Different Trains

February 27, 2013 at 10:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

[full screen viewing recommended]

Different Trains is all about the widening gap between the educational experience of the rich and poor – or these days between the rich and everyone else. There is a concern that MOOCs could be seen as a viable alternative to decent funding for education, and that elite universities will essentially go private while the rest go to the wall. In the video I explore the educational journeys taken by two young people just a few years in the future – in February 2026.

Kaz is studying online to gain the qualifications he needs to gain a contract job with an online insurance business, and this involves working his way through virtual reality business simulation games in which he needs to get a good score to progress to the next level. The system provides him with personalised feedback to help him, but each level costs – so this is education by instalments.

Lucy, on the other hand, has wealthy parents and is having the ‘Oxford experience’ at the University of Edinburgh – so lots of personal tutorials and the opportunity to build the network of contacts that lead to a top job. As always, it is not just what you know, but who you know…

Their story is told through the phone messages they send and receive. Kaz is on his way to a face-to-face job interview (having presumably passed the online interviews) while Lucy is returning from Milan where she was fitted with cybernetic eye lens that provide access to Vir (the name in the story for the digital information space). Invented jargon is used to make the language unfamiliar – so for example HiNet means wealthy (High Net Worth) but also encompasses class distinction from LoNets – and Lucy’s friends display some contempt for them. As for the hùndàn zhōngo lawyers… well, you can guess…

Technically, the entire thing was created using PowerPoint:mac 2011 and a collection of Flickr CC images. I used the animation timing to fine-tune the appearance of each message and was really pleased that it required very little fiddling to get it to match the wonderful music sevenhundredbeats by Duncan Beattie that I found on ccMixter. I recorded the video using an evaluation copy of Camtasia 2 for Mac. Overall effort was around 10 hours but quite a lot of that was spent searching for the right images and music.

Reflections on the edcmooc

February 27, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Posted in MOOC | Leave a comment

I’ve really enjoyed the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC run by the University of Edinburgh through Coursera. Its tutors have created a really engaging alternative to the usual xMOOC formula (course = recorded lectures + readings + MCQ tests + forums) by basing the first four weeks around some fantastic short films from YouTube and Vimeo. Many of these have had an SF flavour appropriate to the course themes of utopias, dystopias, and being human in a digital age – but crucially each is accompanied by a few fairly deep questions to consider while you watch the film and discuss afterwards in the forums.For example, the short film Sight has the following text:

Sight explores how the ubiquity of data and the increasingly blurry line between the digital and the material might play out in the sphere of human relationships. The focus on the emerging social and educational use of game-based ‘badging’ is particularly interesting. What is going on here, and how do you interpret the ending? How does this vision align and contrast with the ones in the first two films?

One or two carefully selected academic papers provide some depth each week, but overall the course doesn’t have much content. I’ve appreciated the space that has created for thinking and discussion – other MOOCs I have sampled have an abundance of content to transmit. If I had a criticism of the course, it is that although it was advertised as “an invitation to view online educational practices through a particular lens – that of popular and digital culture.” it (in my opinion) views future possibilities rather than current realities. However, even if it isn’t quite what it said on the tin (or maybe I just mis-read the label) I like the flavour and texture a lot!

This final week is where we submit our assignments, and the tutors have given us the widest scope possible to exercise our imaginations and creativity within some clear assessment criteria. The peer review process starts tomorrow, and my next post will cover my own submission.

Going SOLO?

February 14, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Posted in MOOC, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learning Dreams pilot
CC image by Twenty Questions: http://www.flickr.com/photos/twenty_questions/6696734141/

How we do love our acronyms, but who can tell which will thrive and which will wither and fade?

My university is abuzz with the m-word, as in “so what is this mooc thing?”. Southampton is one of the partners who have signed up with Futurelearn Ltd, and the task of managing the development of our MOOCs is suddenly top of my agenda. We held an open meeting in early January so that academics could find out more, and in the event over 100 of them turned up. Faced with this level of interest, I started to think about how we could recognise this enthusiasm since we are only planning to develop a handful of MOOCs this year and even they will be a challenge to our capacity to deliver in a short time frame. I didn’t want to say to most of those academics “Sorry, your proposal wasn’t chosen and you’ll just have to wait – now go away!”

