Thursday, 25 August 2011

The State of Digital Education Infographic

Knewton has just released an infographic showing the growth and success of elearning in US academic institutions.

The State of Digital Education
Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Social Media Revolution

I'm focusing on my ECA (end of course assignment, in place of an exam) at the moment. I'm designing specifications for learning activities using web2.0 tools and assessment practices. I'm obviously not allowed to post what I'm up to though!

This was a nice 2:35 minute diversion from trying to write (unfortunately I have more diversions than writing, but that's another problem!).
Part of the world’s most watched Social Media video series; “Social Media Revolution” by Erik Qualman. Based on #1 International Best Selling Book Socialnomics by Erik Qualman. This is a shorter version that includes new social media statistics for 2011.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Variations in student perceptions of assessment

Experiences of assessment: using phenomenography for evaluation’ (Jones and Asensio, 2001)

This paper explores the use of assessment as a tool for structuring students' experiences in a networked learning environment. The phenomenographical approach aims to explore people's qualitatively different ways of experiencing the world. In this case, this was studied through the use of interviews with tutors and students on the Open University 'Information Technology and Society (THD204)' course which used conferencing for communication and in two assignments.

Key points
  • "The problems of interpretation and the understanding of others' intentions are fundamental to collaboration" (schwartz, 1999) - in an online, distance learning environment, documentation and the interpretations given to documentation become critical. 
  • It is "extrememely difficult to design an online course [or] activities in ways where you are not surprised and/or disappointed by the output".
  • Student participation is a common concern - and a common response to to redesign a course with more and tighter control over the learner's choices and pace of interaction/contribution; this was recognised that "the tighter the schedule the more structured the exercise is and there is a danger that you're damping down ont he potential for creativity".
  • "it is possible to use assignments as a vehicle for encouraging students to adopt new patterns of learning, whilst at the same time covering course content" (Macdonald et al, 1999) - but for this to be achieve, students must have a clear understanding of the course designers' intentions.
  • Students' experiences vary in what may be unpredictable ways for the course designers' intentions. 
  • Students can interpret the aims of assessment differently - even if they are in a co-operative group tasked with a joint project! In this case, this was despite 12 pages of detailed instruction.
  • Course designers cannot control the background and context in which students interpret instructions or assessment criteria. Even course documentation aimed at students who have many external factors influencing their interpretation may be misinterpreted.
  • Distance/networked learning may suffer more from differences in student interpretation because the interpretation of context by students is more vulnerable to variations in setting than in face-to-face settings.
  • The approach adopted by the teacher is a key variant in helping to determine a student's approach to learning (Prosser and Trigwell).
  • The variation in student interpretation might imply that "teaching interventions were necessary to negotiate understanding 'on the fly' and that a cautious attitude needed to be adopted to reliance on the use of course documents in a networked environment."
There were a lot of clarification questions asked in our tutor group and course forums about each of the assignments on H807. This would suggest that (some) students indeed did not have a clear understanding of the course designers' intentions. As in the course described, course designers almost certainly believed that they had produced comprehensive and complete guidance about assessment. I wonder if the level of student anxiety and confusion increases with the weigting of the assignments - if that is the case, I would expect to see the greatest level of uncertainty yet in the coming weeks as we approach the End of Course Assessment.

In the example given, students were using conferencing for collaboration for their assessed tasks. They had only used it for collaborative work once before, so it was unfamiliar to them. This raised questions in my mind about whether this assessment therefore effectively reflected the ways of working which had been previously taught and experienced on the course, or the learning objectives as known to the students.

I wondered whether the difficulties in designing and preparing sufficiently detailed standard documentation might also be mirrored in the design of scaffolding, particularly of group activities. There will be variation in student skills, knowledge and experiences, and therefore scaffolding at any particular level may or may not suite the individual student. How can the individual 'turn off' scaffolding which is built into group activities? Do they just have to sit through (cruising, with little challenge or development) those activities for which they need less scaffolding, but which they are still supposed to engage in? There needs to be a balance between scaffolding and challenge (see Dearnley), but there also needs to be a balance in the way scaffolding is designed bearing in mind the range of experience of a mixed group of learners.

Jones, C. and Asensio, M. (2001) ‘Experiences of assessment: using phenomenography for evaluation’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol.17, no.3, pp.314–21.

Learner support in collaborative online learning

Rethinking learner support: the challenge of collaborative online learning’ (Thorpe, 2002) 

This paper looks at course design and learner support, and the blurring of the boundary between the two which occurs in online learning facilitated by computer-mediated communication. Traditionally learner support has been that which happens after course materials are developed. However, in courses with considerably less pre-planned material and greater emphasis on generation of course content through online interaction and collaboration, course design and learner support start to merge. 

'Learner support' in open and distance learning has a specific meaning, referring to:
  • guidance about course choice,
  • preparatory diagnosis,
  • study skills
  • access to group learning, etc. 
Key points:
  • Use of technology does not guarantee collaborative and constructivist approaches to learning - this depends on how the technology is used -> course design.
  • It is important to make sure that we do not lose the values of conversation and community in technicist approaches.
  • Learner support is not just provided of 'done to' the student; support is produced and consumed simultaneously - the learner must participate actively, as must the tutor/supporter.
  • Key functions of learner support are:
    • response, and
    • responsiveness, in relation to three essential and inter-related elements: identity, interaction and time/duration.
  • Thorpe defines learner support as 'all those elements capable of responding to a known learner or group of learners, before, during and after the learning process.' Therefore, pre-planned course materials or computer programmes, which cannot respond, cannot offer support.
  • Thorpe's three elements of learner support:
    • Identity - the supporter knows that the learner is a person with an identity. Identities also change in parallel with progress through a course, so support needs to be appropriately modulated.
    • Interaction - learner support is essentially to do with interpersonal interaction -> learner support is therefore also culturally specific. Interaction is key to all main theories of learner support
    • Time/duration - learner support is a 'live' process which has duration. It is defined by the actions of the learners and supporters involved, and so is a dynamic and not wholly predictable process.
  • Electronic communication has been used to provide another medium for support, rather than changing its nature. Online learner support is, however, increasing the frequency of learner to learner and learner to institution contact.
  • Online, collaborative approaches may be experiences as reducing an individual's freedom to study at their own pace (Thorpe, 1998).
  • Changes in course production (with increase in collaborative, constructivist designs) may mean lower initial production costs are feasible, but "costs during presentation are likely to increase, to sustain the IT infrastructure and realise the benefits of continual updating and learner support online".
  • "It takes considerable ingenuity, design and appropriate educational goals in order to achieve a course where interaction online is absolutely essential in order to pass, rather than a highly desirable enrichment.
I'm feeling slightly hazy about the scaffolding/support distinction. Thorpe argues that computer programmes can't offer support as they are unable to recognise human identity, but previous literature on scaffolding has suggested that computer tools can provide scaffolding...

