Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stellar - Meeting of Young Minds

Last week I spent Monday and Tuesday at the Stellar Meeting of Young Minds in Leuven, Belgium. The point of the meeting was to get twelve leading young thinkers in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) together to consider where the research is going and what should be funded through future European Commission funding calls. I was very lucky to be one of those twelve selected.

The instrument used in this meeting to consider what the future of TEL was scenario building. The JRC define a scenario as:
A scenario is a "story" illustrating visions of possible future or aspects of possible future. It is perhaps the most emblematic Foresight or future studies method. Scenarios are not predictions about the future but rather similar to simulations of some possible futures. They are used both as an exploratory method or a tool for decision-making, mainly to highlight the discontinuities from the present and to reveal the choices available and their potential consequences.

You can find more details on scenarios on the JRC website - http://forlearn.jrc.ec.europa.eu/guide/4_methodology/meth_scenario.htm or on the Foresight Horizon Planning Toolkit - http://hsctoolkit.bis.gov.uk/About-15.html.

To begin before even arriving in Leuven we were asked to come up with some trends that we believe are going to have a big impact on TEL and learning in general over the next 10-20 years. In a later post I will give more details on the trends identified. In this post I wanted to just outline my experience in Leuven using the Future Scenarios methodology. 

During the future scenario buliding we were split into three groups of four. The group I was in concentrated on the uncertainity of the future and how it is widely held that we are educating young people for jobs that do not even exist yet. What does this mean? We need to essentially equip people now with the skills and knowledge to allow them to adapt and remould themselves in the future. In essence to react to the needs of the world they live in, in a timely fashion. We need to train people to train themselves.

As a group we were transfixed on the backwardness of standardised eduction. We make kids conform to a norm so that we can measure them against their peers. This in essense supresses their individuality and their uniqueness. Granted there are skills that need to be taught to allow an individuals mould themselves to fit with the needs of a changing world but these skills can be taught through a medium that interests and motivates the individual.

We looked at how a more personalised curriculum could be achieved - where people learn about the things that excite in a way that motivates them to want to learn. In this environement a teacher facilitates the student by making sure the student has the right learning resources and experiences they need in a timely fashion. The teacher also facilitates, through technology, matching students with common interests and also matching students with experts in the subject area that motivates them. In this environment students are no longer assessed according to standardised tests, each student is assessed as to the how he or she has developed and the knowledge and skills he or she has mastered in the their chosen domain.

Our group also looked at whether we should still have compulsory subjects - perhaps language wont be an issue in the future, but maybe we should all have a basic grounding in things like history, science, maths, civics and world culture. This would be the responsibility of primary education, whereas secondary education allows the student to explore their own interests in a structure fashion. Secondary education would see students take progressively more ownership of their own education setting their own goals and development plans.

This was a very interesting and thought provoking session that I really enjoyed. Afterwards I was asked what three most relevant trends for the future, after some consideration I came up with:
  1. Training will be personalised to personal interest - you can set what you are interested and work towards your own goals
  2. There will be a need to train people to train themselves
  3. People will need to be skilled in a variety of core skills that will allow them to adapt to the needs of a changing world
We were also asked if we could get the commission to fund one research are what would it be, to which I replied:
Facilitating personalised learning using the abundant information available to people. Also look at how assessment could work if everyone had their own curriculum. I think we will move away from the standardised test to one that celebrates individuality.
I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rethinking Pedagogy - First four chapters

As I mentioned in a previous post the publishers of the Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age have asked me to give suggestions on changes for the second edition. This is the first proper post looking at this.

In this post I am briefly going to look that the first four chapters. So here goes:

Learning and e-learning - The role of theory by Terry Mayes and Sara de Freitas 
This chapter looks at the place of learning theory in e-learning. It introduces the reader to three perspectives on learning theory - assocationist, cognitive, situative - which is useful. I think perhaps more on this is warranted as a lot of e-learning researchers find it hard to understand all the various learning theories and how they sit with each other. The authors introduce the idea that each perspective has its place in the learning cycle. It would be great if there could be a diagram included to depict the learning theory perspectives. Also a diagram on the learning cycle would be good in the second edition. 

