Monday, 29 March 2010

Helen Talks to TED

Helen Barrett talks about eportfolios.  Geoff Rebbeck from Thanet College is quoted in this.  Well done Geoff, your ideas are an inspiration to us all - even to Helen Barrett the spiritual mother of all 'folios!

Meanwhile on a vaguely related ESCalate article; Tracy Johnson, a lecturer in study skills and a qualified personal coach, asks if Personal Development Planning can fit easily into the academic curriculum or whether it resides more comfortably within the employability agenda.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Good CoP

Free book :OD

In 2009 the Australian ePortfolio Project < > conducted a series of semi structured interviews from 14 online communities across the globe.  This research project was designed to elicit a picture of the types and methods of engagement afforded to these "virtual" eportfolio communities of practice (CoP).  RSC East & West Midlands very own virtual eportfolio CoP < > was discussed in terms of platform types, level of management/ facilitation, and participation engagement.

This type of facilitating and supporting subject specific "forums" either F2F, online, or both, has long been a strength of the JISC  Regional Support Centres, and we were merely continuing the good work already being carried out across the UK by all RSC's.  The very nature of the online domain to support embryonic CoPs presents many new challenges, in terms of maintaining a manageable balance between facilitation, engagement by its members, and choice of platform. We were influenced by local successful CoPs, specifically as the elearning Best Practice run by Helen Walmsley(former RSC member),  .

This collaborative venture between myself & Ben Williams (RSC East Midlands) also prove that cross RSC projects are essential, by reaping the benefits of sharing effective practice both internally and externally. It is hoped that others may learn from our experiences when considering supporting similar CoPs in their own areas.

While I'm on the subject of eportfolios, I saw a demo of in-folio the other day.  It's been funded by JISC Techdis and developed (by the RIX centre)with UK specialist Colleges. I was impressed at it's ease of use and straight forward interface. Two years in the making, it goes from strength to strength, and was mentioned that it will be released as Open Source.

They have even developed an innovative image based log in function to assist those who cannot type. This project alone looks like it has potential to made logins easier for many (to eliminate the bane of multiple passwords) :

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Are you a Maharan?  For those n00bs, who are wholly unaware of the parlance I've broken into, a "Maharan" is a dedicated follower/user of the Mahara eportfolio platform. Mahara is another best of breed Open Source learning platform (like Moodle), that has been developed in Australia/New Zealand.  Mahara has experienced meteoric rise to fame (again similar to Moodle) across the globe, due to its relative ease of use, ability to integrate into other systems (Mahoodle or MaGoogle), and the growing acceptance of personalised of learning.  The reason why I'm telling you this, is that I've just reviewed a very good book that's just been published by a good friend of mine Derrin Kent, and his dedicated team at UK Bewdley based TDM ltd.  Derrin is an all round good guy and is very experienced at levering ILT/e-learning solutions for Work Based Learning, Colleges and local companies using Moodle or Mahara for teaching or training.

That experience Derrin has amassed is precisely where the scenarios that support each chapter of Mahara 1.2 ePortfolios are drawn from.  Derrin and his colleagues at TDM, have really gone out of their way to make this book appeal to all levels of interest and experiences, not just with eportfolios, but ILT in general.  It is written in a relaxed, yet informative style which draws the reader into trying out the bite-sized exercises, which form the lion's share of the book. At every step each chapter builds confidence, gives clear illustrations, and positively reinforces the theory by real world scenarios. The reader is constantly encouraged to "have a go hero", buy jumping online to a Mahara sandpit, to learn by doing.  Each step is explained and the chapters check learning, fully explaining the jargon and provide good examples of exactly why and how Mahara could (and should) be used.

The first chapter, really set the scene explaining eportfolios in general, and the final chapters move into more tutor and administrator levels of Mahara deployment.  But as a mere "user" myself I found these latter chapters equally clear and informative – especially the sections on using Mahara as a very capable e-assessment tool.

