May 23, 2011

Interview with John O'Toole about ethnodrama, OSL, technology and design

In their article "Learning in Dramatic and Virtual Worlds: What Do Students Say About Complementary and Future Directions?"1, John O'Toole and Julie Dunn discussed the differences between entertainment-oriented technologies and pedagogically-oriented technologies. This was illustrated by a case study that demonstrated the importance of students thinking about technology, learning and creativity with what I would call a designerly approach. In an earlier article, I explored this by suggesting that we transform Dorothy Heathcote's "mantle of the expert" into a "mantle of the designer" pattern. Thanks to the Open-space Learning project, I had an opportunity to explore these ideas with John O'Toole in an interview.

1"Learning in Dramatic and Virtual Worlds: What Do Students Say About Complementary and Future Directions?", Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 42, No. 4, Winter 2008.

January 31, 2011

Mantle of the designer? John O'Toole and Julie Dunn on process drama and technology

A review of: O'Toole, John & Dunn, Julie "Learning in Dramatic and Virtual Worlds: What Do Students Say About Complementary and Future Directions?", Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 42, No. 4, Winter 2008.

The title of the paper under consideration indicates a coming together of two spheres:

  • drama based education - the "process drama" approach as described in Pretending to Learn (O'Toole & Dunn, 2002), a pedagogical approach (that can be used in all subjects);
  • "virtual worlds" - with a wider scope than just immersive game-like environments, including ICT that brings different places, times and realities into the classroom (or perhaps, takes the classroom out into different worlds) and into the minds and hands of the learners  and teachers.

It is written just as new technologies are emerging that promise to extend and transform what is possible in drama and the classroom. As such it marks a significant engagement and perhaps a subtle attempt to steer the direction of development. One might assume a good fit between the two. The aim of process drama is for the learner to develop deeper, multi-perspectival, sophisticated understandings of issues, places, people and events, with a genuine sense of engagement, through first-hand (dramatised) experience. Many newly available technologies have the potential to enable behaviours that support these aims: rapid prototyping, experimentation, immersion, varying granularity of perception (zooming in and out on a situation or its timeline), rewinding and altering causal-chains, recording (for later reflection), and the combination of many different view-points and locations into a single observational “panel”. As part of the Open-space Learning in Real World Contexts project at the University of Warwick, we have let our imaginations run a little wild in creating design concepts that use these techniques (documented in the OSL Observatory). However, we should be cautious. I argue, and I think the paper supports this point, that there is a radical difference in the design-values behind new technologies and the values of process drama and more ge nerally, creative education. 

The article reports on an exercise in participatory action research/ design with an emphasis upon the voice of the learner, and the learner as designer. Perhaps this is John O'Toole's "mantle of the expert” pedagogical pattern, in which learners take on the role of experts, adapted into a "mantle of the designer" pattern. The workshops under consideration handed over to the students an exciting responsibility: designing a virtual and interactive learning experience (teaching about the climbing of Mount Everest). The subject matter was deliberately problematic and further problematised during the session, being within "the History's Purchased Page process drama unit" (p.92). Questions concerning the authorship and reliability of historical accounts, "knowledge as problematic" (p.93), were carefully introduced into the scenario as a challenging dilemma that:

“…incorporates conflict, but in a layered, complex form that problematizes the relationships of the participants to each other and to the fictional context.” (p.96)

As the authors state, the purpose of the research was to discover:

"What do young learners say about how they experience and value learning in a context involving a combination of drama and computers?"

"What ideas do these young learners have about how future technologies might enrich the complemenarity of this combination?" (p.90)

To assist in their independent response to the design challenge, the students were supported by a professional interaction designer from the Australasian Collaborative Research Centre for Interaction Design (ACID).

The opportunity to test the methodology (students as learning/computer designers) was a significant collateral benefit. Experimenting with new uses of technologies and techniques for discovering/thinking/creating/designing added a fourth significant objective. This included opportunities to consider how commonly encountered design patterns for virtual experiences (video games, Second Life) fall short of those required for process drama work:

"...from our perspective as drama educators, we believe that there are considerable gaps and limitations in the way these games use the key elements of drama." (p.94)

They argue that:

"...the gamesmaster has no control over the level of engagement (or immersion) during the game, nor what emotional disturbances or residues the participant may be left with after leaving...By contrast, the teacher/facilitator is constantly monitoring engagement, through reading verbal and nonverbal responses of the participants, and can modify the depth of experience, the level of empathy, and the emotional distance from the dramatic roles and situation." (p.95)

Control over distance is, they say, essential:

"distance of the character from the center of the emotional event" and "distance through techniques of deliberate artifice" (p.95).