There are a few other issues that concern me such as our inexperience in designing MOOCs (although we are learning fast from others), the time required to develop a MOOC and the time required to actually run one. On that last point, I can see that academics will be really keen the first time it runs, but the second, third, fourth, fifth times etc? I’m sure that the novelty will wear off soon.

The solution I proposed was initially dubbed the mini-MOOC, a term that has been used for a while but that has no clear definition. What does ‘mini-Massive’ mean anyhow? Does it mean a limited number of participants or a limited duration? Clearly a new acronym was needed (you can tell I’ve been working in CBT CBL eLearning TEL too long!) and last night I woke up with it fully formed and ready to launch onto the world. As you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this post, I proudly present:

SOLO: Short Online Learning Opportunity

The idea is that academics can get to grips with the idea of a MOOC by developing one that has a short duration (one or two weeks) and that therefore only requires a limited amount of resources and activities. I hope that we will have the capacity to work with academics to develop perhaps fifty of these this year in addition to the full-size MOOCs.

They are clearly not courses and are instead more akin to a single lecture, tutorial or practical. At the same time they are more than a Learning Object in that they will include student activity and interactivity. Perhaps most importantly they will not require any tutor involvement when running and can be taken at any time – no need to wait for a start date.

Student recruitment is at the forefront of most UK universities thinking these days, so if these SOLOs seem like an attractive extension activity for A-level students looking for evidence of enthusiasm to add to their UCAS personal statements, so much the better. Perhaps students who attend one of the University’s Open Days will be invited to take part in a SOLO which has additional input from an inspirational tutor or leading researcher. The SOLOS might also be used to complement first-year courses, thus ensuring the maximum return from the investment in effort.

The part of the acronym that I am most pleased with is Opportunity, as that really seems to encapsulate all that is best about them. As the Google definition says:

  1. A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.
  2. A chance for employment or promotion.

And also Opportune:

  1. (of a time) Well-chosen or particularly favorable or appropriate.
  2. Done or occurring at a favorable or useful time; well-timed.

I’m hoping that learners will find these short online learning opportunities are just the right length to meet their immediate need and encourage them to perhaps take part in a longer MOOC.

Real snail mail

December 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Posted in waffle | Leave a comment

Snail with RFID tag attached to its shell

Yesterday I was surprised and delighted to receive a thank-you email from a friend in response to an email I sent him over four years ago by Real Snail Mail, the “world’s first webmail service using live snails”. This is an art project that aims to get us to reflect on the impact that the speed of email communications and the expectation of an immediate response by deliberately slowing down the whole process. Messages sent using the service zip at the speed of light along the fibre-optic nerves of the internet to their server, where they join a queue and wait… and wait… and wait. Real snails live their slow lives in an artificial garden, and every now and again one passes over a pick-up point. If the RFID chip attached to their shell is empty, they pick up 10 emails. At some later point in their monopedal journey they will pass over a drop-off point which retrieves those messages and once again accelerates them to the speed of light on their way to the inboxes of the recipients. The project is currently exhibiting with a new enclosure in Maribor, Slovenia as part of the Soft Control: Art,Science and the Technological Unconscious Exhibition. The 30 snails recruited as digital postmen (and postwomen – although it is difficult to tell with snails) have significantly increased the bandwidth of the system and so now at last my message reached the front of the queue and was diligently (but slowly) carried across the garden by Agent 167 aka ‘Cvetko’ and delivered in around 18 days. Thanks!

Finishing Coursera’s Sustainability MOOC

October 21, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Professor Jonathan Tomkin of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his support team have, on the whole, done a great job with this course. The interesting and detailed syllabus has been supported each week by several high-quality videos, two multiple choice quizzes and some careful selected external resources (usually TED talks). For me, though, the most engaging part of the course has been the online forums and the high quality of the discussion and knowledge they have afforded. Bravo!