Thorpe's comment on increasing costs is interesting. It stands in start contrast to the view/argument/sales pitch that online learning will be cheaper. Thorpe's arguments about the importance of community and constructivist learning are persuasive - if we move to cheaper to produce 'one size fits all' design then our learner support provision will undoubtedly be weakened, and our opportunity to develop engaging constructivist learning will have been missed.

Thorpe, M. (2002) ‘Rethinking learner support: the challenge of collaborative online learning’, Open Learning, vol.17, no.2, pp.105–19.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Strategies for scaffolding learner support

‘Learner support services for online students: scaffolding for success’ (Ludwig-Hardman and Dunlap, 2003)

This paper describes a number of learner support strategies implemented with the aim of reducing students' feelings of isolation, lack of self-direction and motivation, and which lead to higher drop-out rates for online courses (typically 20-50% according to the authors).

Key points:
  • Self-directed learning skills are developed in a social context, through interactions with peers, teams, communities of practice, etc.
  • To be successful, learners need the skills required for effective online learning; these skills need to be explicitly taught and supported.
  • "Most descriptions of learner support focus on systemic characteristics" (e.g. administrative, registration, etc) - the cognitive function (e.g. guidance, counselling, assessment, coaching etc) is often ignored. 
The authors describe the following programme, specifically designed to help students to choose the right course, to identify and develop the skills they will need, and to feel part of a community:
  • Diagnosing fit between learner and education provider
    • intake interview - discusses expected learning outcomes of a course and relationship to the learner's goals
    • online tools to enable self-assessment of eligibility and preparedness - students assess their competencies, learning objectives, short and long-term goals, etc.
    • diagnostic pre-assessment of learner's strengths, weaknesses, etc - used as a tool to identify strengths and areas for improvement
    • Learning Orientation Questionnaire from ( - determines readiness for online learning - looks at 3 factors: learner's emotional investment in learning, strategic self-directedness and independence/autonomy.
  • Orientation to the online learning experience - a 4-week course with a high level of structure, introducing learners to the community, communication tools and learning skills required. 
  • One-to-one advice provision - encouraging learners to articulate their learning goals and plans, helping them to understand their learning orientations, strengths and areas for improvement, advising on the exploration and selection of learning opportunities and encouraging learners to evaluate their own progress.
  • Access to a community of learners - allowing a sense of connection with the institution and with other learners - the learning community is based on the programme in which the learner is enrolled and includes threaded discussions, online chats, role plays, interviews, etc, organised by mentors on specific topic areas. More experienced learners move from the periphery to the centre of the community - "legitimate peripheral participation (Lave and Wenger, 1991). 
The authors cited DeVries and Wheeler (1996), arguing that students may drop out of a course because they do not feel part of the community. I found this hard to relate to. I feel that if I need the qualification or have any other motivation for my learning, other than a desire for academic community engagement, then I can't see that I would quit. I might be disappointed, and I might be benefiting less from the course than one which offered substantial interaction, but I feel I would still be likely to continue. Perhaps this is a reflection of my personality, generally fairly independent and self-motivated, or perhaps it's something to do with a degree's worth of distance learning which very little community engagement (OU 2002-2005 - face-to-face tutorials, and online group activities only in a couple of courses, and then only a fraction of the activities), so again, I got used to studying without a community around me. That said, I was aware that I wanted community, and the desire to be part of an academic community was one of the motivating factors in applying for my PhD at a campus-based university.

The orientation programme described seems a thorough start to getting students engaged in the community and the distance learning environment. It has a lot of similarities to early stages of Salmon's five stage model. However, the orientation seems to happen separately to the learner's subsequent courses, i.e. with a different community to that which the student will then interact with. The monthly rolling start of courses mean that students will not be progressing in parallel with a large cohort, so the community is deliberately created from students in related courses, but not all at the same stage. While this allows students with increasing expertise to take a more central role, including scaffolding new learners, Salmon's model is harder to apply as students will not be working on tasks together, and I was concerned that the progression through the model's stages may be interrupted if students develop early socialisation with their orientation group, but then have to move on to a different community for their main studies. For me, this provision of community access and development tools, joining students from a wider network, was also reminiscent of the unofficial OU student society online conferences, particularly psychology, which I experienced 5-10 years ago. These were entirely separate from the official courses, but included much inter- and intra- cohort sharing and discussion, and were extremely valuable as the courses at the time had little or no 'community' built in. 

I feel uncomfortable about the LOQ. Psychological instruments which are a) for sale b) include "testimonials" on their web site, and c) include the words "recent advances in neuroscience" in their overview blurb ring alarm bells for me. I don't have time to research the deep background of the LOQ... but was reminded of this ;-)

Perhaps I've been reading too much Ben Goldacre.

Ludwig-Hardman, S. and Dunlap, J.C. (2003) ‘Learner support services for online students: scaffolding for success’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning [online]

The current Western Governors University guidance on admission:

Networks of support in open learning

‘Student support in open learning: sustaining the process’ (Dearnley, 2003)

Dearnley explores the types of support required, and the structures which provide them, by adult, open learners. The context of the paper is around nursing education, offering conversion courses to otherwise have limited (if any) experience of higher education, but the findings are thought to be transferable to other adult learner groups. 

3 major supporting networks sustain learning and development: academic, professional and social, providing 3 types of support: practical, academic and emotional.

