Monday, 28 September 2009

Reflecting on Core Activity 2.1

This is a core activity (2.2) for H808 - to reflect on the collaborative discussion of the drivers of eportfolio developments.

For a large proportion of the time working on the drivers table I felt I didn't quite understand the exercise. The examples already completed in the table seemed to suggest that drivers were institutions or organisations, but my gut feeling (before I read any of the papers) was that drivers would relate to needs to support learners, for reflection, for assessment, for career development etc.  I was also confused by the activity directions - in one place it was to identify factors propelling developments in PDP, in another place it required making notes on drivers of eportfolio developments. These are certainly not mutually exclusive, but I didn't feel that they were automatically synonymous.

I was rather unsure how to contribute in an asynchronous forum. I didn't want to just launch in, listing the drivers I'd identified - I thought we were aiming for discussion. However, everyone (me included) seemed a little reticent, and a number of other students expressed that they found the exercise hard to get into or identify with, so I was reassured that it wasn't just me!

Although I found it hard to engage with the task, I felt purposeful, and I hope useful, in contributing to the environment for our collaboration. I set up some wiki pages, including the table for us to complete, and I think I initially imagined that we would somehow conduct our discussions (in the forum), reach a consensus, and then someone or a few people would add this to the wiki. The method emerged that everyone made a contribution to the wiki table, which was definitely more collaborative in its construction, but I'm not sure we really did the discussion part. Perhaps we would have done if someone had entered a driver that others didn't agree with, and the lack of debate suggests we all agreed. I think this is actually quite likely as there are just so many potential drivers, and none of us had read all the papers in order to be in a position to disagree. There seemed to be a supportive, respectful atmosphere developed amongst the group, and I felt that contributions of others were valued.

I think we worked well together in developing a method for achieving the task which engaged everyone equally. I felt that the method we arrived at (each person reading a couple of papers) was a good one. It resulted in different people picking out different features from the same source, and was therefore good to have some overlap.

I felt that synchronous communication would have led to an easier discussion as it would have been easier to notice if everyone was involved and engaged to the level they wanted. Obviously it wasn't feasible for this task (and rarely is for a course with learners in different time zones, in different employments etc). This led me to wonder how you might make group work easier in an asynchronous forum. I wonder if you might ask people to explicitly comment, either on the contribution preceding their own, on a selected prior contribution, or similar. You could ask people to related their own thoughts to their own previous work or to the previous posts in the forum. However, I think it would take a long time for everyone to feel sure they'd contributed as they wished, there might need to be some form of turn-taking protocol (which would be more artificial than a 'normal' face-to-face discussion), and there might be a need for a chair to draw together all the contributions into a final product. And would that product then be a real consensus, or would it just be the chair's view of events?

I think getting discussion going in the asynchronous environment might also be easier when a group happens to have one (or more) vocal leaders (whether emergent, self- or group-appointed). If someone is constantly responding to the posts of others, including questions and comments, it may draw the other posters into discussion. However, the reverse may happen, where the less forthright contributors are able to step further into the background, or even (and worse) feel pushed out. Having such obvious, dominant leaders therefore isn't best for the learning and involvement of each individual participant, although it might be to the benefit of creating a group 'product'.

(Unsurprisingly) no easy answer here I'm afraid!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Wordle for this blog (2)

Just about to go away for a long weekend - a lovely bright early autumnal forecast, and I look forward to lots of camping, walking, climbing and kayaking... but I'll actually miss the course working and thinking!

Before I go, here's the Wordle which has developed. It's clear that there's been a rather increased focus on ePortfolios! To be expected given the course I suppose - but I've surprised myself in how often I keep wanting to post here!

Wordle: www.allies-in-elearning - 22090924 (Wordle 2)

OneNote for an ePortfolio

I am not alone! Other people are using OneNote as an ePortfolio tool. This is pleasing as I was a little worried that the lack of mention of OneNote in the course and associated discussions might mean it was an inappropriate tool choice (despite my feeling convinced that it does what I need it to). It's been good to do a little web research, and find out what other people are doing.