An Approach to Learning Activity Design by Helen Beetham
This chapter considers the design of learning activities. A learning activity can be defined in terms of learning outcomes, learners, digital resources and technology, and interaction with others. This is a good concise chapter that captures the key aspects of a learning activity.

Designing Courses for e-Learning by Rhona Sharpe and Martin Oliver
This chapter takes a macro view of course design whereas the previous chapter takes the micro view looking at learning activity design. The chapter begins with looking at approaches to course design and the problems with using learning outcomes and constructive alignment where 'assessment always defines the curriculum' and learning outcomes become essentially a straight jacket for the learner. The chapter then looks at models for course design. To be honest I would have liked a lot more detail here - each model could be a chapter on its own. This chapter also notes that its not by virtue of any pedagogical affordances that technology is integrated into course design - its by necessity to deal with some of the challenges in the classroom like growing class sizes. The chapter finishes with a brief outline of how to go about course redesign. This chapter is a key one for me and I would like to see a lot more detail in two areas - the models for course design and on the process of course redesign - perhaps new chapters for the second edition?

Practices and Processes of Design for Learning by Liz Masterman and Mira Vogel
This chapter looks at what e-learning designers are actually doing in the field in designing courseware and learning activities. The chapter draws on 3 JISC funded projects one of which is centered around the tool support provided by LAMS. The chapter looks at how learning designs can be represented. The goal of this should be the sharing of good learning design, which the authors look at in one of the final sections. I think if this chapter was more generic, not discussing LAMS so much, it would be much improved.

That's it for the first four chapters. I should have the next four in a week or so. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meeting of Young Minds - Belgium

I have been invited to the Meeting of Young Minds in Belgium at the end of the month. The idea behind this meeting is stated on the invitation as follows:

The idea of this meeting is to gather 12 young minds (below 35) to discuss the future of TEL research during two days (Nov. 28-29) in Leuven.
We will then send a white paper to the Commission to help them to shape future call in Technology enhanced learning. 
In preparation for this I have been asked for an informal introduction on myself and how I got involved in Technology Enhanced Learning - I decided to share what I wrote for this here:
How I came to be involved in TEL: When I read this statement, “how I came to be involved in TEL”, I really had to think - how did I get here? My interest and involvement in TEL was by no means planned, it was really an accident.  
I have always been interested in computers. As far back as I can remember I have been tinkering with (or breaking, depends on who you ask) a computer. After finishing school I did a degree in Software Systems. During my degree I liked to think of myself as a very technical person, only interested in hard-core technology issues. After my degree I wanted to get into more technical web issues and managed to get onto a research project that was investigating semantic web technologies. It just so happened that the domain that this project was looking at was TEL. To be honest, I can remember thinking that perhaps this project wasn’t for me, it was investigating TEL and not really important issues, I was pretty naive wasn’t I?  

During this project I tried very hard to stay away from TEL and concentrate on pure semantic web issues but it was no use as soon as I started to contemplate some of the big TEL questions, like ‘will what we are doing really help people learn?’, leading to bigger questions like ‘How do we learn anyway?’, I was hooked. My research in semantic web soon became a means to an end. At the end of this project we received additional funding for a longer term project to look at commercialising the technology we were developing. It was at this point that I considered myself a TEL researcher. I was now looking at how technology could help people to learn and teach. This was what now excited me. It was during this project I also completed my PhD, which looked at using software modelling technologies in designing good courseware.  

After completing my PhD. I had two loves TEL and, after working on a commercialisation project, entrepreneurship. I moved to Canada and worked in a start-up e-learning company that was spinning out of the University of  Toronto’s Psychology Dept. During this time we were looking at how we could use assessments to test knowledge fluency. We worked with all sorts of people from pilots to ice hockey officials to academics. This was a great time, very exciting and innovative. Unfortunately it was short lived - as the cash dried up and the revenue didn't come in quite fast enough.   


