Getting the next generation of bloggers …

Work is fairly busy at this time of year – you think you have the VLE all set up for the new students, then there are the Turnitin Assignments to help people set up, weird glitches that seem to happen unexpectedly …
However, one job that should be fun is that I’ve been asked to run a workshop to help students set up blogs, they’ll be using WordPress.com, rather than one within the URL. It’s a careers related initiative – the students and work place mentors will be using them. An ex-colleague from Portsmouth asked me about blogging on Blogger the other day – he was doing it for some placement students.  I’d totally forgotten that one reason I’d not used it all those years ago when I first got students blogging was the inability to set individual posts to be private. It was an all or nothing approach. Given that the students I’m helping on Monday are also doing externally facing blogs about work related activities, I’m glad to have discovered that while the hosted wordpress might not allow one of the plugins that has multiple user permissions, at least it does allow individual posts to be password protected. (I’d used Post Levels to facilitate different users having access to ‘private’ posts – without giving them full admin rights)

I thought I’d try to find a post that compares WordPress (hosted, not self hosted) and Blogger. It’s surprisingly difficult! Most have a particular bias (SEO), or they’re actually self hosted WP vs. Blogger. The Current State of Educational Blogging (Sue Waters) favours Edublogs (based on WP). I’m sure there’s a handy chart out there comparing the features (esp. those I’m interested in!) I’ve yet to find it.

It’s also good to see that we do have some enthusiastic student bloggers at Dundee – will be keeping an eye on their blogs.

The OLPC renewed?

The new Infinity:One has grown from the OLPC project and from a visual point of view, there’s a definite family resemblance.

flickr photo by Emmadukew https://flickr.com/photos/emmadukew/8390141934 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Educational Computers – including OLPC: flickr photo by Emmadukew https://flickr.com/photos/emmadukew/8390141934 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license


(Excuse the clutter in that pictures, I hadn’t got a clearer one of just the OLPC; which is currently in a packed away in a box with the Pi)
Source: http://one-education.org

Infinity One: Source: http://one-education.org

Both also use low cost technology, and, while the Infinity One uses Windows 10 (rather than the Child friendly SugarOS that is linux based); it’s much easier to update the Infinity than the OLPC ever was. Would have been great had they been able to include the screen that could be both backlit and eInk of the original; I think they had great potential. Meanwhile, I’ll just wait for the Infinity to get to the UK, and then my wee family of educational computers might get a new member 🙂

Changes ….

Change is something that has cropped up a lot for me, both personally and from a work point of view. Around this time last year, I decided to leave my job, sell my house and move North (there were personal reasons for that, it wasn’t a wild whim). That involved leaving a job I’d had for about 3 times longer than any other job I’d had, a place I’d lived in for longer than elsewhere, and possibly a change of country (depending on your view of the relationship between Scotland and England).
Since moving, I’ve now found a new job; in a different, albeit related field. I’ve arrived in a University that’s undergoing changes itself, into a team that’s undergoing change. I’m working in a field that is changing rapidly – if I think about my first computer, things have changed a lot
flickr photo shared by Emmadukew under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license
So, from that point of view, I’d have thought I’d find change not too difficult, but it’s not as easy as just learning a new OS. Well, not to me!

I was recently lent Who Moved My Cheese, which is a bit “American”; but makes a good point, about how different people react to change, and, I think, different types of change. I think I have a bit of “Sniffy” “Scurry” “Hem” & “Haw” in my, I suspect everyone does.

All of that said, I am enjoying my new role, working with new colleagues, getting to see an Educational Technologists view of eLearning, getting to grips with different systems, both organisational and technical, and even getting used to a train, rather than a bike in the morning. (It’s a lot drier!)

One of the changes I’d intended to make was to start blogging more often; there is time yet for that to happen! (Oh, and we’re moving house again soon, though this time about 1 mile across town, not 700 miles north!)

And it’s tiring! I’ve got a long weekend – so am really looking forward to it.