What really sets this book apart from the plethora of computer manuals was the first appendix that guided the reader into the essential aspect of planning and piloting an e-learning platform, to ensure all stakeholders are consulted, and a robust evaluation plan is factored in.  The final appendix even goes as far as covering basic installation of Mahara for those brave enough to try. But by the time you've dipped in and out of this book, you will want to.  A thoroughly good read, that can be enjoyed by anyone interested in the potential of eportfolios and a must for those who have Mahara and want to exploit its suite of features. 

On its own (either hosted or locally run) Mahara offers a robust set of features that pitch it up against most VLEs for shear practical teaching and learning e-solutions. But... if you do co-join Mahara and Moodle (single sign on), then Mahoodle can offer quite a powerful and flexible Open Source solution suited for most training and teaching needs.

Well done Derrin and all the TDM book authors, for a well crafted and very informative book.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Why projects go Wr0nG

I recently attended a webinar run by the elearning network + ALT entitled "Why eLearning Projects Go Wrong". The recording of the ALT/ELN Why eLearning Projects Go Wrong webinar which took place on the 17th February is now available via the ALT Open Access Repository at:

above screencast was recorded by myself just to illustrate how Prezi can be used effectivly as a presentation tool during an online webinar. In this instance we were using Elluminate. Anyhoo back to the meat of the webinar.

Rob Hubbard kicked us off. Rob is a memeber of the eLN, and runs his own company

Robs many years of experiences in designing and executing bespoke elearning solutions for large compaines was spot on the mark in terms of promoting a plethora of pragmatic tips to guide us through the maze of designing an e-learning "product" that satisfies a clients spec'. Rob ran through a set of pitfalls to avoid whilst running his prezi "slides";

  • Work closely with stakeholders, as their time to review is critical - ensure they understand the entire process,
  • ensure that stakeholders understand the time needed to review the project steps at critical sign-off stages. Book these review stages in their calendars, be explicit about scope and range of "agreed changes",
  • ensure ALL stakeholders are identified and have indepth knowledge of their required input/review at each stage of the design. Document ALL comm's with them in a central place accessible to all – Robs uses basecamp for this (web based) project management of key stages, decisions, and all project doc's,
  • unstuff! - use a method like Kathy More's - action mapping - identifying what needs to be acheived – which ends up at content - keeps it (planning meetings) focussed,
  • has the "thing"/tool/ training package/ changed behaviours - made money / increase in sales, etc? Measure the business metrics. And does it fit with marketing and other promotionals?
  • test on target market – it is fundamental to adopt true user centred design process – do not be tempted to shortcut this stage of the inital design process – do so at your peril!
  • Identify learner needs - active, real world based, skills ,etc.. put yourself in your learners shoes - identify tangible outputs - that could be measured!
  • Implment a multi stage (sign off) process of protoyping and final output - identify a gatekeeper at the client end, to keep everyone in the loop. Test, test, test, on a sample of target users - to feedback users comment into the final design.
  • Adopt a "Plain "English" approach to writing copy + screen design (rememeber less is more for the web), ie. writing for screen and for elearning efficiency & learning efficacy.
Next up was David Wilson of elearnity

David also has many years experience of managing large scale e-learning projects. Davids tips complimented Robs;
Issues emanate mainly around execution - design and delivery - but also around the output - i.e. what's in it for me. 