After completing my PhD. I had two loves TEL and, after working on a commercialisation project, entrepreneurship. I moved to Canada and worked in a start-up e-learning company that was spinning out of the University of  Toronto’s Psychology Dept. During this time we were looking at how we could use assessments to test knowledge fluency. We worked with all sorts of people from pilots to ice hockey officials to academics. This was a great time, very exciting and innovative. Unfortunately it was short lived - as the cash dried up and the revenue didn't come in quite fast enough.   

After my time in Canada I came back to Ireland and joined a company that specialises in providing professional services for e-learning Open Source Software (OSS) (mainly Moodle). This is were I am now and finding it very interesting work - helping mould OSS around clients e-learning needs. There I am in mainly a consultancy role but do like to get my hands into the code every now and again.  

I will of course blog about the meeting.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age - Feedback for 2nd Ed.

I received an email from the Routledge, the publishers of Beetham and Sharpe's Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age.
We are beginning work on a 2nd edition of Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age and I’m interested in getting your opinion on the need for and ideal scope of such a book.  I noticed you had reviewed the 1st edition on your blog and we wanted to give readers the chance to informally provide feedback on the planned 2ndedition.  Which chapters would you most like to see revised and which do you think should be dropped entirely?  What new topics do you feel should be added for a book that needs to be cutting-edge in 2013?  Any thoughts you wish to share will be appreciated. 
I have to say I applaud Routledge for looking to the readers and asking them what they want. Its been a while since I read the book but hey thats a good reason to revisit it and in doing so maybe I can give some feedback that Beetham and Sharpe can use for the second edition.

To do this I decided to maybe look briefly at each chapter and give my thoughts on that chapter. After reviewing each chapter I will go into what topics should be covered in the next edition that were not covered in the first edition.

The book is quite neatly divided into 16 chapters in two parts - Models of Learning and The practice of design. There is a third part containing resources that can be used by practitioners. Each resource is  covered in a chapter. In my whistle-stop review I will cover four chapters in each blog post and then another blog post will go into the cutting edge topics that I think the 2nd edition should look at.

If you have read the book it would be great if you could give your feedback on the appropriate posts I am going to pass on the posts to the publisher along with any comments that the posts receive.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Percolate Project

Over the past year I have been working on a really interesting research project called Percolate (http://www.percolate.ie). Percolate is a collaboration between various multinational companies in Ireland that develop e-learning solutions, indigenous Irish e-learning companies (including Enovation Solutions) and academic partners, namely Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University College Dublin (UCD), Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) DERI in NUI Galway.

The aim of the percolate project is to examine the very innovative bleeding edge technology that has been developed through research conducted by the academic partners over the last decade and make use of them in a commercial space by the industrial partners. Just to give you an idea of the technologies that have been developed:

  • Personalised learning engine (APeLs) developed by TCD
  • Semantic search from DERI
  • Social search from UCD - check out heystaks.com for the commercial application of UCD's social search
  • Learning metrics developed by TSSG in WIT


To push these technologies to their limits the industrial partners have come up with various use-cases. It is up to the academic partners to show how these technologies can be used in the various use cases. The use cases include:

  • K-12 use case - looking at how technology can be used for kids that are struggling at school and also kids that are shooting ahead, keeping them interested. 
  • Third Level use case - Looking at how a Learning Object Repository such as the NDLR (http://www.ndlr.ie) can be used to give Just-In-Time guidance and support to students engaged in Problem Based Learning activities. 
  • Corporate use case - Looking at how tacit knowledge can be more readily externalised and how corporates can make better use of social learning and quantify learner engagement with social learning. 


The aim of this post is really to give you a little taster of what is going on in the Percolate project. Over the next few posts I hope to expand on each of the projects and perhaps go into a bit of detail about the technologies that are being exploited as part of this project.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Representing learning designs - chapter review

"Learning Design" versus "learning design" key distinctions need to be made in chapter 7 and 8 of Beetham and Sharpe's book - " Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age". Learning Design refers to the IMS Learning Design specification which, according to Britain in Chapter 8 of the book, is an interoperability specification, an educational modelling language and a design methodology with associated tools. Learning design on the other hand refers to the instructional design generally.

