Open University chooses Moodle!

In what appears to be a significant endorsement of Open Source systems in education and of Moodle in particular, the Open University has selected Moodle as the basis for its student online environment:

the programme manager of the OU’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), says, ‘We see the development of Moodle applications, along with involvement of the Moodle Open Source community giving our students a great advantage in e-learning. Plus, the innovations added by the OU will be available to the entire Moodle community. It’s a two-way creative street.’

Given the comparative size of the OU and USQ it seems that we needn’t be overly concerned about the scalability of Moodle for institutional use. This move also means that there is likely to be significant development of extensions to Moodle flowing back into the system.

(Via Moodle.)

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Why does PT keep going on about HTML export from word processors?

Peter Sefton at PT’s Outing asks himself and anybody who is listening “Why do I keep going on about HTML export from word processors?” He begins like this:

I spend a lot of time on this site going on about HTML, particularly XHTML export from word processors using styles. Why? Surely in 2005, when the mainstream use of the web is 10 years old, this is a solved problem?

It’s not solved.

If you’re using Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org, or working with a community that uses both, can  you fire up the word processor, type out a document and export it as XHTML, or click a button to send it to your blog in useful XHTML?

What he describes is something of a technical tour de force that finishes with a plug for ICE but doesn’t directly answer the question. There seems little doubt that ICE is a clever bag of tricks and that, from the perspective of the non-technical user, it may be better than GOOD. Nevertheless, the question I have to ask myself about all that is “Why?”

Unless I’m missing the point, both ICE and GOOD are being developed primarily to enable academics to prepare well presented course materials that can be published equally well on paper or electronically on the web or CD-ROM. I think, though not having prepared a course that way I’m not sure, that each of the electronic formats includes a PDF version of the material to facilitate printing by students. If that is the case, then why bother with all the conversion from Word (or the Open Office equivalent) to XML and thence via XSLT to XHTML and/or PDF? Word, especially if used on a Mac where PDF capability is built into MacOS X, can easily enough generate PDF directly. Start with a good set of templates and you could get near enough to the same outcome for a fraction of the effort. The technology might not be so neat but it does work and would do the job.

So, given the pain that seems to be involved, is the answer to the original question a matter of satisfaction at bending the machine to the will of a “hard master” (Sherry Turkle in The Second Self) or of masochism? It doesn’t seem to be a matter of need. Word produces respectable PDF and, when I need or want (X)HTML, there are adequate tools available for that too.

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This, that and the other

It’s Sunday night and I’m just now trying to pull together some thoughts about some things that I started reading on Friday night but have had to let wait because I had more pressing work and social engagements. Now I’m wondering how to make any sense of what is a very mixed bag of posts I marked as I came across them. Perhaps the only way is to work through them as I come to them and see if some pattern emerges from the apparent chaos.

On Thursday (Friday AEST) George Siemens at elearnspace posted the PowerPoint file from a presentation he gave at Manitoba about Connectivism and Web 2.0. I pulled that down on Friday evening and flicked through the slides. I don’t recall any major surprises, but it brought the key ideas together in one place and there were some interesting variations on the theme. A day later he posted a version with audio produced in a Flash format using Articulate. I haven’t had time to listen all the way through yet but I expect it will round out the text in the slides into a more coherent picture of current thought on the subject.

James Farmer at incorporated subversion has picked up on a post from Chris Bigum about Lemmings and similar phenomena in which he argues that secondary schooling is a form of organised child abuse – in the sense that by operating selectively it inevitably condemns a large proportion of students to being labelled as failures. I worked in secondary schools long enough to recognise that there is an element of truth in there but that it is by no means universally true. Still, there has to be a better way or arranging education in an age when rote learning of yesterday’s knowledge is less and less relevant.

