Collaborative Learning Environments.

The whole range of “learning environments” – and what they are is cropping up a lot in conversations at present; in particular those that facilitate collaborative opportunities.

From a digital point of view, we are starting to think about the VLE and other digital provision we have in place at Dundee. It’s currently Blackboard, with Campus Pack bolted on. Across the university, Moodle is also in use at the Medical School (supported by WordPress). We also have Office 365, so the groups tool in that is available (and hopefully teams will be coming).

I have used Google Groups in the past – and find them to be generally more useful and flexible than Office groups, especially when it comes to sharing links to them / sending invitations, as a way of inviting others to join (rather than forcibly adding them.

It’s very useful, therefore, that JISC have just started a discussion around “The Next Generation of Digital Learning Environments” as part of the co-design16 project. There have been some good online discussions – Lawrie Phipps is keeping an ongoing post storifying all the key points.

One thing that’s clear in Lawrie’s post is that so many are looking at the future. UCL make the very good point that in real life, students are welcomed to the physical classroom, but told “it’s impossible” to enter the virtual classroom for those subjects they’re interested in.

In a related area, I have been involved with a group looking at the library re-development we are undertaking this summer. (CTIL, the eLearning team, is based within the library). I was particularly interested in the space available for collaborative learning. We visited a number of University libraries across Scotland and Northern England. One of thing that struck me was that many of the Universities had group working space, large tables etc., complete with a shared screen. More often than not, though, that wasn’t in use, though the students were clearly interacting with each other. What wasn’t clear was what they were doing: Were they collaborating on an item of work, but too shy to let others see? Were they collaborating on an item of work, each doing their own chunk, intending to stick it together right at the end (with the inevitable inconsistencies)? Were they working together on an assignment that was meant to be individual? Were they just friends, doing multiple different subjects? Or were they doing what I’d love students to do, generating research and discussion around a point that had cropped up in class, not directly related to an assessment, but something about which they just wanted to know more.

It’s a while since I started this post, and I need to get back and read a few more of Lawrie’s summaries of the latter stages of the co-design2016.


I saw Etherpad on Jane Knight’s blog a few days ago – and thought it sounded good – though didn’t sign up at the time. Yesterday, someone else reminded me of it – so I thought I’d have a look. Unfortunately, it seems that too many others have thought the same as me – so it’s reverted to a closed beta, whiel they work out load issues. It seems pretty powerful from everything I’ve heard – especially when there are more than one editors simultaneously.

OLPC – getting to know it.

I’ve been investigating the OLPC quite a bit. I’ve also got back into reading about it. Due to the changes at the top, there’s been a fair bit of news coverage, including an article in the Guardian, which Stephen Downes pointed to. I’ve made comments on Stephen’s post, so won’t repeat those here.

Over the weekend, I read about Sugar Labs; due to the changes at OLPC, quite a few staff who have left have set up Sugar Labs, where they are intending to start to really look at the software, to see if it can be made available to other platforms (e.g. the Asus EEE), and so on. Via the Sugar lab & general playing, I’ve found out quite a bit more about Sugar; and some of the advantages. One thing that I’d sort of seen, but hadn’t quite appreciated is the journal. That, in essence, provides a record of everything that a user’s done. From what I can tell, rather than storing a file of, say, a Write document, it saves the current set up of the program. That means that if you go to Browse, you can see (as far as I can tell) you get back the history of where you have been. So, while the inability (as far as I can tell) to create lasting bookmarks could be a problem, this ensures that you can start to find things again. As the default home page is Google based, perhaps I had better investigate the Google Bookmark service (though it’s not possible, as far as I can tell, to install the toolbar)

I’ve had a few problems with the power cutting out without warning. It seems that others have this problem, however, I’m not quite sure how to fix it; as there seem to be several possible cures, mostly for earlier builds. I’ve set it up to keep a log file of the battery state anyway. At least the journal saves things regularly, so not too much is lost.