So, firstly I found the OneNote and Education blog - not surprising that they would have something to say about ePortfolios there then. This blog talks about a maths teacher using OneNote to teach classes, give homework, engage students in collaborative assignments, store grades, give feedback etc. Critically, every child in that school has a laptop for their work.

Next there is the Language Education and Resource Network which included a conference presentation titled 'Use OneNote as ePortfolio to Increase Interaction and Collaboration', and has made the PowerPoint of the talk available. Again, the focus of this is more on class teaching, collaboration, electronic grading and integrating distance and present learners, than on a more personal ePortfolio, but great to see another example.

There's even a sample ePortfolio available from Microsoft. It includes sections for each individual pupil with homework, quizes and tests subsections, a group work space, and plenty of space for pupils to do their own work as they see fit. It's not a portfolio structure that will work for my own current H808 needs, but nice to see a suggestion.

It has to be said that all of these examples are quite different to how I expect to use my ePortfolio, but they illustrate several important points. Firstly, ePortfolios are many things to many people - there really is no concensus on the term. Secondly, OneNote has the toolset and capacity to assist in the gathering, selection and storing of ePortfolio artifacts. Thirdly, it's a good choice for me!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Still thinking about ePortfolios

Have read two articles today which have highlighted for me the different conceptions of ePortfolios. The faculty, the teachers, the course leader, the assessors, the verification boards, the careers departments, and of course the students, all have differing (and potentially conflicting) needs for an ePortfolio which works for them. The complexity of choosing an ePortfolio is well documented, and the guide from the RSC North West shows the choices include questions of whether the portfolio is for assessment, reflection, presentation (or not pigeon-holed as one type at all - debate here), access, ownership, hosting, Open Source or Commercial tools, security, accessibility and usability... no easy answers here!

Jafari's The "sticky" e-portfolio system: tackling challenges and identifying attributes (2004) seems to focus on ePortfolios as being large, costly, architecturally complex, institutionally provided (or even imposed), systems, which must interoperate with existing LMS, require a robust integrated technology architecture.

In contrast, in a post for the Official Google Docs Blog on Electronic Portfolios in GoogleApps, Helen Barrett shared a link to a high school student's portfolio, created using Google Sites. This allows the user to tell a story about their work, include a reflective narrative, link to all sorts of supporting evidence, in a very user-friendly looking site. No institutional edicts here, and no restrictive structure of a given ePortfolio tool... this lets the student tell it their way. I like this! However, I'd have called this a web site, or a course journal or project record or something - not necessarily an ePortfolio... so this widens the definition for me, and becomes something to which I can personally relate.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Getting organised

In addition to constructing the (unexpectedly epic!) blog post on my choice of ePortfolio below, I've spent most of the evening organising my H808 notes, evidence and ways of recording.

The ease with which OneNote has proven itself in storing/sorting/creating my course work is a large part of what led to my selecting it for my ePortfolio. (I sense a slight element of "if I say I've selected OneNote" enough times I'll start to believe that I made an ok decision, but I'm ignorring that right now!). Anyway, as I've gone along, in only 2 and a bit weeks of study I've accumulated notes on reading, blog posts, forum posts, wiki contributions, wiki edits and structure changes, a MyStuff portfolio (or at least a set of unstructured elements!) etc... This really points to the need to be organised on this course! So, I've spent the evening getting all these things stored in the one place - my OneNote notebook (and yes, it's backed up, off-site).

I feel happy with what I now have, and I think it's a sustainable system, suitably structured and easily accessible, tailored to my study-style preferences... but I do feel that most of what I've been doing in the past few days is organising my course and my activities, and not actually doing much in the way of 'the course'. Ok, I know these are all learning activities, but I mean ones listed in the course units!

Still, feels good to be organised, and to have done a little bit of 'the course' earlier today too.

Choosing my ePortfolio tool for H808

I'm trying to make some more progress towards choosing my ePortfolio tool for this course. In the first week I explored the OU's MyStuff (included with our course registration), and I also considered GoogleDocs, which I am very familiar with using for personal and collaborative working.

