Thursday, 31 December 2009

Podcast Review - Jan Moreland on using wikis for teachers' CPD

Core activity 8.3 was to review a podcast produced by a course colleague in a recent activity. I selected Jan Moreland's recording, which is available in Jan's blog post: Using wikis for reflective practice. Jan taks about how her school has used wiki technology in an effort to encourage reflective practice amongst school teachers. 

Sound quality
The recording was very clear, without background noise or distortion, and Jan's voice was measured both in pace and volume, which made it easy to follow.

Broadcast quality
Jan spoke clearly on her subject without hesitation or repitition, and it was evident that she had carefully thought through the content and progression of her recording.  It was well constructed - I found the introduction sentence at the beginning, telling me what was to come, particularly useful, and that the couple of requests for comment and feedback were well-placed, particularly given the subject matter of CPD.

The audience for this podcast were other H808 participants, but Jan's blog makes her work more widely available. The clarity of her explanations means that this work will have wider value to other educational professionals, as well as being understandable by those who are perhaps less familiar with teaching and CPD developments.

Length, interest and engagement
3 and a half minutes. This looks short when I write the length, so I was impressed at the scope of content that could be included in a short piece, without it being hurried or excessively brief. Jan made, expanded and developed several points, and held my interest throughout. I would say that the length was appropriate given the task, but I would happily have listened to a substantially extended debate - the subject matter was interesting and is deserving of further discussion. Perhaps when TMA deadlines are out of the way! 

Academic quality and suggestions for improvement
This piece is based on some action research Jan has completed, and also includes several points which she offers as her opinions. I feel this is a nice balance. Jan mentions at the beginning of the recording that she will refer to a journal article by her, but I felt that this was then not very clearly referenced in the rest of the piece - I couldn't quite tell which parts of the recording related to the journal, and which were views only in the podcast. I'm sure the article provides an interesting extention of the content in the recording, so given an opportunity to record a more substantial piece this could be included. However, for the purposes of the H808 task the recording was fine - I'm just interested and so would like to be able to hear/see more another time!

Suggestions for use
This recording discusses the successful steps taken by one school to develop their CPD programme for teachers. It will provide useful suggestions for others looking to develop their CPD offerings, or for those interested in the use of wikis. Jan's requests for suggestions to improve their practice using wikis also mean it could also offer a nice context for a CPD brainstorm on successfully developing wiki use.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Exploring Teleplace

Activity 8.1 is to engage with a new technology, consider some of its key features in relation to my own educational practice or context, and identify potential issues for other users. One of the focuses of my practice is the investigation of virtual work spaces for distance learners. For this reason I selected to explore Teleplace. Teleplace describes itself as "an intuitive environment for distributed teams to communicate and collaborate on multiple applications and documents in real time" (

This post has 3 parts. Firstly, a learning log of my interactions with Teleplace, secondly, some thoughts about its features, and its use for education and training, and thirdly, the identification of some issues which may affect other similar users.  

Learning log

1. I first spent a bit of time looking around, reading FAQs, etc
2. Googled for Teleplace and education to see what other practitioners are doing/recommending/commenting (found very little education-related content specifically for Teleplace (as opposed to virtual worlds in general)
3. Signed up for a free 30 day trial - simply clicked link on Teleplace web site, filled in my details, and I was taken to a page with my login and download credentials. User name, password and download links were also emailed to me.
4. Download of the installer opened automatically. Download on ordinary broadband line took about a minute.
5. Installed - very simple. Setup wizard steps you through agreement to EULA, and install location choice. Took about 5 minutes to copy all its files, but no intervention from me needed. At end of install, click Finish to launch Teleplace.
6. Logged in using name and password from registration email.
7. This takes you to the 'Lobby' - the list of available Teleplaces: 'Project', 'Reception' and 'Training-Center'. There is also a list of templates available to help quickly build spaces like a library, conference room or office. I opted for the Reception as the list of contents (right of the Lobby window) showed documents were included which sounded helpful - Adding Your Stuff, Welcome, Your Appearance, etc. I clicked on Reception and then Enter Teleplace.

8. The Reception area started up with a Welcome slide show, which I went through. This included the purpose of various information panes in Teleplace, seeing who's 'in' the Teleplace, navigating to landmarks, movement using the keyboard, mouse and shortcuts, and links to further orientation information.

The Reception area includes a number of poster boards with basic information. I followed these (there were arrows between them) , taking me through 'Your Appearance', 'Adding Your Stuff', Sharing Applications', and 'Get Together' (about inviting colleagues).