Key points:
  • Appropriate student support can make the different between student success and failure.
  • Student support plays a crucial role in sustaining the process of learning and development.
  • Students will experience life responsibilities (which are generally constant and predictable) and life events (which should be expected, but what or when is unknown; should be accommodated by curriculum designers).
  • Support networks need to interact - and the academic network (in particular) may need to react to changes in the other two (for example if social or professional support breaks down).
  • Social networks seem to form the foundation of all support networks - ""domestic harmony" is an essential ingredient in sustaining the motivation and ability for mature learners to continue studying".
  • Students rely on a complex mix of emotional and practical support from within their social and professional networks.
  • Students beginning from a received knowledge (i.e. the "authority" is always right, I must learn all the facts") orientation may be used to or expect the tutor/course to tell them what to think or do. Taking responsibility for their own learning can be a substantial challenge. 
  • Academic peers provide academic, practical and social support. Group tutorials in particular can be useful for friendship, developing trust and motivation. 
  • Good tutors provide support in the academic, emotional, practical and technical domains. The must be approachable and accessible - knowing that support is available can be more important than the means by which it is accessed. 
  • Development requires a mixture of challenge and support - too much or too little of either will reduce the potential for development.
Studying (particularly in parallel with a job or family commitments) requires a re-alignment of priorities and activities, especially domestic roles and responsibilities. I've been fortunate that my own circumstances have allowed this to happen quite smoothly, but I still strongly related to the statement that domestic harmony is necessary for motivation and continuation of studying - when other aspects of my life, (eg. health, relationships or work) have been harder, my energy for studying is very rapidly depleted.

Has our own tutor group supported me through this? I suppose it has given me the visibility that some of my peers are struggling in similar ways, and so reduced isolation. Practical study related help such as supplying links and resources has also been useful. However, ultimately I still feel like I have to get through this pretty much on my own wits - if I let myself slip so far behind that I cannot catch up, then that's my fault, so it's up to me to pull myself up by the bootstraps. That said, the experience of seeing wide fluctuations in the level of contributions to our online forum does help to remind me that I don't have to respond to every activity in complete fullness and perfectly on time - there's a wide variation in what is acceptable, after all, this is open learning at Masters level, and so responsibility for one's own learning management is an expectation.

The paper notes that students beginning from a received knowledge orientation are likely to be less tolerant of ambiguity, to collect facts and to be surface learners. While I think (hope!) I'm generally fairly well engaged in the knowledge construction this course affords, at times, perhaps when I'm tired, that effort of having to think, question, re-process for myself can feel hard. Similarly, if I "get" something straight away then I'm likely to be able to quickly move on to elaboration or application of the information, but if it was a concept I found more challenging then I can be inclined to slip into attempting surface learning. I think here that blogging really helps me, as it's often not until I try to start writing that my thoughts and reactions emerge... and then I write much more than planned (like this post which I meant to finish half an hour ago - a useful lesson in why these activities sometimes take me longer than I wish ;-) ).

Dearnley, C. (2003) ‘Student support in open learning: sustaining the process’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning [online]

Thursday, 2 June 2011

10 dimensions for designing learner support

'Learner support in distance and networked learning environments: ten dimensions for successful design’ (McLoughlin, 2002)

McLoughlin's paper explains scaffolding ("the effective intervention by a peer, adult or competent person in the learning of another person") and gives some of the history and background, particularly Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. 

The paper compares scaffolding in face-to-face learning with that which might be required in online and distance situations, and argues that the principles of learning support can still apply to these newer teaching and learning contexts.

McLoughlin refers to seven short pieces of advice:
  • Provide experience of the knowledge construction process
  • Provide experience in and appreciation of multiple perspectives
  • Create learning asks that are relevant and authentic
  • Encourage ownership and voice in the learning process
  • Embed learning in social experience
  • Encourage the development of multiple modes of representation
  • Encourage self-awareness of the knowledge construction process.
McLoughlin also argues that effective scaffolding is characterised by:
  • increasing the learners’ chance of succeeding in a task
  • helping them to do something they couldn’t accomplish on their own
  • moving them to a ‘new and improved zone of understanding’
  • helping them to operate independently.
McLoughlin provides ten design guidelines/dimensions of successful learner support. Each dimension is represented as a continuum with contrasting values at the ends. She points out that it is necessary to combine the individual dimensions in order to create effective instructional scaffolds. 
The dimensions are:

(1) Goal orientation (i.e. the goal of the support; support should be planned, not only when learners are having difficulties)
Highly focused <-----> Unfocused

(2) Adaptability (meet the needs of a diverse range of students)
Fixed <-----> flexible

(3) Accessibility (available when the student needs is - "just-in-time")
High <-----> Low

(4) Alignment (support is aligned with task goals and learning outcomes)
High <-----> Low

(5) Experiential value (learners' experiences allow them to plan, act, reflect and transfer knowledge of skills to new tasks/contexts)
High <-----> Low

(6) Collaboration (emphasis on social constructivism and use of web tools to support collaboration suggest this dimension is already well accepted)
Supported <-----> Unsupported

(7) Constructivism (support knowledge construction (strong scaffold), not memorization (weak scaffold))
Strong <-----> Weak

(8) Learning orientation (scaffolds allow learner to progress from teacher regulation to self-regulation and self-direction)
Teacher regulation <-----> Learner regulation

(9) Multiplicity (various types of scaffolding to support aspects of learning such as metacognition, reflection, articulation and comparison)
One-dimensional <-----> Multi-dimensional

(10) Granularity (high granularity allows learners to select and reconstruct the parts that are meaningful to them in a task)
Low granularity <-----> High granularity

For H807, we were supposed to read the ten dimensions, and pick any two we thought are important and think about why they are relevant to the learning materials that we would like to design. 
I think Alignment is an important dimension. No online course can succeed if it doesn't carefully articulate its goals, and follow these through the activities to appropriately fitting and related assessments (not necessarily only at the end either). It seems that it would follow that you need to also ensure support is aligned to your goals, tasks, activities and intended outcomes. 

Given the wealth of affordances of technologies available for online learners, and the benefits of studying surrounded by a community rather than alone, I would also pick Collaboration as an important dimension. It has clearly been designed in to every aspect of H807, the hyperbole around web 2.0 tools is primarily centered on opportunities for collaboration, and it supports the constructivist theories of learning which are now widely valued.

