Muddling through Moodle books

I’ve spent more than a few hours this week plumbing the depths of Moodle books as a means of presenting online content in a course. In the end I think I finished with a suitable solution for the first course in which  I’ve tried it but that involved some tinkering that seems worth recording with some brief history for context.

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SITE 2013 report

During the week from 24 to 29 March I attended the 24th Annual Conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) which was held in New Orleans. I was grateful for Faculty support, both financial and for time away to attend the conference. The necessities of travel resulted in some free time on the weekend prior to the conference when I was able to see some of New Orleans and a couple of nearby historic plantations. I have shared some photographs in a Flickr set for those who may be interested.

Despite my best intentions to prepare this report during the period of the conference and submit it by email on the way home that did not happen because I was busy during the conference and had a few other pressing tasks that needed to be completed before I returned to the office. I did manage to report on the conference as it happened by ‘live tweeting’ from the sessions that I attended. That material is conveniently collected on a website at and includes key points, images of key slides, and links to relevant sites. I find that live tweeting helps me to focus on the presentation and avoid losing concentration as a consequence of shifting timezones.

I was involved in 3 presentations during the conference. Re-visioning Teacher Preparation for Mobility: Dual Imperatives was co-authored with Romina Jamieson-Proctor, Petrea Redmond, and Wendy Fasso (CQU). It reported results from the DEHub funded project we completed last year and has been accepted with minor revisions for publication as one of about 25 chapters in the SITE Research Highlights book for 2013. A copy of the paper will be submitted to USQ ePrints but I am happy to provide a copy for anybody who wants one. The other two presentations were panels in which I participated in my role as Editor in Chief of the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. In the first of those the associate editors of JTATE engaged in discussion with prospective authors about the journal focus and publication process. In the second I joined editors of other journals in the field for a short presentation and discussion with participants interesting in publishing work in the field.

In addition to presenting and attending presentations I was involved as JTATE Editor in meetings of the Consultative Council and SITE Executive and in a SITE Leadership meeting that elected the next President of SITE who will take office at the conference in 2014. I was also co-opted to assist with jading the poster presentations.

Each of the 4 days of conference began with a keynote. Day 1 was Milton Chen from the George Lucas Foundation who spoke about the issues addressed in his book, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools, primarily around the action that is needed for schooling to respond to changing times. The remaining keynotes all addressed global issues of equity from different perspectives. Paul Kim from Stanford University spoke about MOOCs from the perspective of the work he has done in developing countries and the MOOC he developed to around designing new learning environments to address some of the issues. Mariana Patru from UNESCO spoke about the developments in policy and practice required to build a digital-age teaching profession around the globe. Peter Dzvimbo from University of South Africa addressed the challenges for integrating ICT in teacher education and schooling in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to the keynotes I was able to attend 2 significant invited presentations – one by former SITE President, Ann Thompson, about the past present and future of ICT in teacher education and another by Don Knezek, recently retired as CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, on the need for advocacy around ICT in teacher education.

Despite difficult economic conditions in the USA and elsewhere attendance at SITE was up this year with about 1300 attendees from 65 countries. Most of those had some involvement in one or more presentations so there were typically 12 or more choices available during parallel sessions. I managed to attend more than a dozen parallel sessions, each with 2 or 3 presentations. Topics included TPACK (measurement, necessary leadership conditions, video cases for development, development in secondary programs), mobile learning (mobile portfolios, mobile app for monitoring teaching practice), digital stories, action-oriented research, hybrid and online doctoral programs, and more. The full proceedings of SITE will be available through the Education and Information Technology Library database for those who may be interested in more detail. Expect that to take a week or two to become available.

ascilite 2012 – Wellington, NZ

The 2012 ascilite conference was held in Wellington, NZ, from 25-28 November. I was able to attend and present a paper co-authored with Romina Jamieson-Proctor, Petrea Redmond, Andrew Maxwell (FoES) and Kevin Larkin (Griffith), in which we reported some results and analysis from the mobile learning project we had funded through DEHub.Attendance at ascilite is dominated by staff from elearning development and support groups at Australasian universities but also includes participants who teach in a variety of discipline areas and some from further afield. The topics are clustered around the use of computers and associated technologies to support learning and teaching. I was able to attend 26 presentations, view about as many posters, and speak with colleagues from across the region. Key areas included in those presentations and conversations included mobile learning, the use of data extracted from the LMS or elsewhere to guide learning and teaching, application of social media to learning for students and staff, and future directions for learning and teaching in universities. The comments that follow record some of my reflections. The proceedings are available online at but for a different view of some of the major presentations check the caricatures posted at

Mobile learning is a rapidly emerging area but it is presenting challenges for universities. In many or most cases the LMS and other systems are not designed to provide smooth interaction with mobile devices and existing learning materials are not formatted for convenient use on mobile devices. Differences among the mobile devices used by students mean that materials may need to be converted to multiple formats. Rapid changes in technology mean that conventional approaches requiring long lead times for planning and implementation across whole systems may be too slow to respond. More agile approaches with rapid cycles of small changes that can be progressively adapted and extended appear to be having more success where they are being tried.