Chapter 7, representing practioner experiences through learning design and patterns (McAndrew and Goodyear), looks at how we can express instructional design. It looks at the IMS LD specification at first but then looks to abstract on this using educational practice patterns.

Britain's chapter, chapter 8, goes into a bit more detail about the IMS LD specification and looks at the type of tool support it has, which is quite sparse and very much in an embryonic stage. All the tools are basically designed by the research community for the research community. The chapter does mention some more mainstream VLEs and tools will be looking to adopt IMS LD, but I am not sure this is the case - the chapter mentions that IMS LD is on the Moodle development roadmap but I have never seen that and there is no citation for this claim - perhaps someone can point me in the right direction?

This is another chicken and egg scenario in that we wont understand the potential of LD until we have good tool support but tool support for LD wont be built until the potential is understood.

Nice quote to finish the post:
Successful teaching involves a variety of strategies and techniques for engaging, motivating and energizing student over and above merely presenting them with well-designed learning materials. (Britain, 2007)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Describing learning activities

Chapter six in the Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age book is a nice chapter by Grainne Conole on describing learning activities. In this chapter, Grainne looks at how technology can be used to support learning as we move towards a more socially oriented learning paradigm. As outlined in the chapter we are moving away from the easy "here is the content now learn" model to a more complicated, but arguably more effective learning scenario that looks at socially situative learning.

One great thing I took away from the chapter was Littlejohn et. al levels of LO granularity, which are, in increasing levels of complexity:
  1. digital assets - single file
  2. information objects - aggregation of digital assets
  3. learning activities - involves interations with information
  4. learning design - structured sequences of information and activities
Grainne also discusses some of the standards and specifications that have been developed around these levels of LOs, from IEEE LOM to IMS LD.

The chapter goes on to define learning activities. Learning activities are defined using a taxonomy of its components, which are:
  • The context - when does the activity occur? What is the learning outcome? What type of learning outcome?
  • The pedagogy - associative, cognitive or situative?
  • The tasks - types of tasks, interaction, resources. Tasks can be classified as:
    • assimilative tasks
    • information handling
    • adaptive
    • communicative
    • productive
    • experiential
One noted critism of this model is how componentised it is. It deals with each element of a learning activity as an atomic unit when each element will always be used in conjunction with other elements. The combination of components needs to be assessed but this is a lot more complex then dealing with each component individually.

The chapter also looks at other approaches to creating learning activities including; narratives and case studies, lesson plans, templates and wizards, toolkits, models and patterns. Looking at these approaches the question is are we abstracting too much information away from the pedagogical expert that is the course creator? Although these models allow for courses to be created more efficiently using tried and tested learning design we still must make provisions to allow the expert course creator to move away from the prescribed learning designs in these models, perhaps through an "advanced view" of the learning design?

Anyway - great chapter Grainne!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Blogging - Quantity or Quality

Had an interesting discussion with a colleague today about blogs - whether its better to write good, well edited, well thought through posts every so often or whether you should post as often as possible in what ever way you can effectively articulate your thoughts. What do you think?

I suppose if you have read any of this blog you know that its more the "just get it out there" type of blog. I make no apologies for this. It is my blog and I choose to use primarily as a way of expressing what I believe to be true and invite people to correct me if I am wrong. This serves me in two ways - allows for reflective learning and also exposes my thoughts and beliefs for analysis to be contradicted and so I have the opportunity to correct any misconceptions I may have on a subject through a feedback loop.

Today I had a listen to Stephen Downes talk on the role of Open Educational Resources in personal learning - MP3 . Stephen talks about how knowledge can be viewed as a network of nodes and how nodes interact with each other. To that end my "knowledge" must be viewed as a mere node in a bigger network of individuals - for the network to learn I need to expose my thoughts for other nodes to contradict, contribute and concur with my thoughts, reasoning and logic. In turn I leave comments on other people's blogs to do the same. This is essentially how the network as a whole learns and becomes better.