In this particular case, the use of dramatic-pedagogical techniques allowed for this subtle and sensitive control, also extending into a careful use of "dramatic tension" (p.96) employed to "drive drama and sustain the participants' motivation in their roles as characters in the fictional contexts" (p.96). This amounted to an immersive and challenging experience, dependent upon the rich workings of "not just cognitive but also sensory, emotional, kinaesthetic, and, above all, social" forces to create "knowledge that is transformative, usable and transferable" (p.97). 

What was the role of technology in this successful learning experience? The authors state that:

"a deftly placed visit to the Internet can throw a completely new challenge into the drama." (p.91)

Which it did, throwing new challenges concerning the truth of historical narratives into the pot. As such it acts as a disrupter and an inspirer. Materials brought into the drama from outside were then used as elements in the process of building to think, to design and to act. Perhaps as technology advances, it will be possible to make more constructive use of images, sound and other sensory inputs, used by the learners to build narratives and experiences, to test ideas and to challenge themselves: not just to increase the number of facts present (there was divided opinion from the students as to whether this is good or bad); but also to aid with visualisation and immersion (the students highlighted this as being important). For example, “tablet” style devices (Apple iPad) allow students to bring sound, images (still and moving), text and even remote actors into the learning space in a way that is easily manipulated and displayed. When interviewed about the learning experience, the students clearly valued the ability to make the experience more real – “a sense of verisimilitude” (p.98); but the students would like it to be even more real:

“Some of the students would have liked a more sensory experience, with a number suggesting that future developers of interactive environments should consider including opportunities to engage the senses of hearing and touch.” (p.99)

When analysing the students’ responses, the authors created two lists: aspects of the dramatic experience that the students valued, and aspects of the computer experience that they valued. Taken togeth er, these positive responses indicate the effectiveness of the pedagogical techniques, and the design challenge given to the students. The learners were well engaged and motivated through a well visualised context and personae, encouraging active participation, social interaction, decision making, leading to a deeper understanding of the historical problem and the problems of knowledge (p.97-98). What then did technology add to this? The obvious benefits were highlighted: verisimilitude and the opportunity to access information. As often is the case, access to computers and the internet increased motivation (although we may over time find that this effect wears off). Significantly, the students identified “socialization” as a key benefit. How does the addition of technology improve social interaction? I can think of some common reasons. Perhaps by providing an object for group interaction and sharing of skills? Perhaps it allows a degree of specialisation to occur with groups of learners (with some taking the role of tech-specialist)? Perhaps, within the context of a design challenge and students as designers, technology provides additional affordances, constraints and enabling constraints to be manipulated socially? – affordances and constraints that link together the social thinking of the group with vast complexities of reality beyond the classroom. I think this is the most interesting possibility, the most powerful potential benefit that new technologies can bring to the classroom and the drama. As I think the article indicates, we are starting to see these effects, but the technology is not quite there yet, not quite right. Will it ever be? Not inherently. Technology developers have no reason to be interested in selling products that challenge consumers, that promote social contention of the kind found in process drama. Perhaps the key then is for teachers and learners to become more adept at taking, adapting and using technologies for these ends – to become more design minded and less naïve in their acceptance of technologies – to take on the “mantle of the designer”. Not “designer” in the sense of Versace, but rather the more important role of designer as the creator/discoverer of the contentions and [dis]solutions necessary for genuine innovation – as described by Bruno Latour in his seminal lecture “A Cautious Prometheus?” (2008).

O’Toole and Dunn’s research is a good step towards this aim. 


Latour, Bruno A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design, Keynote lecture given to the History of Design Society, Falmouth, 2008 - available online at[accessed 14th November 2010]

O'Toole, John & Dunn, Julie "Learning in Dramatic and Virtual Worlds: What Do Students Say About Complementary and Future Directions?", Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 42, No. 4, Winter 2008.