David Warlick and Wesley Fryer each share some thoughts about teacher preparation for technology (ICT in our terms) use. Warlick writes about learning to use tools in the context of solving problems rather than because somebody thinks that learning specific tools might be useful sometime in the future. That certainly works for me and ought to work for our students if we can get past the “tell what I need to do to pass” approach that many adopt, whether from pragmatism, boredom or other reasons is hard to know. Fryer picks up on article about The New Teacher Education from the current issue of Educational Researcher. He raises a long list of questions on the basis of his reading of the article which I will need to read before I can get further into this.

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The Auricle rough guide to e-learning benchmarking

Derek Morrison at Auricle has posted The really really rough guide to e-Learning benchmarking in Higher Education. It’s clearly a work in progress but there is a good deal there already and some useful pointers to other sites. As he notes towards the end of the document:

Because benchmarking can mean different things to different people, there will be different expectations of it. What’s important is that benchmarking doesn’t become ideologically driven, with advocates and acolytes of one model or another becoming entrenched in their belief that there is only one ‘true path’ to enlightenment, with the danger becoming that those who stray from it will be considered near heretics or, to put it with rather less hyperbole, as not undertaking ‘real’ benchmarking.

This will be worth watching for additional insights, especially if it is revised to a more finished form.

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Drivers & challenges for innovation in online education

Derek Morrison at Auricle posted Innovations in the Reuse of Electronic Learning Materials – drivers and challenges, about a presentation he did in September. I’ve had it marked for reading since it first appeared but the sheer length deterred me while I had other things pressing to be done. I still haven’t done more than skim through it but needed to capture the link because there seems to be material that I may want to go back to later. Key ideas include:

My Challenges to the Comfort Zone series of slides considered the following:

  1. Technology can easily become an innovative way of not changing.
  2. Reusable learning materials do not by themselves make for deep learning.
  3. Technologies increasingly tend to determine practice not vice versa.
  4. Are we acknowledging the Reusability Paradox?
  5. Does the iPod Generation want a ‘filling station’ not a streaming source?
  6. The impact of domestic broadband and wireless on the office and lecture theatre?
  7. The uptake and impact of ‘grassroots standards’?
  8. Distributed, decentralized self-organizing systems versus the centralized mega repository?
  9. User expectations/rights versus the ‘lock in’ or ‘lock-out’ business model.
  10. The growing relevance/importance of user-generated content.
  11. Free services and tools with massive user uptake.

His first point nicely reinforces my earlier post about the questions being raised about content as the centre of online education. As he notes, this is about education/learning as a transfer of knowledge rather than making sense of experience.

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Digital Myopia – Online education as information pushing

My email today included a TOC alert for the Journal of Interactive Learning Research 16(4). There was more than one article that looked interesting enough to be followed up when I have a few minutes but one caught my eye and demanded immediate attention:

Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2005). Online learning as information delivery: digital myopia. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(4), 353-367.

Digital myopia is derived from the concept of marketing myopia which has been around for a long time and was used to describe the demise of the buggy whip manufacturing industry following the advent of the automobile and the near death of the Hollywood movie industry in the face of television. In each case, so the logic runs, the problem was a business focused on producing and selling products rather than on serving customers. A wider view of the enterprise would have facilitated change that might have let the buggy whip manufacturers shift to providing other products or services in transport and the movie houses move more quickly into the broader entertainment business.

The authors make a strong argument that education is similarly focused on product rather than customer, in this case delivering information and degrees rather than offering students opportunities to learn. They report on research into the design of authentic approaches to online learning, including the challenges faced by teachers who attempt to take that path.

It’s a good read and it echoes some concerns I have had about our own institutional focus on content as the central element of online education. It’s not that I don’t think some content might be useful, or even necessary, if done well, but there is more to online education than content.

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E-learning 2.0 – the text edition

ELearn Magazine has published a Stephen Downes piece titled E-learning 2.0. I didn’t notice anything particularly new as I flicked through it quickly. My recollection is that pretty much everything thing I saw has been covered in posts by Stephen and others and included in presentations that have been made available as PowerPoint and/or MP3 files. I’ve been tracking some of these ideas since June (see E-Learning 2.0). The benefit of this piece is that all of those ideas are presented in text which is easily searchable and quotable.

