ever possible the services required for e-learning, currently understood as a course website, should be implemented using services provided on the web. The work of the University IT staff should be focused on providing local customisations designed to encourage adoption and support use within the institution. Rather than fulfilling infrastructure roles.

Some examples

Potential Benefits

  • Provide more reliable services
  • Provide faster access to services
  • Save money on infrastructure
  • Re-purpose resources to higher up the stack
  • Address the skills shortage??
  • Able to “market” the institution as leading edge
    I’m not aware of any other University doing this. An experiement along these lines would place the organisation at the forefront of elearning.

Potential Hurdles

  • Barriers to the “everything is open” idea
    Most of these free web services are based on the idea of the content being available to everyone. There are a couple of problems with this idea

    1. Many academics are not comfortable with this idea
    2. Many academics use material provided by textbooks that is copyrighted and can’t be made freely available
  • Trust, and the host your own preference
  • Infrastructure is simpler than customisation
    Provision of servers, networks etc is a fairly standarised, “low-level” skill. Some refer to it as the “plumbing” of the computer world. Providing customisation at a business level requires a much greater level of skill and understanding. It’s harder to do.

More to come, but others are talking about this.

Other considerations

The personal learning environment (PLE) and Web 2.0 ideas are arguing that we should move away from the course website idea. There’s good reason to do this.

However, the way Universities and academics currently think of elearning is so closely tied with this way of thinking it will be around for awhile. In order to sell this idea to those people it needs to be packaged in a way that makes sense to them – that is compatible with what they know.

Implementation could provide scaffolding to enable the PLE idea and should help further investigation of that idea. Most of the tools/services I’ve mentioned above generate RSS/Atom feeds and/or have open APIs that would help.

Jenny Anastasi' presentation

Part of a project for “Embracing blogs” for information literacy. Based on a paper that I think I’ve seen before.

Quicktime
broadband
version of the talk. Probably only visible to people on the CQU campus.

Paper presented at Networked Learning 2006.

Most of the work is coming from Sandra Cochrane who has now moved to USQ. Project started to use blogs to improve information searching skills for transition/early nursing students. Some of this is related to fear as computers. Teaching them to keep a reflective journal via a blog might break down that fear.

Jenny, was somewhat fearful of this move – students are paper learners. Will it work with these students?

Led to project to evaluate where the students are with respect to blogs. Selected 1st year, undergrad, mature age, distance education students.

Typical ISL session with lots of people giving advice on how to give the ISL session.

Jenny’s presentation preceded by a talk by Michael Hammond, Blogging within formal and informal learning contexts: Where are the opportunities and constraints?

Results

  • 31% read other peoples weblogs
  • 17% participate in weblog activities
  • 7% have participated anonymously
  • 6-7% have own weblog

None of the 10 CQU staff which the survey was tested on, knew what weblogs were.

Of the 11 students – personal use is a major thing for weblogs.

Coming out of the conference and her work

Weblogs are new but they haven’t been tested to any extent in academia. No-one is really embracing them.

Constraints/problems is getting the students to engage with a new technology and another way of behaving.

Sandra, at USQ, is going to work on this there.

Alternatives are perceived to be Blackboard, online courses, wikis. Wikis are easier to develop collaborative learning – many European universities using Wikis. A presentation at the conference using Wikis to teach writing clarity.

Blogs as a form of reflective journal, main use.

Questions from the floor

  • Amount of information useful to academics that is hiding in peoplesoft
  • Wendy from Bundaberg had a blog in a course and there was little or no interaction. More on the Blackboard site.
  • Phillipa talks about the Blackboard feature for blogs and wikis. Claims the anonymity on the “real blogs” is because of the size – doesn’t know things about Technorati
  • Peter Reaburn’s question fades out because of out of time

Implications for BAM evaluation

Include age as a demographic to see if it is an influence.

Including Dojo in pages

Based on various sources including the Dojo “manual”

Three starting sections in HEAD

  1. setting flags – this one is optional

    djConfig = { isDebug: false };

  2. dojo bootstrap – I think I found that this didn’t work as a single tag – had to be the open/close tag set
  3. define the packages to be used

    dojo.require(“dojo.event.*”);
    dojo.require(“dojo.io.*”);
    dojo.require(“dojo.widget.*”);

Path to dojo

With Webfuse – dojo is installed at /webfuse/tools/dojo/

Information literacy skills causing problems with BAM

The “Gantt chart” question in week 3 has caused students some problems.

The textbook only briefly mentions Gantt charts. It doesn’t step by step tell the students how to do it. There is no structure. My assumption was that simple project management and using Project isn’t that difficult a task for Masters level students. I was wrong.

Not surprisingly this lack of structure is the apparent root cause of the difficulties the AIC students are having. There hasn’t been the same level of difficulty in evidence with the mature FLEX students.

Sachin has indicated that many of these students are literally straight off the plan. They aren’t prepared. They don’t have the necessary literacy skills to dive in and do this.