The paper suggests that scaffolds can be created by software, technological tools and web-based functionalities. Previously I conceived scaffolding to be something the might be provided by another person (peer, tutor, etc), or might be provided through the design of course materials (for example, interactive computer-based training with progressively lesser levels of hints or support provided). The idea that technological tools such as collaborative conferencing, document sharing, social forums or web 2.0 tools might offer scaffolds was new to me - but was something that was easy to accept, not least from observation of the provision of such methods throughout H807.

There are implicit value judgements in the ten dimensions, for example, that alignment should be high, adaptability should be flexible, etc, and the desirable ends of the continua (continuums?!!) don't all point in the same direction . It's unlikely you could design scaffolding which 'scored' highly on all ten dimensions, although overlaps exist, for example between Collaboration and Constructivism, and between Goal Orientation and Alignment. I think possibly the most helpful use of the ten dimensions might be in using them as a checklist to review, revise and improve scaffolding once it is designed. 

We were also supposed to answer the question "What are your first thoughts on how you’ll design your materials?". For me, this was an example of a poorly scaffolded activity! I didn't understand the context - was it supposed to relate to our End of Course Assessment designs, to the materials which we design in our jobs (in which case another assumption that H807 students are in e-learning roles), or to our general aspirations? Clearly I want to design the best materials I can, but they will be different in every situation. Having a framework like these ten dimensions in my toolkit is useful, but is a long way from knowing "how I'll design my materials".

McLoughlin, C. (2002) ‘Learner support in distance and networked learning environments: ten dimensions for successful design’, Distance Education, vol.23, no.2, pp.149–62.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Musing on Salmon's e-tivities

This post comes at a relatively early stage in my exploration of e-tivities, before I've attempted to design any e-tivities, or had an opportunity to participate in any developed by my H807 colleagues. However, a few thoughts have been bubbling up as I've sat with the readings recently...
E-tivities, or the five-stage framework is highly geared to group learning. There really isn't a place in it for the individual learner. While it may be the case that constructivist and situated learning theories tend to point towards learning in groups, and the web, web2.0 and all that it offers are also highly social, we will still have individual online and distance learners.
I'm wondering how e-tivities relate to child learners. While the five-stage framework has time and space for stumbling through early technical difficulties and early socialisation, I'm wondering whether children's social skills might indicate a natural ceiling within the framework, through which they will not be ready to progress without further maturity. I don't know where that ceiling would or might be, and given the online-savy of many children, perhaps their online social development will take a different trajectory to that traditionally observed in the face-to-face classroom, but it seems reasonable to expect differences in the level of tutor/moderator support required by children and adults, or come to that, generally more and less experienced learners.
I was also wondering how I might apply Salmon's framework to the e-learning I see developed in my job, and I haven't yet been able to make it match. That is despite desperately wanting more (appropriate, tailored, well-designed and purposeful) interactivity, more constructivist activities, to develop students as independent learners, to provide more formative feedback opportunities etc., etc. So, why doesn't it seem to fit? I think it's because so much of the training we develop is focused on learning procedures, for example bringing a generator into service, maintaining a pump, or interacting with a complex human-computer interface to set up highly sophisticated equipment. In cases where it's training in a procedure that's required, I'm not sure that community socialisation, knowledge construction and mutual sharing can help. While all of these might make for deeper learning with greater opportunities for elaborating on personal knowledge, there's also the issue of cost and length of training course. In cases where there is a constraint that you must train x people in y amount of time, it's possible that the extra time required might make e-tivities an unworkable solution - a point which is perhaps supported by Salmon's acknowledgement (see Workshop on E-Tivities, slide 10) that constructivist courses tend to need a longer course length and greater e-moderator input compared to instructivist courses.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

E-tivity examples and resources

Struggling a bit with our current task to design an e-tivity (or sequence of e-tivities? - I'm not quite clear) for our tutor group, so I thought I'd take some inspiration from what's out there already...

E-tivity 1 (related to Stage 1- Access & Motivation)
Purpose - to be able to access the VLE Asynchronous Discussion tool
Task - to post an initial message introducing yourself to others
Interaction - the e-tutor checks that students can access and provide feedback for motivation.
E-tivity 2 (related to Stage 2 - Online Socialisation)
Purpose - to introduce yourself to others in your group
Task - to post a message introducing a topic of the student's choice via the Conference Room tool
Interaction - contributions from others in the group within a 'threaded' discussion. Participation and summary by e-tutor.
E-tivity 3 (related to Stage 4 - Knowledge Construction)
Purpose - to analyse your preferred methods of learning and to consider alternative processes or models
Task - to post thoughts on a particular piece of reading on learning methods
Interaction - others members of the group provide their own interpretations and thoughts. E-tutor moderate and summarise.

A nice little widget (or a text download equivalent) offering several examples of e-tivities at each of Salmon's 5 stages of the e-moderation framework.

An example of using email-based games as e-tivities.

Links to examples of e-tivities from language education

Resources relating to e-tivities:

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Developing socialisation - a counter view to Salmon's e-tivities

The development of socialisation in an on-line learning environment’, Jones, N. and Peachey, P. (2004)

This paper takes a critical view of Salmon’s five-stage model and questions the validity and usefulness of all the stages as they are presently described by Salmon. It is also an example of a small-scale piece of ethnographic research and evaluation.

The paper describes a number of iterations of an e-moderating course, developed to support teachers/lecturers new to computer-mediated communication. The course adopted a constructivist approach, with social dialogue as an essential feature of the pedagogy.

At Stage 1 (of Salmon's framework) a face-to-face induction workshop was held. This allowed familiarisation with the VLE and for students to experience initial message posting and sharing. 

Each time the course was presented, a relatively high level of informal interactivity was observed at Stage 1, which was followed by a significant drop at Stage 2. It then slightly increased at Stage 3, as would be expected of Salmon's framework. This suggests that there was not strong evidence of the formation of an effective online community during Stage 2, and that the intended socialization which underpins an effective community did not emerge. The authors argue that this is because effective socialization in fact emerged during Stage 1 due to the effective design of induction sessions. Given this success, Salmon's recommendations for Stage 2 e-tivity design may need to focus more on maintaining motivation than on socialization.