Although the LMS and other university systems contain large amounts of data about student and staff interaction with the systems that can be used to examine relationships between user behaviours and learning outcomes, there are challenges in making effective use of the data to guide learning and teaching. Data are often held in systems operated by sections separate from those charged with learning and teaching quality so access may require special provisions. Patterns that appear in the data at a macro level may mask complexity that exists at the lower levels of courses and students. Interpretation of the data may be best done by those familiar with the circumstances in which it was collected.

Social media outside university provided systems such as the LMS are being used by students to support their learning. Often this appears to be a response to perceived inconveniences or inadequacies in the official systems. In some cases the use is entirely student-driven with no staff involvement but in others staff are using various services to engage students in learning activities that would not be possible otherwise. Some cautionary notes were raised around behaviour in social media spaces and the implications of requiring use for particular purposes. Some universities are establishing policies about social media use.

Sessions related to the future of universities included a debate about MOOCs, presentations about how to better support innovation at the edges, and keynotes about alternative approaches to education (Dale Stephens from Uncollege) and assessment through authentic activities with more obvious links to employability (Beverly Oliver from Deakin – a more wide ranging summary and response to conference themes titled “Changing hearts and minds in the cloud”).

The venue for the conference was Te Papa – – the national museum of New Zealand and we were treated to Maori cultural displays as well as the hospitality typical of an ascilite conference. The conference also coincided with the week of the world premiere of The Hobbit in Wellington, adding further excitement around the appearance of celebrities.

mLearning, phones and lifelong learning

eLearn Magazine has published an interesting piece: Lifelong-Learning Support by M-learning: Example Scenarios. Among other things it argues:

Norris & Soloway argue that handhelds should support project-based learning in context, that is, using the handheld as an integral part of a learning activity; most of all: ongoing assessment and possible feedback [19].

Converse to the approach of using handhelds or personal digital assistants (PDAs), we propose in this paper the support of pupils at scondary schools and universities by use of mobile phones: Whereas mobile devices including PDAs, handhelds or small laptops are relatively expensive and consequently lack availability especially amongst pupils—the core advantage of mobile phones is the high availability of such devices. The market penetration of mobile phones in Austria is currently at a level of 81 percent and the numbers are still increasing [28]. It can be emphasized that the majority of the population in general and the younger in particular have a mobile phone available, which they have at hand most of the time.

Considering this fact, m-learning can be an important instrument for lifelong learning, which is for example, a central aim of the European Union [7], thus a challenge for research and development in the area of mobile computing.

The general thrust of the argument about the widespread availability of mobile phones and their consequent value for just in time learning seems to make good sense. I don’t think I would want to read substantial amounts of text on a mobile phone but being able to access information to support other activity need not involve large amounts of text.

(Via elearnspace.)

Podcast Theory Gap

E-Learning Queen writes about the Podcast Theory Gap:

Online learners seem to prefer using audio and web-based information in ways that counter what researchers recommend.

Although instructional designers do not often like to mention this, the fact is, it is the rare learner who will sit at a computer and willingly watch a 20 or 30-minute presentation. However, the same learners are happy to listen to an audio file (podcast or book on tape). Although multimedia presentations are not intended to be used in this way, many individuals download the audio aspect separately and listen to it while doing something else, usually something routine: commuting to work, routine data entry on the computer, preparing food in the kitchen, working in the garden.

Later, they will scan through the printout they made. This will be read without the audio.

I’ve been thinking about podcasts and their possible applications to teaching and learning on and off over the past couple of months.

For the past couple of years I’ve used the in-house iPLOD (Internet Powerpoint Lecture on Demand) system to record lectures as PowerPoint web presentations with a (theoretically synchronised) WMV audio component. That works after a fashion, avoids having somebody repeat the lecture at our remote campus, and also provides an alternative for local students who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t attend lectures. The inevitable consequence of recording seems to be that a substantial proportion of students don’t attend lectures, preferring to timeshift or avoid them altogether. Accessing the lectures requires sitting in front of a computer for an hour (or more) to receive a streamed transmission and many of our students have slow connections on which they experience interruptions due to buffering problems. Given that, I suspect that many students miss at least a proportion of the lectures entirely.