January 04, 2011

Augmented Reality – An Introduction by Luke Robert Mason

Accessible as a PDF file for download.

November 04, 2010

"Collaboration and Co–authorship in the Humanities and Social Sciences" Friday 29th Oct.

This was an Institute of Advanced Study event convened in the Studio space. A good mix of post-graduate students and staff from Sociology, English literature, the Language Centre, Education, and Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy attended. In the morning session we used the space to organise a theory-building game on the theme of ‘identity’; after lunch we heard from Grier Palmer (WBS) on collaborative and cross-disciplinary teaching models which draw on the open space learning philosophy; and from Nick Lawrence (English and Comparative Literary Studies) on the Warwick Research Collective (WreC) which is an innovation in collaborative writing.

                                            IAS Workshop on Collaboration 4

I asked those who attended to provide me with some reflection on the space we used and its potential for teaching and research. The feedback was very positive and should encourage further collaboration. Below are some of the thoughtful responses I have received so far:

Did this morning’s image-based (theory-building) exercise on the theme of ‘identity’ encourage you to think about collaboration? If so, how?

‘Yes very much. In particular, because I have always thought of the possibility of introducing other disciplines in my teaching, in particular arts. In the past I have done some exercises with music and dance with some of my mature students and the experience has been great and very gratifying.’

‘Yes, because in the process we team had to propose and share our own opinions, and then we needed to make a choice about which one to use and how to present them. Communication and compromise existed in this exercise.’

‘Yes. A useful and inspiring selection of materials threw up important practical and theoretical questions about how one retains one’s own identity while attempting to engage with a collaborative community. The fact that this was itself a collaborative exercise, which involved each of us to some extent subsuming our own identity within the collective’s, heightened the impact of the images in a very real sense.’

‘To be honest, I do not think that the images in themselves were the best way to encourage people to think about collaboration because of a couple of reasons. First of all, the topic of identity is in itself controversial and, in general terms, but, in particular, within our group emphasised more our differences instead of our commonalities. Secondly, since we were all people with some theoretical background related to the topic we had the tendency to talk from that perspective which is sometimes an obstacle to any possible dialogue or encounter.’

‘Definitely yes. In fact, rather than focusing entirely on the task, I started reflecting about the way we were interacting as a new group. I think this happened because there were no previous relationships and so, while trying to work on our task, we were also setting the structure of our group (but obviously without addressing this point explicitly in our conversations).’

Would you consider using ‘open space’ (e.g. the studio space we used today) for your teaching practice?

Yes, I am already thinking about the possible ways a resource like it can be used in a creatively way and how that can be of an improvement in the learning experience of our students.

‘I will. It is a good idea, but at the same time, it increases the difficulty to manage and control students. So rigours planning and assisted teachers are in need. ‘

In what kind of space do you imagine intellectual collaboration taking place?

‘The importance of a democratic space is key, whether that’s a literal round table or an open space such as the studio. Any space which continues to support a latent hierarchy will, I believe, inevitably stifle the freedom of collaboration.’

I think places like the “open space”, but for me the space goes hand on hand with the “time” to do it. It would be good if the university creates a dedicate opportunity for the collaboration to take place, like a designated specific day for “collaboration development”, perhaps sending to the community with plenty of time, the idea of “In so many weeks, there is going to be an evening of collaboration across university”. Asking staff something like “if you were able to meet with a particular department for brainstorming, which one that would be?” Then give space/ time for those liaisons to happen. I am not sure of the how to organise it, but I am sure it would be a great opportunity, if at all possible...’

IAS Workshop on Collaboration 5 IAS Workshop on Collaboration 6

Further Comments

‘For me the activity was really productive in many senses. First, because I could experience directly three possible dynamics when you have to accomplish a goal in a group: i) our own dynamic where one discourse wanted to dominate the space but it could not do it; therefore there were tensions, dispersion and no commonalities; ii) the second group, for me the best one, because they found the way to communicate a discourse based on some common reflection, something that made sense to all of them –even though their probable differences; iii) the first group, where one voice predominated the discourse without any counterbalance. Secondly, I finalised the activity with a group of personal reflections about what collaborative work or space means for me and what I would like to do collaboratively –which is a lot!. Finally, since I am not English native speaker, every space where I can practise all my language skills is more than useful, especially if the topic and the people involved are interesting.’