Take away thoughts
  • Stephenson and Coomey (2001) - promoting dialogue, and the consequent development of learning communities are important factors contributing to success of online courses.
  • "Social factors as well as intellectual factors are important in e-learning"
  • Development ins elearning have "not provided practicing educators with the wherewithal to reconstitute and embed constructivst ideas within their personal philosophies and teaching practices" (Bonk, 2003).
  • "... for effective learning, the skills of the moderator are more important than the features of the software tools being used..." (Alexander and Boud, 2001).
  • There are contrasting views on whether the socialization stage of a course can/should be carried out entirely online (advocated by Salmon, 2000), or partly face-to-face (advocated by Mason, 2002, who argues that this is one of the 'most important' features of successful online courses.

Jones, N. and Peachey, P. (2004) ‘The development of socialisation in an on-line learning environment’, paper given at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in 2004 [online] (Accessed 10 February 2011).

Alexander and Boud (2001), Bonk (2003), Mason (2002) all cited by Jones and Peachey (2004).

E-tivities - integrated into a campus-university module

‘The integration and implementation of a range of “e-tivities” to enhance students’ interaction and learning’, Pavey, J. and Garland, S.W. (2004)

This is a case study of a UK sport science course that used Salmon’s framework to enhance student interaction.

The authors used Salmon’s five-stage framework to develop their e-tivities, and suggest a template which can be used to map the particular aspects of an activity against each of Salmon’s five stages:
Stage in Salmon's model          Activity
1. Access and motivations Instructions given in face to face session. E-tivity objectives set. Encouraged to familiarise selves with the technology.
2. Online socializationFamiliarization task. Information information exchange encouraged.
3. Information exchangeDiscussion board introduced - allocated tasks using synchronous and asynchronous discussion.
4. Knowledge constructionOnline information gathering, quizzes and discussions - the main part of the e-tivities.
5. DevelopmentOngoing discussion boards with tutor moderation as required. 
The e-tivities developed for this course were delivered through the Blackboard VLE, which was also new to the students/course at the time. Plenty of familiarisation and orientation time was therefore built in to the programme before students were required to engage in the course-specific learning e-tivities. Four e-tivities were developed:
  • formative quizzes - based on a range of online resources and readings, and which provided automated marking and feedback (e.g. drag and drop labelling of anatomical diagrams) 
  • interactive web pages and animations - animations of complex processes, helps students to understand concepts 
  • topic discussions - using asynchronous discussion board. 
  • an online 'lecture' - 90 minute online tutorial using synchronous discussion with students participating in small groups at a number of shared PCs.
Take-away thoughts
  • "Students have ample time to read other students' comments, do research and formulate a detailed response" (Clark, 2001)
  • "Providing guidelines for online activity should be rated as an important criterion for keeping online discussions 'on-topic'." (Beaudin, 1999)
  • Examples of such guidelines for communication are given, and include that groups nominate a spokesperson, that messages should only be posted when invited, that all messages must be directly relevant, and that participation is mandatory.
  • Importance of sufficient time to become comfortable with the technology, and that this is carried out separately to the main activities - "this approach supports the work of Salmon (2000) who found that students need to feel competent about how to use a VLE before they are comfortable with exchanging ideas and information".
  • The tutor can sometimes serve best by staying silent (Rohfeld and Hiemstra, 1995) as the effort of learning is passed to the students, individually and as a community. This approach has been demonstrated to be effective in increasing critical thinking and active learning (Hughes & Daykin, 2002)
  • Tutoring skills include knowing when to stay silent, weaving and summarizing ideas, asking the right questions (not necessarily giving answers), providing consistent support, and introducing and integrating activities into the module.
  • 83% of the students felt that web-based material should be developed for other modules... but 69% did not find the online lecture/group chat was a worthwhile experience as an alternative to face-to-face delivery. I wondered whether this might be due to technical challenges, discomfort at potential exposure in front of peers, or an underlying expectation that 'lectures' are didactic rather than constructivist in approach. My own experience has often shown students wanting to be told the answer, and finding it uncomfortable if they are required to construct knowledge more independently or collaboratively. 
  • The paper argues that online discussions might provide a means for students who prefer not to ask questions in front of their peers or lecturer - while this may be true, my gut feeling is that online fora still provide plenty of opportunities for a shy student to feel uncomfortable. They are (usually) still identifiable to the other participants, and there may even be heightened concerns regarding the fact that any comment made may be archived, prolonging the 'agony' of any 'embarrassing' comment or faux pas. 
  • The authors considered that the asynchronous and synchronous discussions were the most innovative aspects of the developments presented. Compared to our current Open University experience on H807 (in 2011), it's hard to feel that this is innovative. However, the paper is from 2004, and more importantly refers to a campus-based module. I think that incorporation of such online discussion in a campus-taught class today may well still be viewed as innovative.
Pavey, J. and Garland, S.W. (2004) ‘The integration and implementation of a range of “e-tivities” to enhance students’ interaction and learning’, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, vol.41, no.3, pp.305–15.

Clark (2001), Beaudin (1999), Rohfeld and Hiemstra (1995), Hughes and Daykin (2002) all cited by Pavey and Garland (2004).

Salmon’s five-stage model

Salmon (2002) has coined the term ‘e-tivity’ to describe ‘a framework for active and interactive learning’ (Salmon, 2002, p.1). She argues that participants in online learning groups need to be supported in a structured way through a learning ‘event’, and that it is when this structure is absent that online learning fails.

Salmon suggests that all interactive learning activities should be:
  • motivating, engaging and purposeful
  • based on interaction between people – individuals and groups and resources
  • designed and led by someone who understands their role and has learned the skills of online conference moderation
  • simple, low cost and easy to run
  • reusable.
The key features of e-tivities are:
  • a ‘spark’ – stimulus, challenge, task, problem
  • an online activity – students have to DO something
  • a participative element – students have to respond
  • a summary, feedback or critique – from the group or tutor
  • guidelines – instructions for the activity, an invitation to take part.
Salmon’s five stages are:

Students begin at stage 1 where they require maximum technical and e-moderator support. As they progress, they develop in their online interactions, gradually developing and strengthening the learning community, requiring less support, and engaging more in personal and community knowledge construction. Salmon’s five-stage framework provides the scaffolding structure for learning and, she argues, each of the five stages requires different kinds of activities.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Usability evaluation of the Futurelab web site

The site downloaded quickly, opening even the big banner graphic fast (I’m sure that’s something they thought about!). The ‘educationeye’ element of the page took a few seconds longer to fill with its content. All links seemed to work and pictures displayed fine. I didn’t come across any audio or video elements, which surprised me a little as I'm so used to seeing embedded video on educational resource sites these days.