Similarity detection

not plagiarism detection
I’m in the process of looking at the role that similarity detection tools (e.g. Turnitin and SafeAssign) can play in helping students improve their writing skills, and detect their own errors. My personal experience is that it’s a valuable tool – as long as you spend enough time explaining to students what should be similar, what shouldn’t and thus what to do about it. All the research I’ve found would seem to suggest the same (though from the work that Lynn Graham-Matheson & Simon Starr (2013) did the students were far more likely to think that the staff saw it primarily as Police force, than the staff thought they did). Morris (2015) suggests that could be the language used when staff introduced it.
What I’m looking for now, though, are any studies that counter this view? Has anyone got any work that suggests similarity tools are best used as a plagiarism police force?

Raspberry Pi vs ZX 81

My first computer was a ZX 81 – cost £69.95 (assuming Wikipedia’s correct; I can’t remember!) That’s c £236 (This is Money) or 0.3% of an average house (House Price Crash). Came with 1kb of memory (expandable to 16kb) – Operating System & Keyboard inc; monitor required (monochrome output).
The Raspberry Pi goes on sale today … for £21.60 (0.01% of average house [does that say more about cost of houses or electrical components, one wonders!]) – you get 256mb memory, though you do have to add a keyboard and Operating System, as well as the monitor!

Me: I’d have one on order, were it possible to get through to a website!

What's in a name?

I’ve recently been involved with an email based discussion with other colleagues about aspects of “mobile” learning. There are various things we’ll be looking at, such as capabilities devices that students actually have, technical developments etc., and, the aspect I personally feel is crucial

…the pedagogical issues involved when delivering learning material on small form-factor devices

At the same time as answering the various messages that were flying around I read the 2010 Horizon report(pdf) – which has as “One year or less”, Mobile Computing. I then read a little further and noted that part of mobile computing is the area we’re interested in (small form factor), but it also encompasses wireless access in general.

The available choices for staying connected while on the go are many — smart phones, netbooks, laptops, and a wide range of other devices access the Internet using cellular-based portable hotspots and mobile broadband cards, in addition to wi-fi that is increasingly available wherever people congregate.

I therefore wondered if “Mobile” was the correct word for the group, and asked around. One suggestion was that “personalised” would be better, though my own view on that is that a student could have a “personalised” learning experience on the latest gaming machine with 2 24″ monitors – or her new android powered phone (clearly a rich student!); so it’s even more generic (though something, alongside aspects such as encouraging staff / students to make best use of OERs that should be being done anyway. )

My preference had been for “handheld”, so I asked on Twitter. Initially the answers had pointed towards “handheld” – possibly due to the leading nature of my posts! Simon Brookes included the point I’d forgotten – though would have known had I thought about it – about the frequent lack of keyboard. However, later in the evening, Jon Trinder and James Clay joined in, and the discussion swung back towards “mobile” (or learning mobility – which was Andy Black’s suggestion) – with the additional point that in that case a “mobile device” could be the coffee shop!.

In the case of UoP, I feel that we’ve already addressed many aspects of “mobile learning”. The wireless network is pretty ubiquitous (from talking to people at other Universities, it’s one of the most extensive), all our coffee shops (and, whether by accident or design, several local non-University ones) have it; we have both an encrypted and (more recently) non-encrypted option (I can now get the OLPC on it :)). We also have it in most teaching areas. So far, I’ve not heard that any academic staff have prevented students using laptops in lectures. There’s also a pool of loan laptops in the library. So, we’ve got good support and understanding, I think, for wifi access from laptops that are running reasonably recent versions of Windows (2000/XP/Vista/7), Mac OSx+. There are probably a few linux users – but the chances are they’re relatively geeky and installed it themselves. (The main drawback that I see to this is the lack of powersockets where you happen want them!)