  • 4 main points of going wrong Alignment, outcomes, adoption, and execution. See also the Towards Maturity research which backs this up. Alignment is key - if this is wrong, everything else is skewed and will not work (backed up by Towards Maturity research).
  • Most elearning is built for compliance (bigger companies) - so elearning is looked at as "boring", as most peoples experiences are primairy concerend with consuming legalities/rules, etc - not interesting!! i.e. most elearning is paper behind glass / click through pages of text + the occaisional self assessment. Dull dull dull.......
  • Drivers and barriers for acceptance and utilisation - need to be identified and designed in - often they are just ignored. Is e-learning the answer at all, and indeed is it a learning problem in the first instance? Is it just a communication issue?
  • Initiative overload - end users being bombarded by new stuff - need to decide how and if to implement.
  • test test test on target platforms and people!! Especially when using other vendors to built the end product.
  • Adoption: support from line managers to actually learn whats been created! Marketing and; relevance and; currency.
  • Outcomes: measuring success ,how to anaylse ROI? Evalaution evaluation evaluation is key. How has the knowledge being retained and used down stream, most elearning companies shy away from this and factor ROI around design and delivery of the project - not measuring improved business performance. n.b. again the Towards Maturity report backs this up.
Finally I pushed for any advice on the touchy subject of useful evaluation of such projects. I suggested that we could use the Kirkpatrick Model ??: But I was somewhat rebuffed as to it's usefulness. The answer I received was "it kind of works" - but at a higher level - not useful for business metrics - ie. performance improvements. So I did not really get a satisfactory answer for this, but I guess that this two companies needed to keep somethings back, to retain a competitive edge? Unless - this is such a grey area, (read expensive) - no one really knows/can afford to correctly evaluate multimedia type projects???? Answers on a postcard please :OD

Above all a really useful webinar for those who are
designing, and implementing any for of elearning into a large organsiation. It struck me how the whole process was simialr to managing any multimedia projects, including websites. From a project management perspective, effective (client) communication is key, as is robust user centred design.

From an end user perspective, desinging rich engaging material is the key. In fact we discussed adopting a much more social, collaborative, reflective, real world, type of expereince. Much
like Rob Hubbards own RED course, or by adopting the approach.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Low cost video cameras

Image taken with sepia camera app for iPhone

Time to share some received wisdom from the RSC crowd about a simple question posed by Justin Spooner from RSC Wales. He asked us all .. 

"We currently use the Busbi video camera with the flip-out screen and the Flip Ultra video cameras for recording and demoing low cost video cameras. Unfortunately the Busbi was discontinued some time ago and one of our learning providers would like to know of alternatives. I have no problem with the Flip Ultra but I was wondering what you all used in the £120 or less range."

The replies came thick and fast from across the UK:

  • There is a lovely wee case study on the recent Scottish RSCs Newsfeed posted by Hugh Dailly which highlights how Perth College have used the Creative Vado Digital Video Camera.  The entry also provides a link to a you tube review on this gadget.  I think they cost around £90 and seem to be quite simple to use.
  • My vote would currently go to the Kodak Zi8. HD quality. A key benefit over others in this price range is that you can use an external mic. It also has a macro mode – useful for reasonable close-ups. I realised quite early on that our Flip was useless for such things when I was going to do a video review of an iPod Touch app. It just couldn’t focus close enough. So a bit more flexible than the flip but still easy to use. The black one on amazon is about £119. Other colours are about £5 cheaper.
 Here’s quite an in-depth review on youtube

Part 1

Part 2

We have also recently bought a Samsung Flashcam which does time lapse which can be useful for gathering digital evidence of a time consuming tak such as building a wall etc

  • Try Disgo cameras, they are the same design and price as the lower end cameras.
  • Yep Flips are a good choice as well, also try the XACTI. They come in a number of price brackets and will allow the user to take video and stills and allow the video playback to be paused.

  • I am moving more and more towards simple devices that allow you to shoot stills and video as these tend to be better value for money, more flexible. The one thing I hadn't appreciated until recently was the importance of the pause function when playing back footage.
  • ..the Disgos and Xactis are really good, Xactis prices can get a bit steep.  Another consideration is the holding format, the square of the Disgo or a pistol grip style of the Xacti.  I bought my daughters the Samsung U10s for Christmas, HD and very good.  One thing they commented on is having to hold it very steady, as in HD mild handshake/vibration at 30 fps is very noticable (particularly when the video is taken from the edge of a dance floor in a club after a few beers).  If waterproof for outside use is a consideration then the Xacti has a model and if cheap and waterproof is a consideration Tesco have a Vivitar DVR850W for just under GBP 60 (70-80 elsewhere). Final consideration that may not be important is low light capabilities, but indoors shooting can end up grainy even under eyeball acceptable artificial light.
All I can add to this is that my iphone camera is perhaps the worst mobile camera I ever used! Don't buy an iphone if you want a 1/2 decent camera. Buy one of those new Sony Erricsson phones instead.