The Futurelab web site includes a mini ‘educationeye’ on the front page, but I couldn’t understand why the content was arranged as it was. Education Eye offers “a way to discover and explore new ideas by mapping 100s of the top educational websites, blogs, forums and practitioner case studies.” The list view was obvious, but the ‘full’ view positioned items around the space using some metric I couldn’t fathom.

Clicking on the title took me to the full version of EducationEye ( which I found took quite a bit longer to load. It has a fancy interface which allows you to scroll around and view articles relating to innovation in education. I’ve been back to look at this site a few times as it feels like it ought to be a really useful site, but the interface gets in the way for me. I feel like I don’t know what I’m meant to do with it. There is the option to subscribe via RSS, which seems more attractive as I’d be able to scan the incoming feed headlines quickly, but I feel like I’m missing something and being incredibly dense and failing to appreciate whatever brilliant design they’ve come up with.

The site initially appears easy to navigate with the front page displaying a large menu of 4 aspects:

When you click on one of these, you get an expanded list:
However, this annoyed me, as I wasn’t able to see the detail of what was under each menu item until I'd clicked on the front page link - and then waited for the page to re-draw. Maybe my broadband connection got busier while I was using the site, but it certainly took longer to load these pages than it had the home page.

After quite a bit of fiddling, I found that the largest amount of useful looking content seemed to be on the Our Work and Resources pages. And then I discovered that the Resources page had a nice ‘Guided Search’ (effectively search by tag) feature... why wasn’t this on the home page?!

In terms of accessibility, I don’t know how a screen-reader would cope with this site. Perhaps the very simple top level of the menu would be easy for a screen-reader to interpret, but I don’t know how they work. I also don’t know how they work with Flash, but the interactivity provided by educationeye seems likely to pose problems for those with visual impairments.

I used the WAVE free web accessibility evaluation tool provided by WebAIM to check the site. WAVE doesn’t provide a complex technical report, but presents the original web page with overlayed icons and indicators that reveal the accessibility of that page. The outcome for Futurelab’s site seemed pretty favourable.
While this site deals with education, supporting teachers and providing resources, it is not intended to be a learning activity. Therefore, I didn’t really feel it was appropriate to evaluate in terms of pedagogical issues, learning design, sequencing, etc.

Context-specificGiven the intended audience, it might be argued that this site is designed for the technically confident, IT literate user, happy to use the tools available, knowledgable in search techniques, and able to easily recognise the web 2.0 features such as a blog and RSS feed. Conversely, the site could be intended to be for all those educators out there who really want to improve their innovative use of technology in learning, but who are nervous or lacking experience. I think that once they’ve found the Resources page they may be happy, but I feel that the navigation might put some people off - there is often a very real attitude (or at least learned behaviour) that if an item isn’t clickable from the front page, people don’t/won’t go digging for it. This makes web design a real challenge - providing readily available content, without completely cluttering up the front page.

Personal reflectionI have a niggling gut feeling with this site that, while it has good content and I think what Futurelab do is really interesting, the site itself feels like an example of design over substance. I feel that I shouldn’t be saying this... that they are a site focusing on technology in education, they know about design, accessibility, usability, they employ expert designers, and so it must be me who is wrong in not getting on with this site as well as I want to... but maybe, just maybe I’m not the only one?!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Reflecting on web 2.0 week

Web 2.0 is so last week! Well, it is if you're on H807 and already being encouraged to move on to evaluating usability, which is the next theme.

I had a lot of fun looking at mashups (more than once!), RSS feeds, social bookmarking, social networking and assessment 2.0.

There are just a few niggling thoughts that I haven't recorded so far...
  • I had fun looking at all these different tools and technologies, as did I think my fellow students, but the fact that they can be included in a course in innovation really shows that despite all the hype, and the growing number of users, there is a long way to go until we reach either widespread acceptance, or toolset stability. In a space of a few short years  tools and trends have come and gone, as shown by this History of Social Media Infographic, and for many people such instability is disconcerting.
  • While there were plenty of papers telling me about how brilliant these web 2.0 tools could be for education, finding actual examples and case studies was much tricker. Mashups seem a great concept, but mixing data from multiple sources isn't straightforward, and while there were lots of obvious suggestions for using RSS feeds and social bookmarking in teaching and learning, it seemed that social networking and assessment 2.0 have much further to go in terms of uptake. 
  • We often come across statements like "young people expect to use networked technologies in their learning", and "the net generation use their social networks for learning and expect their educators to do so too". I think a lot of caution needs to be exercised here. Steve Wheeler warns against accepting wholesale the idea of digital natives and immigrants, and advocates Dave White's alternative theory of visitors and residents. This all reminds me of the excellent Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future study by the British Library and JISC. It looks at the following claims about the Google Generation, and presents information which indicates that some of these are myths:
    • Google Generation show a preference for visual information over text 
    • Google Generation want a variety of learning experiences 
    • Google Generation Have shifted decisively to digital forms of communication 
    • Google Generation 'Multitask’
    • Google Generation are impatient and have zero tolerance for delay 
    • Google Generation find their peers more credible as a source of information than authority figures 
    • Google Generation need to feel constantly connected to the web 
    • Google Generation learn by doing rather than knowing 
    • Google Generation prefer quick information in the form of easily digested short chunks rather than full text
    • Google Generation have a poor understanding and lack of respect for intellectual property
    • Google Generation are format agnostic 
    • For the Google Generation, virtual reality may be as real as the real experience 
If you're short of time, pages 13-21 cover the claims and fact/myth findings.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Assessment 2.0

Assessment is the process of generating and gathering evidence of student learning, such that a judgement can be made about that evidence. Or at least it is in assessment 1.0. This is assessment as we have known it, and its characteristics have changed little in 100 years.