So in conclusion - yes, I admit it, I throw rambling thoughts up on this blog. Why? Well to reflect on them and to invite comment - good, bad or indifferent.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Describing ICT-based learning designs

Chapter 5 in the Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age book looks at describing ICT-based learning designs, by Ron Oliver et al. The authors make the observation that there now appears to be a proliferation of reusable learning resources available but little in terms of guidance or workflows of effective pedagogical practice in using these learning object and it is this that teachers in fact are craving.

These workflows are more generally defined as learning designs. Learning designs have four key elements - learner engagement, acknowledgement of the learning context, learner challenge and provision of practice, as defined by Boud and Prosser.

The chapter attempts to establish a framework for defining learning designs. A learning design topology is defined consisting of four key kinds of learning designs - Rule-based, incident-based, strategy-based and role based. Each of the learning designs are described first generally in terms of a Domain Specific Modelling Language and then shown how this language can be used in an example use case.

I think the ideas here are good - it is very similar to what people like Davina Hern├índez-Leo have been doing  with the IMS LD specification - creating best practice templates for specific pedagogical contexts.


Coming from modelling background I am still trying to figure out how this would fit into a metamodel hierarchy. I suppose it would have been good if the authors based their Domain Specific Modeling Language on some well defined generic language (e.g. MOF or BNF).

Monday, March 21, 2011

What are learners looking at in Moodle?

Today I came across a paper by Gergely Rakoczi from the Vienna University of Technology. The paper investigated what students look at on the Moodle User Interface using eye tracking technology.

First thing to say about the paper is that I found it great that this kind of work is going on. Second thing to say is that the study was quite limited in that it addressed only a vanilla Moodle instance (how many production moodles out there use the vanilla styling?) and the sample was tiny - 10 people. In assessing something as complex and with as much variance as a LMS the sample size would have to be a multiple of this sample size before we would be able to derive any interesting conclusions. Anyway here is some of the key findings:
Hide Functionality
  • How do students navigate - many participants uses the breadcrumbs and the "my courses" block, but the majority are still going for the trusty browser back button.
  • How do I logout - A lot of participants had difficulty finding the logout button initially - surprising because its in a pretty standard position - top left. The author equates this difficulty to the fact that the user's name (which links to the profile page) is beside the logout button.
  • Confusion over the hide functionality - the study found that there is a lot of confusion with new users with regard to the hide topic/week functionality. This is presented as a white box to the user. I have to agree with the authors here. The presentation of this functionality is poor. A lot of people thought the box was for checking off when a topic is done. Well thats kind of what the white box infers. I think we need to rethink this icon.
The author goes into detail on how to create eye-catching material. These guidelines are pretty general and I am not sure how it relates to the findings in the paper.

The paper was a nice light read - I look forward to the next installment with a much larger sample size and some statistical analysis - please!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jay Cross - Working Smarter

I came across Jay Cross's new Working Smarter iniative today - http://www.internettime.com/2011/02/working-smarter/. Jay is setting up a new service that will bring together posts that around the working smarter theme. So what is working smarter, well Jay outlines it as:

Working smarter begins with a holistic view of performance. The bottom line is getting more done and doing it faster. 
Working smarter involves trusting individuals to do what’s right and giving them the latitude to do it. Empowering people to take action rests on clearing obstacles out of the way and incorporating next practices into workflow. Motivation, respect, and aspirations play a role. It’s about cultivating a healthy learning ecology.

Nice post Jay - I left you a comment:

I have a similar problem – I subscribe to nearly 100 feeds on google reader and some of those are aggregations of feeds that google reader is all ready capturing. When I have time to read whats in my google reader account I generally spend my time filtering out what I want to read later (later rarely comes) from the hundreds of items captured each day. I have known for a long time this isn’t sustainable but just when I think about deleting a feed, a gem appears in that feed and I change my mind.
I am not sure what is the correct way to go here – perhaps some sort of service that knows what is important and not important to me would be good. Thats not here yet, so in the meantime perhaps I should just use aggregator services – Working Smarter, OLDaily, Elearning learning (top rated items) etc.
I look forward to your new service Jay 

Designing courses for e-learning

Chapter three in the Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age book, Rhona Sharpe and Martin Oliver take a look at the fundamentals in designing a course for e-learning.