9 - I then spent about an hour using the templates to create rooms (Teleplaces) and add tools to them.
In that time (and it would be much quicker a second time!) I created 2 rooms which include tools (some already in the rooms, some I added) such as:
  • a timer - set it going to keep track of time working on a collaborative activity
  • a feed reader - currently collecting BBC news
  • a whiteboard
  • a brainstorm wall with sticky notes/topic discussion cards
  • a Word document for shared online editing, or for saving local copies to work offline
  • a screen projecting a pdf document
  • a dropbox - where files imported to the Teleplace go if you're not in the place at the time
  • a wall clock showing current time
  • an auditorium with elevator to group working tables
  • a library with shelves on to which you can add/remove documents
  • break out work rooms
  • web browser with live web page
  • a tabbed wall - add notes to multiple topic threads in one location.

Other facilities, some of which I have explored:
  • You can connect new rooms on the fly by simply dragging them on to a teleport door.
  • Functions included for meetings including lead a meeting, tally a question, restrict movement of others in meeting
  • Individual and group chat possible - chat is bounded by walls
  • Built in VOIP - I didn't require any configuration, simply plugged in my headset, and was away
  • Web cam integration
  • Text chat - private chat
  • Video conference integration
  • Ability to record sessions and take screenshots
  • List of available Teleplaces for instant teleport, or walking around by arrow keys
  • Customisable avatars
  • Transcript of actions
Features for elearning and distance learners

The above list of functions and tools obviously offers plenty of potential for Teleplace as a learning environment. However, technology alone does not provide effective learning, so I have attempted to consider possible uses of these features.
  • Mentoring - a secure personal space for mentor and mentee to meet and work together. Private rooms can be used, or conversation can take place in 'public' areas. However, this is not a public 'world' in the Second Life sense - a Teleplace is set up by an organisation, and is only accessible to those who are granted access by invitation.
  • Formal training programmes - as an alternative to classroom environment, or as a groupwork space for dispersed students.
  • Social space - a 'cafe' type space for dispersed students to meet up with others - sort of like a message board or forum, but with greater flexibilty. This could help support group cohesion and interaction outside of core activities, and reduce some of the isolation of being a distance learner.
  • Group collaboration - use interactive applications (e.g. Word, Excel, web browser) to work on a document at the same time as others. Use a laser pointer to highlight key aspects. Simply drag documents from your PC desktop/file structure onto a document viewer in Teleplace. You can then leave documents there for others to use even after you have left the Teleplace, or keep control of them and 'take them with you' when you log out.
  • Recording - classes/interactions can be recorded, allowing for post-training analysis or archiving. This could facilitate the instructor's PDP, support student revision, or be used in developing and refining courses for subsequent presentations.
The key to Teleplace's power to me seems to be that it is ready to use out of the box. It includes templates for all sorts of pre-built spaces (e.g. office, conference room, library, ouside terrace, fields, reception hall, etc). These can be selected for use with very few mouse clicks. Similarly, all the tools can simply be added to the space by mouse clicks. No programming or scripting is required, and no graphics expertise is needed to construct the environment. That said, for those who do have their own environment/building models, these can be imported into Teleplace, allowing role-play training or orientation and safety training to be delivered in a 'mirrored' environment. I haven't gone so far as to explore this feature though.

  • Beyond the 30 day trial this isn't free. Pricing depends on the number of users, but is in the region of $50 per user per month. Once the 30 day trial expires, any spaces developed are lost - collaborative work in documents can however be downloaded back to users' individual PCs, and so is not lost.
  • Virtual environments are not for everyone. Some people will be happy with existing text-based chat or email collaboration methods.
  • Like all internet based tools, users will need sufficient bandwidth for operation, particularly VOIP/conferencing. It would be sensible to check requirements and users' computer specifications before any activity in order to prevent frustrations or delays once a collaborative activity has begun.
  • The avatar movement is 'clunky'. This might irritate some people, although others may feel that the avatars are just a function for positioning your viewpoint in the Teleplace, and realistic movement is not a requisite of effective collaboration.
  • Teleplace, like other virtual environments, offers many options for teaching and learning, including instructor led, explorative, constructivist and self-paced formats. The elearning practitioner developing learning in Teleplace needs to understand the available range, and know how to select an appropriate pedagogy.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Wordle for this blog (5 - November)

For a moment's relief from struggling through the mire of reflecting on our group collaboration for TMA02, I've turned to the delightful Wordle.

Here's the image created from November's posts.

Wordle: allies in elearning 5