Since the initial flurry, and experimentation with MyStuff (which I found clunky, frustrating, and not very intuitive) I haven't done much about developing my ePortfolio. However, we're getting into the meat of some course activities now, and I'm finding I'm producing work which may need to be stored for evidence, and so I need to get on and make my ePortfolio choice. I have to admit here that I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't a course requirement... I can see the benefits of ePortfolios for students, and I would encourage them to reflect on what their work means (though I believe this could be done equally well outside of a portfolio)... I just can't see the benefit for me, now :-S But believe me I want to! I've been able to keep track of my work in previous studying through my own use of a personal wiki, paper notebooks, copies of my papers produced etc etc - it hasn't needed to be combined in an ePortfolio, and my own file structure or searching facilities allowed me to easily locate items should I need to find them. When I applied for my PhD studentship, neither my supervisor nor the department requested a portfolio (or indeed any items of previous work), and similarly when I interviewed for my current job, nor did they. In both cases it was a specific task related to the role that was required. So, they didn't want an ePortfolio...

So, this ePortfolio is just for H808 - I don't expect to use it for ongoing future career. I may be proved wrong later, but if so I can develop one then. For now, I don't need something that can 'live on' beyond this course, and so providers which will follow wherever I go are not necessary.

I do almost all my work on my home laptop. Sometimes I work during my lunch break, and sometimes my laptop is with me away from home and my internet connection (no mobile internet yet), but generally I have access to my laptop whenever I need it. So, I don't require an internet-based solution in order to access it from multiple locations. In fact, what about the times when I don't have internet? Therefore, I think I actually want a locally stored solution.

I feel slightly twitchy about an online solution, with regards to privacy. This doesn't make sense to me as I'm quite happy to have profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and now a publicly accessible blog, etc, but for some inexplicable reason I'm not sure about this. Perhaps it's as simple as 'if i don't need it online, why put it there?'. I think part of the reason is because the ePortfolio includes reflective writing. Somehow that type of expression feels more private to me than the basic details of a piece of evidence, or at the very least I want to choose when and where to share it, like I can with this blog. Okay, okay, I know you can choose when to share your ePortfolio - I said it was nonsensical!

So, what are the choices?
The following have been discussed in the forums, and I have thoughts about at least some of them... (It should be said here that the pros and cons of all the follow (and more) deserve far greater attention than I give here - H808 students can see the comparative table created for Supplementary Activity 1.6 in the course wiki)

Free, supported by the OU. Sort of feel I ought to use it because they have obviously designed it to meet what they consider to be the purpose of an ePortfolio... But too clunky for me. The facility to easily send pages from the wiki or posts from the forum to MyStuff did almost clinch it for me, but since the upgrade of the forum we seem to have lost that functionality, and I now don't have a good reason to go with it. Requires internet access to use.
A comprehensive system, also free. Initially I thought it looked to complex, but that's only to set up a server - for an account on the web site it's easy. Requires internet access to use.
Sadly not free, and therefore at my current stage, that's all the consideration it gets from me...
Google Docs
I'm very familiar with using this, but it's obviously not a dedicated ePortfolio. While it has great search facilities and a simple to use folder structure, I suspect I may miss the ability to give a document multiple tags. Also web based, though can sync with an offline version.
Essentially a file backup and synching facility. Not had a play with it, but understand from course colleagues that it doesn't offer any presentation tools, which may hinder its use for sharing my ePortfolio with my tutor etc
Another web-based solution, not, I think, a dedicated ePortfolio. Feel I'd need to see it in action as an ePortfolio in order to judge

All of which (slightly dismissive) reflection brings me to what I think I have selected: OneNote.

A few hesitations - no-one mentioned this in the course fourms, I need to be sure I can share a presentation portfolio adequately for the course requirements, and it's also new to me, so I'm slightly learning how to use it as I go along.

However, I'm finding it intuitive to use, highly flexible to organise and reorganise, it's searchable, I can store multiple media types in it and I think I can use it to make an attractive presentation. I'm already using it for my course writing and note-taking, so it's easy for me to extend it with a view to ePortfolio use.