October 28, 2010

Changing Education Paradigms, Ken Robinson

Recommended by Nick. A visualisation of a Ken Robinson lecture on creativity, divergent thinking, and how traditional education systems surpress it with drugs and standardised testing. Very relevant to OSL...

July 15, 2010

Learning investigative interviewing with OSL and iMovie 09

Working with Alison Caldicote of Physics, Nick Monk and I ran a workshop for physics undergraduates as part of the physics outreach project. They will be creating investigative video interviews with physics professors. We talked to them about interview technique, and using the Macbook computers. We based this in the Theatre Studies studio. Each pair of students took a laptop on a flexible portable stand. They rearranged furniture for their interviews, trying different configurations and considering the impact upon the interviewee. They then recorded themselves interviewing each other. They recorded directly into iMovie 09, and were able to review their work and try again with changes. The students learned about:

  • Planning
  • Performing so as to enable easier editing and reuse
  • Using pauses and visual cues
  • Establishing rapport and helping people to feel comfortable
  • Positioning cameras and mics
  • Rapid editing and production using iMovie

It proved to be a successful session. We now plan to fine tune this into a repeatable workshop offered to the rest of the university and beyond.

Here is a photo of one of the pairs of students:

Students practising interviews

July 12, 2010

OSL Design Concept: Theory Roulette

A learning design based upon an original installation by Catherine Allen and Lauren Cameron.

Slowly moving from the bright and informal foyer, we pass through two sets of doors, each in turn filtering-out a degree of chattering, confidence and expectation. Into the dark, cavernous and unfamiliar space of the Studio. A little thread of light at the edges guides us into position, strung out along the black-curtained wall.

A few seconds of settled silence, then a crackle of sound coming from somewhere above and near to, we guess, the centre of the room. A second audio source comes to life, just to the side of the first: again just a crackle. Then a screen flickers on, it’s position matching that of the first sound, followed by a second screen with it’s accompanying sound source, followed by a third, a fourth and a fifth, each displaying tuned-out white noise, spiralling around in aerial suspension.

“Hi, I’m Garry from Illinois. Do you wanna chat?”

Garry’s face stares at us from the first screen, fitted-out with a dumbly quizzical expression. A few vacant seconds later, he’s replaced by Monika from Derby. Garry’s performance continues further around the spiral. Monika moves along. Daniel from Frankfurt is next. Ephemeral and disturbing video sequences captured from the strange distributed online world of Chat Roulette, looping around and drawing the line of spectators along and dispersing: examining, making sense of, whispering to each other observations, instant theorisations and refutations, all dimly lit and lo-fi.

A few minutes into the session, and two wall-sized screens fire up at opposite ends of the space, boxing-in the spiral of suspended screens. Each big screen shows a Google Earth sequence plotting the exact locations of the Chat Roulette participants (to street level), along with the available biographical data. The video sequence zooms in and out to examine each participant and their socio-economic and cultural context. The sequence comes to a halt, replaced by an un-recorded, interactive Google Earth interface pin-pointing each chat participant. The experience is transformed away from passive spectacle to active participation and collaborative exploration, as we use the touch screen to control and explore the information displayed.

By now the audience, or more precisely the explorers, have started taking notes: snapshots and voice memos recorded directly into small portable wifi enabled devices. Each note is tagged to identify it’s context (creator, location, event, time, theme, purpose etc). A third wall-sized touch screen has appeared, displaying an interactive timeline, upon which our notes are plotted, as well as a spatial representation of the room and its contents. We can instantly see each-other’s responses, or return to them later when reflecting upon the experience. We can also add our own materials (images, sounds, texts, videos) collected from other places and times and carried into the space digitally.

After some time exploring and discovering unguided, a fourth interactive wall appears, completing the box. This time it’s a wall of books: key sociological texts on technology and community. We can open each book, spread out selected pages across the screen, annotate and draw around them. Furthermore, we can add to them from the opposite wall, containing our notes and digital recordings. The challenge is obvious: place our own observations and theories in relation to the academic works, build a theory and test it against the empirical evidence that we have explored.

