All 40 entries tagged Inspiration

Quotes and media gathered from many sources as part of my research, development and design activities. Use these resources to inspire alternative perspectives on existing problems, or as a starting point in understanding unfamiliar situations.

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January 23, 2012

How to evaluate a VLE

I was recently asked if I could recommend a clear-cut evaluation of the use of VLEs in higher education.

The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe.

The research has been poor concerning VLEs in HE. However, I remembered a paper from ALT-J that used a new methodology to evaluate a custom built VLE at Edinburgh. It tentatively established that where there exists a cohesive and strong 'community of practice', and a VLE is used that fits well with the community and its practices, then it can help students with becoming effective operators within that community. So for example, a VLE that fits with the professional practices of medical education helps students to become practitioners. Which is obvious really. But the more significant message is that where communities of practice are less well defined, or more varied and numerous (as is the case in humanities), a VLE is less likely to be a simple fit, and less likely to help students with becoming practitioners (or multi-disciplinary operators). Which is also obvious!

My own research into designerly thinking and practice in humanities education takes a similar approach, but with an emphasis upon much deeper differences between epistemic-agentic assemblages (more than communities of practice, more like paradigms or Foucault's epistemes). I take a radically pluralistic stance on epistemic diversity. But this paper is still very interesting and really worth reading. It's available free from the new open access ALT site.

Ellaway, Dewhurst, Mcleod, "Evaluating a virtual learning environment in the context of its community of practice", Alt-J, Research in Learning Technology, Volume 12, No. 2, June 2004

Here are a few first impressions...

The authors report on one of the first attempts at evaluating a virtual learning environment in use, considering its impact on a community of practice (learners, teachers and others). In surveying previous research, they conclude that:

"...because VLEs can be used in many different ways, and because much that was implicit in the traditional learning environment becomes explicit in its online equivalent, the evaluation of VLEs has proved to be a particularly complex problem. Furthermore, because of the sheer scale, complexity and cost of VLEs, their adoption and use is increasingly undertaken at an institutional level and any subsequent evaluation, if it is not done at the level of the individual learner, is most often also undertaken at this institutional level." P.126

They argue that:

"Although there has been much published on evaluative work on VLEs, this has until recently rarely gone further than analysing their various features and functions...In presuming that a VLE has intrinsic properties, that the context into which a VLE will be deployed is neutral and that any given VLE will automatically deliver predictable benefits (or otherwise) into that context, the predictive approach is significantly limited in providing a useful perspective of a VLE in a grounded course context. It is important to note that most of these approaches have been directed towards a novit-iate audience looking for the best evidence or advice available to help them select a suitable system to meet their needs." P.126

The authors take an alternative approach, more suited to higher education: Wenger's community of practice model, in which the aim of learning is to induct learners fully into a cohesive and fully functional "community of practice", in which they may eventually become equals (whether that be a professional community, or an academic community of researchers). A complex analysis is used to evaluate the fit between a VLE and the Edinburgh University medical education programme for which it was developed. Unsurprisingly, it is a good fit and contributes to the goal of becoming part of the community of practice (although this does not indicate that the students will be well placed to join the wider community of practice of the medical profession). In this case, the VLE was developed specifically for a large, cohesive, rigid, pre-existing community of practice.

However, such well-formed communities might be the exception in HE.

"It is important to emphasise that this is a theory-based approach, which is predicated on a pre-existing course community of practice. In those situations where this is a valid assumption, for instance in subjects such as medicine, then it has immediate relevance and utility. For other situations, for instance in modular programmes of study, where communities of practice may not equate to a course (or even exist coherently at all) then there may be less relevance in such a study, although a module may in some cases retain a degree of internal coherence as a community of practice." P.142

Humanities disciplines, for example, are much more fragmentory and individualistic. There are significant differences between departments, and even between modules within departments, and sometimes between different tutor groups within modules. For example, in the English Department, creative writing is practised in a significantly different way to The European Novel. One could successfully argue that the value for the students lies in the opportunity to partake in radically different communities of practice.

December 21, 2011

Document and image collaborative annotation with iversity

Follow-up to iAnnotate for iPad, annotate PDFs, mark essays on screen from Inspires Learning - Robert O'Toole

iversity is an open-access VLE/VRE in which anyone can assemble a course or a conference (interesting to see the parallels between an academic course and a conference). It is explicitly aimed at higher education. The "stripped-down" nature of the feature-set and the interface is significant. After all, what is really needed for successful academic collaboration? You get a calendar, the ability to upload files and discuss them, and a report on all user actions related to the course.

It's all actually very clear and simple. Which is what most people want most of the time - with the addition of one more sophisticated feature, perhaps the only area of complex interaction that academic work needs (outside of subject specific technologies such as lab equipment): what iversity call 'social reading'. Annotating texts and images with comments.

I'm not claiming that this is a perfect solution. It is browser based. It is very much an old-fashioned web site plus collaboration. Increasingly (thanks to Kindle, iTunes, iAnnotate etc) we expect to be building our own personal collections of owned/curated objects. That's a very different design pattern, user experience and ideology. When I work on an academic aretfact I want to have my own copy of it. That comes first (whether in the classroom or online). I then want to be able to annotate and extend my copy. In some circumstances I want to share those annotations and extensions, or incorporate the ideas of others in my own copy. But at the end of the day I want my own artfact to own containing my own work.

Here's a video demonstrating their implementation:

December 12, 2011

Mindjet Mindmanager on the iPad for teaching, research and consultancy

I've been using iPads for around 6 months, in my teaching, consultancy work and as an essential part of my "research workflow". I have my own personal iPad, and 6 iPads that are part of the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning equipment for loan (Warwick staff can use them in teaching sessions). I'm now reporting on some of the tools that I find to be of great use (in fact I would say revolutionary).

Mindjet Mindmanager (called Mindjet on the App Store). This has always been the best mind/concept mapping tool for the dekstop (we have a site license for Windows and Mac). The iPhone version was good, but the size of the iPad screen, its convenience and its touch interface makes it the perfect platform. I have used Mindjet in all aspects of my work. Its user interface is simple, intuitive and flows perfectly with teh development of ideas.

In teaching, I have got small groups of students to create maps in response to a text or a brief, and show them through a projector (using an Apple iPad VGA convertor plugged into the projector). The students have been able to navigate around the map on screen, closing and opening nodes and talking about their ideas as presented through the map. Adding additional information is easy. And quite often they have used colour to emphasise different ideas. Here is an example from French Studies with some of the nodes opened and some closed:


Click the image to enlarge.

Personally, I will often start working on a document, project or consultancy by creating a map that delineates the important questions or key areas to investigate. I then add detail to these nodes as I discuss and think with people. It's easy to share the map visually with participants, or via email and Dropbox. I find this to be a good way to ensure that I am following a sound methodology, but with the ability to be flexible where required. Often these maps will become fully developed, for example into a text. I write the text on my iMac with the iPad sitting on a stand next to it (I have a TeckNet leather case with built in stand). Ideas seem to flow more freely and constructively.

Here is an example of a structured map used for a consultancy and design session:

consultancy map

Click to enlarge.

I've also started to use this approach with students, giving them a template map structure to develop their ideas from. This can be used to scaffold the investigative or creative process.

Mindjet Mindmanager is free from the App Store. It inter-operates with the PC and Mac versions, available to Warwick staff and students for free as part of the site license. iPads can be borrowed for use in teaching from the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning at Warwick.