Caveat - I still might change my mind! But I think this feels good right now... I'd be really interested to know if anyone thinks it's a good or bad idea!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Wordle for this blog (1)

An H808 course colleague (Sirin) recently posted a fantastic list of favourite web 2.0 toys and tools for learning. One of them, Wordle, really caught my imagination. For those who don't know, "Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends" []

I thought I would post a Wordle of this blog, and update it every now and then as the blog develops. So here's what this blog 'looks like' at the moment.


Images of Wordles are licensed Creative Commons License.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Twitter for education - for beginners!

I've recently been dabbling with Twitter, and think I may be beginning to be converted from really not 'getting it', to maybe having an inkling of what it's all about. There are plenty out there who believe Twitter is great for learning... so I want to see what I'm missing out on.

I thought I'd post some basics, and a few observations here, and invite the more active and experienced Twitterers of H808 to help explore its potential and suggest why it might be a valuable elearning tool.

The Basics
  • Twitter is a 'micro-blogging' tool - you make posts (called 'Tweets') with a maximum of 140 characters in length
  • Like everything else 'web', you create an account - from here you can post your tweets and follow those of other Twitterers
  • Twitter suggests you use your tweets to answer the question 'What are you doing?', but reading posts such as "I'm eating a cheese sandwich" is dull (and possibly not very educational!) and so many Twitterers post whatever they like
  • You can follow other Twitterers - this means that any tweets they make are added to your Twitter home page

Taking it a little further
  • You can search Twitter - for whatever you like. It'll return tweets with your search term in (obviously!)
  • You can add hashtags to a word in your tweet, e.g. "I'm studying ePortfolios for #H808 at the moment". This makes it easy to create communities of people interested in the same topic by making it easier for them to find and share info on their topic
  • You can reply to another user's tweet, or address a tweet to them by including @ in front of their username, e.g. "Great presentation by @davidjones at Serious Games conference today"
  • You can 're-tweet', i.e. duplicating/forwarding someone else's tweet, web link or blog post - and it's not cheating! In fact, having your thoughts or comments re-tweeted is a compliment and social currency. Just include RT at the start of your post to indicate that it's a re-tweet
  • All usernames and hashtags in tweets become automatically hyperlinked - so if someone tweets "RT @rob_roy blogging on #eLearning critique", I can click on rob_roy to see all of that user's tweets, or on #eLearning to see all posts including that tag. This also makes it really quick to move around a community and get introduced to new Twitterers
  • You can add links to your tweets to pass on items which have caught your interest. It's good practice to use tinyurl (or similar) to reduce the length of the URL you paste in.

As I said, I'm pretty new to Twitter. When I had to visit the Twitter web site to see people's tweets, I didn't get round to it much. Similarly, when I only followed one or two friends there wasn't much point - I got more info about them from Facebook or other streams. I really couldn't see why it was any use for education. It was 3 things that helped me to start thinking differently:
  1. understanding hashtags and search - allowing me to quickly find tweets that are on topics of interest
  2. getting the TwitterFox add-on for Firefox, meaning I get updated tweets from those that I follow automatically delivered to my browser - I don't have to go to the Twitter home page (and I don't have an internet phone). There are all sorts of other similar gadgets out there - others with more knowledge will be able to advise better than I.
  3. finding Carol Cooper-Taylor's eLearning blog posting on 50 ideas for using twitter for education

I hope this might encourage anyone who is reluctant about Twitter, as I was. Now, anyone who's already using Twitter have any thoughts on its educational uses? Or on its uses for helping us in studying H808?

And, while I know that there was some very early sharing of Twitter usernames in one of the course forums, does anyone want to continue this? I'll start this off by giving my username - my_wonderland. Hope to see you there!

Friday, 11 September 2009

ePortfolios... not sure!