And think of how you are going to use the output video, if it's going to youtube then buy one with a USB port (the disgos), but be careful some of these cameras output in MP4 format (apple stuff) which is a difficult format to convert and to be embedded into Moodle,blog ,etc.  

new ways for HE?

Lord Mandelson’s 11th Feb Dearing speech defends the government’s record on HE funding, commits to “sustainable expansion” and urges HE to source other forms of income and consider alternative modes of provision.  

Lord Mandleson, continues the debate and defends his Higher Ambitions report, by facing critics and outlining new ways that UK HE needs to respond to market trends, competition, student needs, and maintaining quality.
He said...

For universities Lord Dearing had a clear message that the institutions needed to focus on distinctive missions, diversified sources of income, a new recognition of the value of teaching, a constant focus on the quality of the service to the student."
and in regards to improving flexible provision he said...
 "along side traditional three year full time degrees, I want to see more part time study, I want to see two year Foundation Degrees and three years Honours courses delivered intensively over two years expand as part of the mix. Not creating a single blueprint in which everyone is made to conform. We’ve got to create a mix to take higher education forward"

..."And because these flexible kinds of education and training are vital for those who miss out on higher education straight after school the push for two year degrees and wider part time or work-based study should be at the core of the wider participation agenda. Those who argue against it risk painting themselves as defending an institutional inflexibility that doesn’t serve students, and doesn’t get the most out of public investment that we make in higher education."

...."All these apprenticeships will earn UCAS points so that they act as a ladder into university."

In respect of UK HEIs diversifying to attract private investment he said..

"The first is on the need to seek out alternative sources of funding. The best university systems in the world are defined by a wide range of public and private funding and British universities need the same diversity."

..."Part time degrees, shorter and more intensive courses all offer the potential to lower student support costs, use resources more intensively and improve productivity."

And finally...

"I passionately believe universities cannot stand still. Universities must adapt to new times, to new sorts of courses, to new ways of delivering and teaching. This is where I will continue to lead the debate and policy. "

All I can say is that distance and blended learning is the answer, using the VLE, eportfolios and cloud computing methods. This mix of flexible approaches and a (less resource based) curriculum rethink will give UK Higher Ed' the edge we need. My view is backed up by Dr Tony Bates in his comments on eLearning progress in HE, Dr Bates recognises the importance of e-tutoring & sound instructional design models to move online/blended delivery to a more "active" realm of student-tutor interaction.  And David Lammy also throws his two 'penneth in by stating the following at a recent conference

“Students are all on Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, i-Phones and i-Pads for their social life and their university experience is still divorced from that […]  Universities have to be advancing technology.”

Tho' ,  as we are all well aware UK HE is a slow beast to move and react to change and forcing UK HEIs to simply adopt ICT as the panacea to cure all ills is a road well trodden and resisted 'afore. Innovative teaching, improved CPD, and adoption of flexible (blended) curriculum delivery is key, so says Drew Whitworth in his insightful comments on Should e-learning change university management blog post. And, as Drew also states in his posting, not all students are demanding unfettered access to a pletohora of social networks, as we know, poor digital literacy is an issue to be addressed by generations X,Y and baby boomers alike. As we are well aware the term digital natives is a misnomer perpetuated by the media, and JISC have done quite a bit of work in this area to try and find out how a modern student studies.

Interestingly The 2010 Horizon Report  also highlights some key trends facing education across Europe, which echo some of the innovative approaches UK HE need to address, as mentioned above. They are;

  1. The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.
  2. People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to. 
  3. The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized.
  4. The work of students is increasingly seen as collaborative by nature, and there is more cross-campus collaboration between departments.
  • And, not so coincidently JISC have just announced suite of resources for universities on employing technology to support their business goals.

Ewart Woodridge CBE, Chief Executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, says, “The ‘Agile University’ is about the capacity to innovate, particularly in new business or operating models. It requires a creativity in how an institution is structured and people are equipped to lead and manage it. It also requires a strategic and entrepreneurial approach to the use of technology.”