This highlights the issue of how and where do they receive instruction/experience with these skills? What course in the program does it?

COIS20025 could potentially do this. It could fit nicely with the week 3 requirements and week 2 system planning topics and how searching for this information is required.

Further issues with BamRegistration

Two additional problems

  • Support for SSL – a student tried to register a URL with https: and the system said couldn’t retireve the URL. Need to add support for SSL or improve the error message.
  • A student registered the RSS feed URL and was accepted. Need to ensure they give the HTML version

Limitations of incoming students and Gantt charts

Thought it would be a grand idea to get the students, in week 3, to prepare a Gantt chart planning out their study for the term. They get to apply some content knowledge and think actively about planning their study.

Of course, the problem is that many of these students are new to technology.

Satish is reporting that a number of the students have never used computers and don’t have an email address.

They are struggling with getting going with the tools and also the structure/format of Gantt charts.

Will have to re-think this one for next time.

Design research: IS or CS – importance of "no overlap"

The Information Systems discipline has had lots of talk about design science research (aka many other related terms).

Much of it appears to be promoted by (described in the worst possible light) as refugees from engineering and computer science wanting to do what they used to do.

Personally, I have some issues around what is classed as design science research within Information Systems and what belongs to Computer Science. i.e. I think a lot DSR in IS should be classed as computer science.

This isn’t to say it isn’t valid research. It is to say that I don’t think it is valid research within the IS discipline.

I’ve been looking for some references that mention the importance of “no overlap” in research, theory etc.

Sheth, Bardner & Garret (1998), “Marketing theory: Evaluation and evolution” might be just such a thing. Wiley, 1988

BAM Progress #1

It’s now the end of week 2 of CQU’s Term 2 for 2006. This is the first attempt at a log entry for the first test of the BAM project in the CQU course COIS20025, Systems Development Overview

Key events this week

  • Initial BAM Management interface up and going
  • Concerns from staff about the workload for students and a response
  • Potential problems with workload for staff
  • A Technorati search for “COIS20025” reveals 7 posts, including this one.
  • A similar search for “systems analyst” reveals 33,908 posts including many related to this course.
    Highlights that this use of blogs is a public medium.
  • 159 of 283 students have registered their blogs
  • A number of students seem to be confused about the requirements e.g.
    • Many haven’t registered their blog home page, but instead the URL of their first post
    • A number believe they have to tell me, or other staff, the URL of their answer to their weekly answers.

Drucker on Adaptive vs Plan-driven

Peter Drucker from “The Effective Executive”

“Most discussions of the knowledge worker’s task start with the advice to plan one’s work. This sounds eminently plausible. The only thing wrong with it is that it rarely works. The plans always remain on paper, always remain good intentions. They seldom turn into achievement.”

“Innovation and Entrepreneurship”

“‘Planning’ as the term is commonly understood is actually incompatible with an entrepreneurial society and economy….innovation , almost by definition, has to be decentralized, ad hoc, autonomous, specific and microeconomic.”

Sun Tzu Strategy Quote

The essence of strategy is the close view of distant things and the distant view of close things — Sun Tzu

My interest in emergent/agile approaches means I’m not a fan of strategy and/or strategic appraoches currently used in most business.

I think there is possibilities to use this quote to bring out my disquiet with this approach, at least in some contexts.

  • close view of distant things
    Assumes you can achieve such a thing. Bounded rationality, rapid change etc imply you can’t, or if you do it will be imperfect.
  • distant view of close things
    Implies too little knowledge of existing practice so that strategy can become unconnected and difficult to implement.

A start

Hello World

The obligatory first experience with any system by a programmer requires it to be to say “Hello World!”.

So here goes.

Writing and sending the email to students – using blogs

I’m trying to come up with the email that I’ll send to all the DE students telling them about the how and why they’ll be creating a blog for COIT11134.

Important Lesson(s)

Wordpress, the blog hosting option I’ve chosen, seems simple and easy to use.  Should be a good choice. But my perception is almost certainly going to be different to the students.

Problems?

How the hell do I make the email small enough for students to read it but still provide all the information that is required?  How can I possibly explain blogs when I don’t really know the backgrounds of the students?  How do I stop myself from telling them too much or not telling them enough?

Perhaps I just have to do it and then hope they’ll ask questions and let me know.

David.

Getting started with the blog

I’ve just created the new sample student blog for COIT11134.  This is the first post.  I’ve changed the look for the blog and removed the test post that WordPress adds automatically.

Most important

Not sure there is a most important concept for this task.  Maybe it is just getting use to using the blog interface.

Problems

Ignoring all the bells and whistles in the interface and just concentrating on getting something up that is useful for the students.

I also wonder if all this is going to be too difficult for the students who may not believe the benefits I’m suggesting.  Are the benefits actually there?  Guess we’ll know in a few weeks time.

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