Sharpe and Oliver firstly look at where you are going to start when you are faced with the mountain that is course development. Typically all that lands on your desk are the learning outcomes for the new course. Okay its not all that bad - learning outcomes do have a lot of information squeezed into them. Information can range from the topics to be covered, the type and level of knowledge and can also specify how students demonstrate competency.

Armed with learning outcomes we can start to think about designing our course. For this Sharpe and Oliver outline Bigg's term constructive alignment as a way to align outcomes to learning activities and assessment tasks. Another important note made regarding the course development is that students will only learn what is being assessed, they are exam driven. Ramsden notes 'from our students' point of view, assessment always defines the actual curriculum'. If you have ever lecturered you will know the most common question is "will this be on the exam?", answer no and no matter how well you dress the "interesting" topic up you will see student brains switching off.

Models guiding course design are examined, Salmon's five-stage model recieves particular attention:
  1. Assess and motivation 
  2. Online socialisation
  3. Information exchange
  4. Knowledge construction
  5. Development
More details can be found at http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~ijc4/etutoring/week%203/Gilly%20Salmon%20model.doc

One aspect noted in the chapter regarding course design is the amount written about how a course designer should create a course and very little on how it is actually done. They note in looking at design decisions by actual practioners that decisions are generally made based on pragmatics (e.g. class size has got too big for one on one tutorials - technology is used to provide some teaching support).

Sharpe and Oliver look in detail at the a typical scenario when creating an e-learning or blended learning course - this is typically a redesign of a course which include:
  1. what was a success on the current course?
  2. Analysing how to integrate face-to-face with online
  3. Course design should make explicit their underlying principles
  4. Course design is an iterative process
This was an interesting chapter - with a lot of good links. It is very much an overview of the literature on designing a course but a good starting point to learn more about designing e-learning courses.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Designing Learning Activities

I am doing well - I read the second chapter of Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age last night and I am all ready blogging about it. Lets see if I can keep this up.

This chapter is by Helen Beetham (also an editor of the book) and looks at designing learning activities around how people learn, which was a central theme of all the perspectives of learning looked at in the previous chapter.

Beetham identifies issues in Activity design that must be considered when considering the activity to suit a learning context include: authenticity of the activity, formality and structure, retention/reproduction versus reflextion/internalization, role and importance of other people and who is in control of the learning event - is the instructor directing learning or can the learner go on a voyage of self-discovery.

The chapter mentions an interesting learning activity classification defined by Jonassen that fits in with the learning perspectives discussed in the previous chapter - rule-based (help learners recall rules), incident-based (constructivism - devise own rules for dealing with incident), strategy-based (also suits constructivism) and role-based (situative).

Typically learning activities will be designed for learning outcomes and (in an ideal world) designed for needs of learners. A learning outcome will typically define the kind of activity that the learner must be able to undertake. Designing for learners looks to design the activity around the learner and their differences. A challenge here is knowing which differences affect learning and should be considered when designing learning activities.

One aspect of the chapter I did really like was the that Beetham looks at the question around we should design learning activities that adapt to facilitate the learners or should we challenge the learners to use different learning methods. Personally I think we should facilitate the learner as much as possible at the beginning of the learning process and if the learner is having difficulty. As the learner becomes more of an expert in the subject material the scaffolding should drop away challenging the learner more and more with diverse types of learning activities developing their meta-learning skills. One might challenge this saying - is it important how a surgeon learned how to do a procedure or is it just important that he has learned it the best possible way he or she could have to do that procedure. If I want the surgeon to learn a procedure in the most effective and efficient way I should provide the learning activity that best suits the surgeon's learning needs ensuring the most efficient and arguably the most effective learning. This might be true, but the medical profession makes technological and methodological advances all the time. What happens when a new procedure is developed and learning it is only provided through one medium - a medium that doesn't suit the surgeon. As the surgeon has such limited experience learning using this alien medium it may lead to ineffective and inefficient learning. I would consider this a problem if I was the surgeons first patient.