Web 2.0 covers "six big ideas" (Anderson, 2006, cited by Elliott, 2007):
  1. user-generated content
  2. the power of the crowd
  3. data on an epic scale
  4. architecture of participation
  5. network effects
  6. openness
Enter assessment 2.0. In a world where "web 2.0 is life 1.0 for most [younger] students" (Elliott, 2007), it is argued that the type of assessment activity best suited to the digital native will exhibit the following characteristics:
  • Authenticity - assessment of real-world skills and knowledge
  • Personalised - reflecting the knowledge, skills and interests of students
  • Negotiated - assessments may be agreed between teacher and learner
  • Problem-orientated - applying problem-solving skills to realistic tasks
  • Socially constructed - and involving the student's social networks in solving
  • Collaboratively produced - assessment is no longer purely individual and competitive, but recognises skills in collaboration
  • Recognising existing skills - and accrediting these.
Elliott describes assessment 2.0 in the following presentation:

The best site I found offering a collection of examples of assessment 2.0 was this wiki of case studies, from the "Web 2.0 Authoring Tools in Higher Education Learning and Teaching: New Directions for Assessment and Academic Integrity" project (part of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council).

It's a pretty up to date resourse, the case studies having been collected over 6 months in 2010, and include the following:
Social web activitySubject/DisciplineLevel of study
BloggingCultural StudiesUndergraduate

Cinema StudiesUndergraduate

Information ManagementPostgraduate


Media StudiesPostgraduate
Various Web 2.0 toolsEducationPostgraduate
Social networkingLanguagesUndergraduate
Photo sharingCommunication DesignUndergraduate

Virtual worldsLanguagesUndergraduate
Wiki writingAccountingPostgraduate




Information Technology (A)Postgraduate

Information Technology (B)Undergraduate


University College London's Learning Technology Support Service blog refers to a presentation by Prof Geoffrey Crisp which posts on examples of assessment 2.0, including:
  • Examine QuickTime VR image of a geological formation then answer questions based on that – drawing on things wouldn’t be able to see from static image.
  • Examine panograph (scrolling and zoomable image) of Bayeux Tapestry and answer questions drawing together different parts – students selecting evidence from different segments of the tapestry.
  • Interactive spreadsheets – Excel with macros. Students can change certain bits and answer questions on resulting trends in graphs. Can have nested response questions so that the answer to the second is based on first. (But there is a need for care with dependences so that a wrong move early on doesn’t lead to total failure).
  • Chemical structures using the Molinspiration tool. Students can draw molecular structures using the tool and copy and paste the resulting text string into answer which is held in the VLE quiz tool.
  • Problem solving using a tool called IMMEX (‘It Makes You Think’) which tracks how students approach problems. The tutor adds in real, redundant and false information that the students can draw on to solve the problem. They can use it all but the more failed attempts they make the fewer marks they get. We saw an archaeology example in which students had to date an artefact.
  • Role plays which can be done using regular VLE features such as announcements, discussion forums, wikis. Students adopt different personas and enter into discussion and debate through those personas.
  • Scenario based learning – this is more prescriptive than role play. The recommended tool is
  • Simulations – the site offers a virtual bank and factory. Students can work within bized then answer questions in the VLE.
  • Second Life (virtual world) assessment in which the avatar answers questions which go back into Moodle.
Examples of these and more are available through the site.

Other examples I came across include:

Elliott, B. (2007) Assessment 2.0 - Assessment in the age of Web 2.0. Available:

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Social networking

Once again this post investigates an aspect of web 2.0. I present a summary of some research and links on the use of social networking in higher education.

Facebook as a Functional Tool and Critical Resource
A course colleague posted a link to this a few days ago, and I just got a chance to read it. In a world where (some) university administrators consider use of Facebook to be subverting the official channels, Mark Lipton is integrating Facebook into his lectures in an innovative an inspirational way. He argues that since the students have Facebook on their laptops while they are in the lecture, he might as well take advantage of this! In his media studies course he is able to teach both about and through digital tools (like Facebook) and demonstrates and models and online identity to help students understand "responsible" Facebook use.

He creates Facebook class groups which are usually open because he insists on an approach to media learning that is open, social, and connected. Use of the Facebook group is not mandatory or graded. During lectures, a teaching assistant monitors the group wall and discussion lists. These are projected on the screen at regular intervals throughout any given lecture. Lipton argues that when students are given free reign without the stress of assessment, he can notice what they find important, where he needs to explicate, and when he should stop to give them voice to articulate their concerns

Lipton shares some of his lessons learned, which include:
  • sharing with students how he manages his Facebook identity - modelling responsible practice
  • in order to use Facebook—and not be used by it—one needs to understand how to operate its settings and options
  • he will not “friend” his students, but is happy to accept a student “friend request”
  • he makes explicit that any student/“friends” are added to a list that is used to block them from some of his more personal Facebook information, such as photo albums
  • he tries to ensure that students do not come up in his news feed and suggests that students block him from their news feed
  • he keeps communication with students as public as possible, asking students to post to the group wall so that everyone can participate, and avoiding the use of private Facebook chat.
Teaching with Social Networks: Establishing a Social Contract (pdf available here)

This paper describes the use of social contracts, collaboratively authored, updated and enforced by students in a blended class which describe permissible and expected behaviour in classroom and online contexts. This paper provides examples of successful student social contracts and describes students’ views on the impact of the social contract on their learning.

Facebook in the Language Classroom: Promises and Possibilities
This paper observes that e-learning tools have yet to be viewed as a mainstream component of foreign language teaching and have yet to become a foundational element used in L2 (second language) classes. It notes that "low level technology uses are generally associated with teacher-centered classrooms, whereas high-level technology usually promotes constructivist practices in which the students have to collaborate", but which require teachers to adapt new ways of communicating with students and to adopt new pedagogies. It argues that computer-mediated-communication can "positively modify teacher-centered models of interaction in the L2 classroom, and encourage students to interact with each other and rely on the L1 less as a consequence".

Facebook groups are identified as providing opportunities for L2 students to observe and participate in discussions from various regions of the world where the target language is spoken natively. It argues that opportunities for "intercultural communication with authentic native speakers of comparable age
language variation is of particular interest for intermediate and advanced language learners as it illustrates the richness of the L2 and introduces them to more authentic and colloquial language".