I've never really tried to use an eportfolio before. We were vaguely encouraged to do a learning needs analysis when I started my PhD, and apparently we were supposed to do a personal development plan too, but it wasn't compulsory, wasn't supported by my supervisor, and wasn't followed up. I felt I knew my aims and goals and didn't need a formal discussion, though no doubt I would actually have benefited from the process.

Now I'm still unsure that I want to keep an eportfolio - or why I'd want to. I can't imagine using it in my career, but maybe that's because employers haven't caught up and don't demand to see portfolio evidence. I'd be very interested to know what employers and recruiters think of portfolios - do they really use them in graduate recruitment, do they see any value when recruiting people who are in their second, third or subsequent roles, do they actually offer the evidence they need? Maybe we'll see in some of the upcoming course reading.

I'm a bit hesitant about keeping one for my own learning development now. It seems to require a considerable effort in selecting and compiling artefacts, though perhaps this is a good thing as it leads to reflection. I can see that less motivated students might not bother if the process isn't compulsory and it just seems to add to their workload.

My other hesitation is about the portfolio's persistence. I want to keep progressing and improving. I don't want my skills and attainment records of old to be visible, out there. And once you've exported it and distributed it, it is out there, and people will hold on to it even after you've updated your portfolio and distributed new versions to other people. This is the case with much electronic data - a problem of rapid redundancy, but when the aim of putting a public profile out there is to 'sell yourself' I'm worried about it being public. Sharing within the academic environment is one thing - and it's great for collaboration, sharing with tutors and assessors etc. But I still worry about the persistence of what's there. Maybe a (partial) solution for me would be to distribute a URL which points to my current profile. That way, by not distributing a package which will become redundant, I have more control over what is seen.

However, on the flip side, what if I want my portfolio to persist, to be accessible in five years time. Will the eportfolio provider still be around, will my account still exist, will I have forgotten my login credentials? I'd still feel the need to keep a backup of my own work, and this will mean that there will have to be a way of translating the eportfolio content and structure into some standard representation (xml?, html?, Word?) that can be reused in the future.  

I still feel like I'm missing something about eportfolios. Lots of people are excited about their use, and about transforming learning through the use of eportfolios, so there seems to be something I'm not getting. Lots more reading to come in the next week, so we'll see what I'll find, and hopefully I'll be more convinced and understand what I'm missing!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

First impressions of H808

This is a core activity (1.4) for H808 - to write a short reflection on my first impressions.

Initially I was excited - it seemed to be a really appropriate course for furthering my professional development in the direction I wanted to go. Secretly though I was worried that the course might be rather dry and I really wanted to get my teeth into one of the courses starting next spring. Once I got access to the website I was rather overwhelmed by the amount of content - how was I going to organise my thoughts on all these tools, resources, links, techniques, suggestions, tags, posts...? I was reassured by the posts in the course forums that I was not alone in these concerns, but I'd have been even happier if I'd had access to post there too!

When I got stuck into the course activities I was impressed by the clarity of thought and development of the exercises, with the core and optional supplementary activities, and with the links people were able to make into the discussion forums and wiki. And, happily, I couldn't have been more wrong with concerns that it might be a bit dry - how could a bunch of intelligent, passionate people discussing something which I find so interesting possibly be dry?!

I'm familiar with lots of the technologies the course has mentioned so far, but have barely or never used many more. I've already been inspired to try again with Twitter, and now I think I can see a use for it. When there's a community sharing interesting content it has a real use - when I was just seeing it as a place to answer the 'what are you doing now' question I didn't see the point, and couldn't see what that had to do with learning. I'm looking forward to many more similarly illuminating moments in the course and its associated activities.

So, I'm looking forward to exploring a whole range of technologies, to challenging my perspectives, to developing views on aspects I hadn't considered before. I'm still (like many I'm sure) concerned about fitting the course in around the rest of life and work, but at the moment I'm so inspired that I can't wait to get home from work to engage some more!

The elearning professional - a label

Core activity 1.1 offered an audio segment of five of the course team discussing their views on the term 'elearning professional'.

From their comments it's very clear that elearning has come a long way from its beginnings in a relatively short space of time, and that it is still very much a new and developing field. It's exciting and inspiring to be involved in something not yet fixed and where so many disciplines offer a contribution.