Over the past year or so the university has also begun to offer Breeze and some staff have used it to record slicker, and possibly more compact, presentations that include Powerpoint slides and audio. These materials are made available on the Internet through WebCT or on CD-ROMs distributed to students in a course. In the latter case students are spared the agony of long downloads but the materials need to be prepared well in advance in order to allow time for production of the CD-ROMs.

Both iPLOD and Breeze combine visual (Powerpoint slides) and audio content in a single presentation which effectively requires students to sit in front of a computer for as long as it takes to view the presentation. Some, probably most, people developing presentations create something similar in style and length to a traditional lecture. Others are breaking their material into shorter segments dealing with specific topics.

I had been wondering for some time whether providing the Powerpoint files and a podcast separately might be a reasonable alternative. It seems from what E-Learning Queen is saying that it might be a technique worth exploring. Her post is worth a closer look and, if I can overcome my irrational fear of a microphone in an empty room, I might try my hand at podcasting some elements of my classes.

(Via OLDaily.)

Networked Learning Environment

Blackboard has published a white paper on the Networked Learning Environment. The publication date is shown as October 2004 but I don’t recall seeing it or hearing of it previously. Perhaps that’s just my failing memory.

The paper echoes ideas that are being heard elsewhere. The general flavour is indicated by this paragraph from the executive summary:

A Networked Learning Environment in the Internet age applies new technology to a very old concept— that learning is much more than classes and grades. It is about the learning that takes place in a vibrant community of people and resources. The Internet has removed the limits of time and proximity that once restricted this community. In a true Networked Learning Environment, any student, instructor or researcher can access any learning resource at anytime from anyplace.

The interesting question might be just how open to the world a future learning environment built by Blackboard (or WebCT or the other majors) might be. Are they really proposing to open up and create a genuinely learner centred experience or would that be possible only within a network of peered environments built on Blackboard or associated products? Can a proprietary environment, even if it is using open standards, deliver the flexibility necessary for rapid evolution of learning environments? Those and other questions may need to be answered as we work towards a decision about our future LMS.

Mobile Technologies and Learning – Literature Review

NESTA Futurelab has produced what seems to be a very useful review relevant to mLearning: Literature Review in Mobile Technologies and Learning

The review covers current developments but also reaches back to make links to relevant literature from previous decades, giving it a solid grounding in educational theory. A substantial part of the review is organised around activities that are classified according to major theories and areas of learning relevant to mLearning. The main themes are identified as:

  1. behaviourist
  2. constructivist
  3. situated
  4. collaborative
  5. informal and lifelong
  6. learning and teaching support.

Each theme includes reference to relevant theorists and compatible activities. Case studies from the literature are also identified and described for each theme.

(Via elearnspace.)

Learning Development Cycle

George Siemens, see Connectivism, has posted a substantial piece about the Learning Development Cycle with the subtitle, Bridging Learning Design and Modern Knowledge Needs:


Instructional design (ID) serves only a small part of the entire learning experience. The pace of information development exceeds courses as the primary delivery mechanism of learning, challenging established ID. Alternatives to courses, like learning networks and ecologies, are developing as an informal learning approach. Designers and organizations receive substantial benefits to acknowledging informal learning, and initiating a focused design approach. Effective learning design must recognize different domains of learning. Learning Development Cycle attends to four broad learning domains: transmission, emergence, acquisition, and accretion. Designers focus on different objects during the design process, in order to meet the intended learning goals. Design objects include: instruction, fostering reflection and critical thinking, creating access to resources, and networks and ecologies.

This seems to tie in well with other recent discussion about Web 2.0, connectivism, mLearning, Gen Y and the like. This is something else I need to look at more closely and digest before I comment at more length.

ANTA New Practices in Flexible Learning 2005 Project

In another story

EdNA’s The Communicator email newsletter reports on current projects from the Australian Flexible Learning Framework:

The newly developed pages give a summary of the key concepts and aims of the six projects along with information on who will benefit from the new practice and who is involved in its development. The pages also have a link which allows people to subscribe to the latest project news as it becomes available as well as allowing them to register their interest in attending the New Practices in Flexible Learning 2005 presentations which will be held in Melbourne on December 1. …

Australian Flexible Learning Framework, 13 July 2005

Six projects are listed and described:

  1. ARED: Applications for Rapid e-learning Development
  2. Beyond Text: using your voice online
  3. Connecting the Dots: breaking down the barriers to participation
  4. QTI m-Player: question and testing interoperability (QTI) player for mobile devices
  5. Social Interaction Packs: overcoming social barriers to online learning
  6. Embedding innovative practices within vocational education and training (VET)