Despite all the hype, the web is not awash with case studies of integrating social networking into educational practice. While perhaps a little pessimistic (forgiveable, since it's from 3 years ago, but actually I wonder how much has changed...) I'll close with the following quote from George Siemens:
Social networking is still part of the hype cycle of educational technology tools. And for good reason. Involvement in a network can be a surprising waste of time…and a surprisingly effective way to learn. Social Networking in higher education looks at various common tools like Facebook and Twitter, and concludes “We’re incredibly excited about the things we can do in online and distance education with social networking…”As is often the case, the real story is where the action isn’t. It’s where the action will be. And I see that as the methods and approaches that we use to design curriculum, education, and our institutions. How long do we explore new tools and concepts until we are forced to consider the very spaces in which they occur?

Logos 2.0

LOGO2.0 part I
Image courtesy of Ludwig Gatzke, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License...
(and it's worth taking a look at the original of this image on Flikr where you can hover over the logos for more info).

Social bookmarking

The next tool in the investigations of web 2.0 tools and technologies is social bookmarking.

Sites like DeliciousDiigo, Clipmarks, and many more, allow users to collect internet resources and links, apply descriptive tags, and share them with particular groups of people or the public as a whole. Common Craft has a nice 3 minute introduction to social bookmarking in plain English. (Actually they have videos on a big list of internet and technology topics).

A quick run-down of the benefits of social bookmarking include:
  • Ease of use - access from any computer. Bookmarks are not saved in one browser/application
  • Public sharing - allowing you to find bookmarks recommended by others 
  • Resources which are perceived as more useful will be shared more, hence promoting or ranking links
  • Users define their own descriptive tags - no need to learn or be restricted by any imposed classification framework
  • Provides a means of sorting large collections of bookmarks, which can become unmanageable with traditional methods
  • Shared bookmarks may be rated, commented upon, auto-published to blogs and other media, annoted, subscribed to via RSS feeds.
And in the interest of balance, some downsides:
  • Idiosyncratic/non-standard use of keyword tagging - inconsistencies in tagging (e.g singular/plural, capitalisation, spelling errors)
  • Tags may have more than one meaning, or be used in unusual ways by some users
  • Tags do not support the definition of hierarchical relationships
  • Assumption of reduced personal privacy - although some sites allow private tagging
We were asked to consider an educational context in which social bookmarking might be appropriate and useful. Obvious examples include:
  • Allowing students to access a teacher's bookmark list
  • Enabling students to collaborate on a project by sharing the resources they find
  • Curating a social bookmark collection formed from other student-generated content that is produced during a course or project (e.g. wikis, blogs, podcasts, videos, mindmaps, documents, diagrams, etc etc)
  • Allowing teachers to find lesson resources produced by other teachers

I found a very interesting project (supported by the Higher Education Academy's Education Subject Centre) investigating whether it is possible to assess social bookmarking activities. The premise is that, because Diigo supports conversation, it might therefore support higher order cognitive activities. Students are helped to go beyond just ‘remembering’ (creating bookmarks) and move to ‘understanding’ (using tags), ‘evaluating’ (by offering comments) and even ‘creating’ (such as planning essays). Because these higher-level skills are involved, assessment becomes possible, A marking scheme can reflect both the cognitive and social nature of social bookmarking and consider:

  • the number and type of texts that a student bookmarks
  • the quality of commentary given for each bookmark (emphasizing meaning-making and critique above listing and tagging)
  • the level of interaction with peers.

More information on this interesting project in a blogpost. The author also has another blog post giving a useful list of recommendations on helping students make the most of social bookmarking.

Another interesting article (also linked by the author of the above study in face) is on the limitations of Delicious and how these could be used to encourage learner engagement.

Unlike the conversation aspects of Diigo featured in the project above, Delicious is sometimes criticised for not encouraging participation or community. This article argues that that 'weakness' might actually make it the right tool for those learners who struggle with active participation and collaboration. It suggests that collecting and sharing links is a more neutral activity than, say, contributing to a wiki and so might be helpful in reducing  anxiety associated with participating online.

I've not really used social bookmarking much before. I've had fleeting uses of StumbleUpon and Clipmarks, but not maintained use of any. I find that in normal web usage I rarely bookmark now - search is so improved that I can find what I want so easily. However, if you've forgotten something exists, then search might not help, so I am beginning to want to bookmark again, particularly for this course. In my PhD I maintained a TiddlyWiki, in which I saved links in as well as adding commentary and notes on papers I read. This is probably why I didn't need social bookmarking at the time. I'm doing something a little bit similar with this blog, but I think a tool designed more for the purpose of saving links will be useful. The Student learning with Diigo site offered the following two reasons which have persuaded me to try out Diigo at the moment:
  • Diigo allows users to annotate webpages. Other social bookmarking sites let users save a website title, description and to tag the website with relevant keywords. Diigo does this, but also lets users highlight portions of a webpage, or to add a virtual "sticky note" on the website. And the annotations can be made available to the entire network to help other users.
  • Diigo saves a screenshot of webpages. This can help users to remember what the page looked like previously, especially if the page was changed over time.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Tools for assessing web accessibility

Kevin, a former H808 colleague, posted the following on accessibility today - very useful as next week on H807 we are investigating usability.

This post is also made automatically from my new account - a social bookmarking tool which I'm experimenting with as part of this week's web 2.0 tool investigations.
Amplify’d from
Filed under: Uncategorized — kevhickeyuk @ 9:54 am
Here are a few tools that should help anyone  who wants to make sure their website/intranet/ online learning content, is as accessible as possible;
  • The Accessibility colour wheel allows you to select foreground and background colours, simulates how they would look to those with different types of colour blindness.  If you select a colour combination that is good, in terms of accessibility, you will get a ‘good’ message appear on the screen.
  • WAVE is a free web accessibility evaluation tool provided by WebAIM. It is used to aid humans in the web accessibility evaluation process. Rather than providing a complex technical report, WAVE shows the original web page with embedded icons and indicators that reveal the accessibility of that page.
  • The Fujitsu Web Accessibility Inspector is one of a number of tools that will validate a webpage according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) guidelines.  This can produce a detailed report which identifies a number of issues.  If you are using a system such as SharePoint, then it might highlight issues that you will not be able to easily change.