(Via elearnspace.)

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What Is Web 2.0? The view from O’Reilly

A lot has been written about Web 2.0 in recent months but it is still a fuzzy concept in many ways. Tim O’Reilly, who was associated with the coining of the term, has published a substantial statement – What Is Web 2.0. He begins with some comments about the origin of the term:

The bursting of the dot-com bubble in the fall of 2001 marked a turning point for the web. Many people concluded that the web was overhyped, when in fact bubbles and consequent shakeouts appear to be a common feature of all technological revolutions. Shakeouts typically mark the point at which an ascendant technology is ready to take its place at center stage. The pretenders are given the bum’s rush, the real success stories show their strength, and there begins to be an understanding of what separates one from the other.

The concept of ‘Web 2.0’ began with a conference brainstorming session between O’Reilly and MediaLive International. Dale Dougherty, web pioneer and O’Reilly VP, noted that far from having ‘crashed’, the web was more important than ever, with exciting new applications and sites popping up with surprising regularity. What’s more, the companies that had survived the collapse seemed to have some things in common. Could it be that the dot-com collapse marked some kind of turning point for the web, such that a call to action such as ‘Web 2.0’ might make sense? We agreed that it did, and so the Web 2.0 Conference was born.

The rest of the piece discusses 7 key principles underlying Web 2.0 developments:

  1. The Web As Platform – including the Web 2.0 Meme Map that has popped up all over the web
  2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence
  3. Data is the Next Intel Inside
  4. End of the Software Release Cycle
  5. Lightweight Programming Models
  6. Software Above the Level of a Single Device
  7. Rich User Experiences

It’s long but well worth reading for anybody wanting to get a sense of what Web 2.0 is about – beyond the flush of funky web applications.

(Via elearnspace.)

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Scott Wilson again

Scott Wilson has been at it again, talking about Using resources in education and Architecture of virtual spaces and the future of VLEs. Both posts have minimal text and links to sizable, in the first case 8.7 MB, Powerpoint files from his presentations.

There is some overlap between the two presentations and some commonality with previous work – the VLE diagram features again as he contrasts the PLE (Personal Learning Environment) with the LMS (Learning Management System). Despite the repetition it is worth the effort to download and read through both sets of slides. The key messages are about the way SCORM and the LMS mirror the systems in which they are implemented, fear of open technologies among University IT staff and administrators, the incompatibility between current approaches to learning objects and repositories and university teaching, and the need to adapt to rapidly changing technologies.

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More new tools online

The rate at which new tools, mostly online and free, are appearing seems to have ramped up recently. I’ve scarcely had time to register their existence and bookmark them. I’ve certainly not had time to try them all but many of them do seem to have some potential for teaching, learning and research online.

Writeboard is a new tool from 37signals, the company that drives project and persoanl organisation tools, Basecamp and Backpack. Writeboards are sharable, web-based documents that support versions, rollback and subscription. Spaces like this should be able to support collaborative work among teams separated by time and distance.

SynchroEdit is an open source, browser-based simultaneous editor. Multiple users can work in a document at the same time and maintain synchronisation of changes. It seems both more capable and more complex than Writeboard. It provides a WYSIWYG editor rather than the wiki-style tags of some alternatives. It might be interesting to try working with colleagues in such an environment but I expect it might take some getting used to.

Writely is yet another browser-based editing solution. In this case the text can be imported from Word or HTML and exported in various formats, including to a blog. Collaboration is arranged by email.

Mayomi is a free online mind-mapping tool built in Flash. The site claims that the tool is still in development and that features like printing and export may be added in time. For the moment, the best that can be done is to take a snapshot of the map image.

Just in case Backpack is not your choice for an online calendar there is also Upcoming.org.

There are plenty more out there with new tools and combinations appearing daily. How many of them have any lasting value, for education or otherwise, remains to be seen but their emergence certainly adds a touch of excitement to poking around on the web.

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