The chapter believes in thinking of the learning activity outside of the medium for delivering it first. Then looking at how technology can facilitate the activity - this may indeed involve using technology in a way that was not envisioned by the designer.

A nice follow on from the first chapter - now on to chapter number three.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Learning and e-learning - Mayes & DeFreitas

Bad blogger, bad blogger. I have been a bad blogger of late, not posting anything in many months. I have been pretty busy with work and life in general. I needed something to kick start my blogging again - I think I have found it.

Last week I got a delivery from amazon, in it was two books that I really was looking forward to reading - the first one is Jay Cross's Informal Learning and the second is Rethinking Pedagogy in for a Digital Age by Beetham and Sharpe. In reading these books I thought - I really should practice what I preach and engage in a bit of reflection - so I turn to my trusty blog and I want to tell you all about the first chapter in the Beetham and Sharpe book - Learning and e-learning - the role of theory, written by Mayes and De Freitas.

The fundamental question asked at the start of the chapter is; 'are there really e-learning models or is the e of e-learning just a enhancement of traditional learning much like paper and pen was in the end of the nineteenth century?' e-Learning does bring some value to the learning process, providing for learning opportunities that would otherwise be impossible but is the actual way we learn different than say how we learned twenty years ago? Mayes and DeFreitas argue what we see with e-learning is a new model of education rather than a new model of learning.

One of the central messages of the chapter is that although there are a variety of learning theories out there, they are essentially complimentary. The authors nicely categorise the theories into the following perspectives:

  • Associationist Perspective - learning through the gradual building of patterns of associations and skill components. This perspective encompasses associationism, behaviourism and connectionism. It is this perspective that Gagne's task hierarchy fits nicely into - tasks get increasingly complex and build on others. In the task hierarchy a learner doesn't move on from one level until that component is understood.
  • Cognitive Perspective - This perspective sees knowledge acquisition as moving knowledge from a declarative form to a procedural form. As a learner becomes an expert the component skills become automatised - conscious attention is no longer needed to monitor low-level aspects of performance. Key activities here are interactions with material systems and concepts, and discussion with peers to develop understanding and competence. This perspective highlights that new knowledge must be built on something the learner all ready knows - educators cannot simply get the learners to memorise expert knowledge. Building knowledge structures from solid foundations must be done using problem-solving activity and feedback.
  • Situative Perspective - This perspective embraces social learning and the fact that learning must be personally meaningful. 
The authors see these perspectives as complementary but a different perspective needs to be applied to a given e-learning context.  Each perspective addresses a different learning need as the learner looks to gain mastery in a given topic. e-Learning technology can support the pedagogical approach.

Okay so that is chapter one down. Hope to get a few more chapters done over the next week. Comments most welcome. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Learning/Academic Analytics - Some more reading

Last night I finally got around to reading some of the reading material for the Learning and Knowledge Analytics course that I am doing. The papers - Academic Analytics (Goldstein) and Learning Analytics (Elias).

These papers were basic introductions into the area and the use of analytics in academia. The Goldstein paper was from 2005, but gives a nice snapshot of where analytics where and possibly still now. The most important part of the paper was the introduction to the 5 stages of academic analytics (which was also covered in John Fritz's talk on Tuesday):

  • Stage 1 - Extraction and reporting
  • Stage 2 - Analysis and monitoring of operational performance
  • Stage 3 - What-if Decision Support
  • Stage 4 - Predictive modelling and simulation
  • Stage 5 - Automatic triggers 
Most organisation cluster around stages 1-3 and from John Fritz's poll during his presentation I think that most organisations are still at these stages. 