The other reason that I participated in this MOOC was, of course, to gain some more experience as a student in these educational experiments and to help me give good advice to my colleagues at Southampton should they choose to run one. And they are still experiments; this course had several rough edges which show that it is definitely a work in progress. I’ll post my thoughts on these in future posts; for now I’m going to have an evening off… the course really did take at least 10 hours a week effort (as they said it would) and I’m looking forward to having more time for my other interests. For example, getting more involved in our local Transition group – and isn’t that the point of education, that it motivates and empowers and inspires you to make changes in your life? So thanks again to Professor Tomkin for developing a course that has really achieved that outcome for many of its students (based on the discussion forums).

Starting Coursera’s Sustainability MOOC

October 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Posted in MOOC | Leave a comment

I wrote the following back in August, but it never got past the draft stage – partly because my day job became much more demanding and partly because taking part in the Sustainability MOOC has soaked up most of my free time since then… so I’ll post this now and then immediately follow it with another reflecting on my experiences now that the course has finished. Continue Reading Starting Coursera’s Sustainability MOOC…

Superb bibliography on Electronic Voting Systems (clickers, zappers)

September 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Posted in useful links | Leave a comment

I’ve just come across a beautifully curated list of research papers, articles, books and links about EVS systems by Derek Bruff of the Vanderbilt Centre for Teaching. It has hundreds of entries, has been recently updated and is categorised for discipline-specific audiences. Classroom Response System (“Clickers”) Bibliography

Share and Enjoy

September 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Posted in waffle | Leave a comment
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CITE, the Centre for Innovation in Technologies and Education at the University of Southampton, has been recruiting and this week marked the arrival of  Kate Dickens, who I’ve worked with at the University on and off  for the past umpty-cough years. She was looking through my blog and made some excellent suggestions about improving its navigation and usability, which haven’t been changed since I set the blog up in 2009. So, gone is the drop-down category list, replaced by a list of categories (sadly, I see that the most numerous category is ‘waffle’), and the tag-cloud has been replaced by a list of recent posts. Perhaps the main change is the addition of sharing  and like buttons to each post and the home page, so that the blog at last integrates with social media.

Share and Enjoy” is, of course, the company motto of the hugely successful Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints division. Glad to be of service.

Content Curation for learning and teaching

August 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Posted in educational, useful links | Leave a comment

Robin Good lists ten reasons why he thinks that content curation will play a major role in the way that we educate ourselves in the future. By this he means a process by which groups of learners collaborate to locate, evaluate, select and organise relevant online resources as a learning activity for themselves and to create a resource which can guide other learners.

If we learn not by memorizing facts, but by collaborating with others in the creation of a meaningful collection-explanations of specific topics/issues/events then, for the first time in history, we can enrich planetary knowledge each time we take on a new learning task.

The ten reasons he lists revolve around the challenges that today’s information-rich environment pose to traditional post-compulsory education and the problems that people encounter when they use search engines such as Google to look for learning materials. It is an interesting read, especially if you follow the link to his Mindomo mind-map, which provides a guided tour with descriptive text, images, links and embedded YouTube videos. This zooms in and out in a way that is reminsicent of Prezi as you take the guided tour around the mindmap, and is a good example of curated content in itself.

I’m not sure that the radial structure of the mind-map is suitable for what is essentially a linear journey through the material, and I personally don’t like all the zooming around. In addition, you can’t leave the tour and pick it up where you left off; you are always taken right back to the beginning and have to follow every step. I’d like to see a system that provided more navigation for learners, so they can skip through for an overview and then return to any topic to explore in more detail. Maybe a graphical wiki is what is needed? (Quick Google search) Maybe something like Kerika?

The first website

August 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Posted in waffle | Leave a comment

My office door and the one next door

I came across a link today to a reconstruction of the first ever website put together by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN. It includes a handy list of all the other sites that you might want to visit – so no need for Google then. Mind you, I can remember when Yahoo was a hand-coded page maintained by a couple of grad students and the exitement when Netscape was released.

As an aside, I’m thrilled that my office is next door to the one used by Tim Berners-Lee when he visits Southampton (he has a Chair in Computing Science here). I’ve not seen him yet mind you, but one day…

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