The new group, however, is looking at netbook & smaller devices so:

  • huge range of OSes (and is more likely to include novice computer users with linux based netbooks);
  • small screen
  • limited input options
  • access via wifi or 3G

That’s why I feel that the word “handheld” is, in this case more appropriate – and could guide us when considering “the pedagogical issues involved when delivering learning material on small form-factor devices.” (by default, I’m assuming we’re thinking about using them to get students involved via discussion etc., as on paper, “delivering” could be seen as one way). There’s also raising staff awareness; most are, as I’ve already said, tolerant of laptops on desks. Most assume that phones on desks = (non-academic related) texting!
Any other comments?

Trying to update a Unit!

I’m currently teaching a Unit called “Educational Computing” (warning: server often slow/down)
The current unit looks at how to design & create what’s essentially a learning object – for something that is fairly fact based – things like GCSE revision are common choices. The software the students create (currently using Flash or HTML) is designed to be used by a single user, and tends to be pretty traditional (in no small part, that’s due to the fact I tell them they have to identify how you’d both teach and assess someone online).
They also have a group research project, looking at recent developments in eLearning, so, research into Mobile Learning / SecondLife for teaching etc.
The unit was created several years ago, when most students were enthusiastic programmers. Now we’ve got far more who are on a range of degree schemes, many of whom aren’t keen programmers. (Not to mention the fact that Flash has a much greater learning curve than Authorware).
However, I want to radically rethink the unit! I want to make it more community based, but still recognising that there are some subjects for which a fairly traditional approach works well – the drill / practice tools that are easy to build – and useful if you’re trying to learn your tables etc!
I’ve had a few ideas and have also been talking to one of our online developers; so my current plans are:

  • Maintain the overview of how people learn, including (among things) that some things need lots of repetition and essentially have a “right” answer, while others lend themselves far more to discourse and don’t have a right answer.
  • Get students to find & evaluate a range of different types of online learning resources – for different subjects / ages / etc.
  • Develop a community of online course developers through a range of Web2.0 tools – I’ll suggest some – whatever happens to be current next October, and get them to find others. [Get them to develop their own PLE?]
  • Have a set of real life projects by asking round the Uni / friends who happen to be teachers. e.g.
    • 1st year history undergraduates studying pre-Industrial communities
    • Newly qualified nurses wanting to develop professional links with their peers
    • A class of primary children studying their local area in Geography
  • Get them to create a website / set of resources to suit the above. Not quite sure at this stage, how much I’d want them to actually *create* material, and how much to evaluate existing resources & draw them in to form a coherent whole ..
  • And then some form of group research project – perhaps getting them to use CiteULike etc., more than I currently do; … not sure

Any suggestions?
It’s going to have to be something that I can set up in our VLE (WebCT Vista), and a certain amount of my teaching material will have to be there – however, there’s nothing to stop me having lots of links out!
I have to work out how to have the balance between discourse happening within the VLE (as that’s where it’s meant to) and that outside (issues of services ceasing / students not wanting to set up yet another account being balanced against the real world that’s out there.)

Laptops vs. Computer labs

Several in the blogosphere have pointed to the Ars Technica report this week about the decision of the University of Virginia to re-think computer labs, after only 4 new students arrived sans computer (didn’t state if they were laptops or desktops).

Naturally, the reaction was mixed – mostly anti the decision; based on aspects such as weight, printing, specialist software etc. Views I generally agree with.

However, there have also been increasing numbers of reports of individuals/ departments banning the use of laptops in class. (None that I’ve seen so far from Virginia). So we have an interesting dilemma; some would prefer students to have laptops on campus, but not everyone wants them to use them.

As far as I know, no UK universities have yet thought of removing open access computer space, nor have I heard of any banning students from using laptops – though mobile phones tend to be frowned on – presumably because most assume students are texting social messages, ignoring  the fact they can be used for internet access; for translation tools [international students]. I tend to restrict myself to a glare when the things actually ring. (The student is generally to busy turning it off in an embarassed manner to notice!)