Elias asks some good questions about the technology we are using. A question about the data captured on a LMS was brought up - is it good enough or should we consider a redesigned for learning analytics. This is probably going to become even more an issue and a challenge as a learners data gets more distributed with Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). How can we capture all this data and co-relate it together for the purposes of learning analytics (this was also a question brought up by George Siemens during John Fritz's presentation). 

Two tools that I now need to go and have a look at from reading these papers is to look up CourseVis - a visualisation of web log data generated by WebCT and the Purdue University's Signals Project which gives real-time course progress in an intuitive format.

Okay with that done - I now need to start looking at what's going on in the forums!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

So whats going on in Educational Data Mining

To start my Learning and Knowledge Analytics (LAK11) course I have just read through "The State of Educational Data Mining in 2009: A review and Future Visions" by Ryan Baker. The paper begins with the obvious question looking at what exactly is Educational Data Mining is. The definition describes it as an emerging discipline examining data generated from an educational setting to better understand students and the settings that they learn in.

Obviously Educational Data Mining (EDM) has a lot in common with with main stream data mining looking at prediction, clustering and relationship mining. Two items that may not be seen in main stream data mining literture is the distillation of data for human judgement and discovery with model and discovery with models. I am still not sure what this is really about but I believe it is using models such as ontologies to drive the mining strategy.

The paper outlines the key application areas of EDM:

  • Improvement of student models - differences in students, how people are learning , who is gaming the system, who is bored or frustrated
  • Improve domains knowledge structure
  • Used to validate pedagogical support - what pedagogy works and in what circumstances - get a best fit
The paper also discussed public data collections that can now be used to test EDM methods and technologies. 

The most popular papers in the area look at relationship mining but in recent years this has not been as popular. The research in vogue in EDM at the moment is prediction - representing 42% of EDM2008 papers.

This paper is a good introduction to the area. It gives good pointers to important papers in the area. It is not particularly thought provoking but I suppose its not meant to be. The next step is to start looking at some of the more important citations make n the paper.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Getting started with Learning and Knowledge Analytics 2010 #LAK11

Finally got started on the my new course LAK11 (Learning and Knowledge Analytics 2011) tonight. This is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) run by some of my favourite e-learning researchers.

This is the first time I have decided to commit myself to a MOOC, in the past I have done a bit of lurking around Connectivism and Connective Knowledge CCK, run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens (who also one of the main guys who runs LAK11) but never really committed to it. Tonight I read the first of, I think, five readings (which I will blog about later). I found this paper interesting but I couldn't believe how easy it was to get distracted from it. When you know there is no exam, no incentive except your own will power, your will power can easily dessert you! I think I need to get more involved in the social element of the course to keep me interested and involved.

We all know that e-learning courses have a problem with retention - this is largely due to the lack of community and comadre felt by students in an e-learning course, but this is the first time I have experienced this first hand - its a lonely place. I know I need to reach out to my fellow students but where to start? I will keep you posted.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year - New Start

Its January 1st 2011 - a brand new year. This is a time to think about the year that has just gone by and the new year ahead.

So what about 2010. For many 2010 was a terrible year with natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan and a European banking crisis. Although there was plenty of doom and gloom, especially here in Ireland where 2010 left the country effectively bankrupt, there was glimmers of hope and of human spirit conquering all. I think above all else this was found in the rescue of the Chillean miners, what a great good news story that was, one that was sorely needed by the world.

For myself, this year was a real year of change. I started the year working in a start-up company in Toronto. Unfortunately the company hit cash-flow problems and I ended the year back in Ireland. In saying that I think all things happen for a reason. I got back to Ireland and found two great jobs - one working as a analyst in an open source elearning company and the other lecturing in the National College of Ireland. I learned so much in Canada and now back in Ireland I hope to use what I have learned.

I am very hopeful for 2011 - it can only get better for Ireland economically. I think we must have hit rock bottom at this stage and now its time for us to build the country up again. Personally I have lots of goals, but thats for another post.

Just to finish up by wishing you a very Happy New Year, here's hoping for a good one!