The activity was an opportunity to reflect on how I feel about the label, and the extent to which I would apply it to myself at this point in my career. My musings, relatively unedited, follow.

Applying this label to myself at this point in my career?

To someone who is not themselves an elearning professional, I might cautiously begin to apply this label to myself. I think though at the moment I feel quite inexperienced in the breadth of elearning potential (despite knowing one very small area in great depth!). I'd therefore be hesitant about using the term 'professional', or using it amongst those who are elearning professionals of far greater experience than I. But, I subscribe to ethical standards, have a greater interest in the learner and understanding and supporting their needs than just meeting a required corporate training need, and am committed to my own and the field's development - all aspects of professionalism. So I suppose it's the lack of experience and knowledge that would make me uncertain at the moment. Gaining some of that knowledge and experience is exactly why I'm doing this course, and feeling deserving of that label is my aim.

How do I feel about this label?

I used to think elearning applied to a very narrow field of courseware - presentation screen by screen, little more than digitised books. Then, I didn't want to say I was involved in elearning, in case I was assumed to be part of such a narrow discipline - so described my work as 'educational technology'. But people would ask me if that meant I "did stuff like interactive whiteboards", and that wasn't what I did either. So I did AIED (Artificial Inetlligence in Education), or ITS (Intelligent Tutoring Systems) or OLM (Open Learner Modelling), but that just confused anyone who wasn't involved in those fields already. I still vary my description of that PhD research depending on who I speak to, and what I know of their background, trying to give people a way in that they can relate to as it's really not that complicated!

People are used to e-things now - eMail, eBanking, eGovernment perhaps. They know it means online, using computers, doing it for yourself without specialist equipment or needing an intermediary to do it for you. And they know what learning means (although for some the idea might be rather restricted to ideas of schooling). So, if give someone the term elearning they have some hooks to hang on to already, and they can form some idea of what it might involve. I also think that people have a generally positive and respectful view of educators and learning professionals, so to describe myself as an elearning professional would be something that I'd be proud of now.

One of the course team (Robin Goodfellow) mentioned professionalism as involving a commitment to learning for civilisation as well as personal development, and distinguished between education from other learning contexts such as corporate training or informal personal learning. This resonated with me as I feel strongly about the importance of learning and learning opportunities for social justice. Elearning offers one more potential route to learning. Recognising learning as being about more than just providing ebooks matters to me - I do not want to be involved in creating shoddy 'learning materials'. Perhaps there is a bit of me that might be allowed to call myself a professional already then.

Monday, 7 September 2009

New beginnings

I'm just beginning H808 - an Open University Masters level course which I hope will help me to develop as an eLearning Professional.

I seem to be a somewhat reluctant entrant to blogging - I enjoy writing, keep copious notes, enjoy interacting with other students, read other blogs and forums, build web sites and publish papers... but I've never felt quite comfortable with putting my thoughts out there for anyone to read - and criticise. I'm sure other students on the course will be friendly and helpful, but dipping my toe in the water is nerve-racking.

It's interesting to experience the point of view of the overwhelmed (but keen!) new learner. I've done lots of studying, both distance-learning and in a fixed uni research office, but I feel very new here. For a fairly technology-savvy person to be experiencing this level of anxiety makes me very aware of how carefully students who are new to both distance learning and using various technologies to engage with that learning need to be supported.

Exciting isn't it!
Well, it would be quite a bit more exciting if I was able to communicate with my course mates! I can read the forums, see them all chatting away, introducing themselves and starting to share useful pointers and discussion... but I don't have Reply or Start new discussion buttons yet! I'm sure they will come, and their current lack of presence is due to my registering on the course on the last available day, but it's a bit frustrating. It means I see it all going on, but feel left behind before we've even begun! Again, a concern to watch out for in supporting elearners - make sure the technology is an enabler and not a hindrance!

I look forward to emeeting all my course mates soon, and am now going to see if I can find a way to post this on to them via a helpful course moderator (thanks Helen :-) )