Finally, the session ends with an invitation to summarize and reflect upon our theories and the experience of collaboratively constructing them. We can record these reflections as text, audio or video (or all three), added to our collective timeline or recordings and events (for our later use). But the discussion doesn’t end there, spilling out into blogs, forums and future events, all connected back to the event, and informing future writing and research.

June 29, 2010

Tech review: build to think, build to learn through video making with iMovie 09

Creating an Instrument of Experience for Learning

Experiential learning is not a passive process, rather it is an activity in which students deliberately act on/in the world, predicting, doing, observing, reflecting and re-acting: the feedback loop through which we explore realities. Learning in all disciplines involves the creation of what could be called instruments of experience1: things that we can create and use based upon our theories (implicit or explicit), providing sufficient opportunity to observe, reflect and re-act. What Tom Kelley of IDEO calls "building to think".

Professor Carol Rutter, along with students, actors and Globe Education, constructed just such an instrument of experience at the Globe Theatre. It was constructed from two early versions of Shakespeare’s Othello, along with period stage costumes, rehearsal spaces, the Globe stage, and the knowledge and skills of the actors. When deployed, the instrument worked as a kind of experiment (testing theories about staging the different versions), but also as an experiential discovery on many levels for all of the participants. As Carol states in her introduction:

The project records practical experiments conducted on the stages of Shakespeare’s (reconstructed) Globe using reconstructions of early modern dress to argue that the scene’s “meaning” resides in the undressing and to demonstrate how that undressing was done.  It concludes that Q is not an actors’ text.

The Unpinning Desdemona experience proved to be rich in opportunities and detail, as expected. From the outset, Professor Rutter built observation and reflection into the plan. All of the activities, over the whole day, were filmed and photographed, including the process of dressing, the various rehearsals with different combinations of text and costume, and the performance on stage (of the Willow scene).

Learning is a multimedia experience

The Unpinning Desdemona experience was necessarily rich and mulimediated. To recompose it for reflection means bringing together a large amount of quite visually rich video footage with audio (spoken word and music), filled with many individual events and observations, along with the texts and the un-expressed thoughts and sensations of the participants. We don’t want to lose too much of that complexity, as it’s what makes the experience potentially so productive. But the participants do need to be able to draw it all together selectively so as to create a narrative that reflects and draws conclusions (re-acts, learns). How can technology help?

Why use an iMac?

As part of the Open-space Learning project, I am exploring ways in which participants can gather a rich account of events in a manageable format, and then quickly and intuitively build a narrative. In this particular case, we used iMovie 09, the video editing and production application that comes free with every new Apple computer. Working with the actor Jon Trenchard, Carol spent a couple of days with an Apple iMac in the Writers’ Room at Warwick. It’s 24” screen allows editors to easily view a large proportion of their footage and still images for review without too much scrolling around. The end result is impressive and fascinating: an hour long movie, in ten sections, that explores the performance experiment, explaining the differences between the texts, how they might have been performed, and the implications for how we understand and study the relationship between text and performance. The movies can be viewed online, and will be used in teaching and research (address given below).

Why choose iMove 09?

For this kind of learning through video making, I chose the combination of iMac and iMovie 09 over many other options (including Apple Final Cut and Adobe Premiere). iMovie is aimed at the novice video maker. It is to some extent simplified. I have been able to teach people to use it in just ten minutes. But that’s not the reason for choosing it. In fact, the latest version is barely less sophisticated than applications used by professionals. I choose iMovie because it makes it easy for students and researchers to quickly explore, select and combine sequences of video from hours of footage (as well as images). Footage is instantly rendered. By moving the mouse pointer across the footage, the playhead performs audio and video skimming. Whatever the mouse is hovered over plays instantly in a preview window, and as the mouse is moved, the audio is played as well. When researchers and students are concentrating on understanding difficult content, creating difficult ideas, they have to be able to do this as smoothly as possible, as quickly as possible. iMovie 09 is perfect. To build their narrative, the editors select clips from the footage (click and drag), play the selected clip to review it (/ button), and then move them into the correct point in the movie timeline (drag and drop). Images can be added in a similar manner. Stills can be created from any point in the video footage and added to the movie (building a movie from stills, with zooming and camera drift effects is in itself worthwhile).

Screenshot of iMovie 09

As Carol and Jon created their video, I filmed their behaviour. I then interviewed them about the process to create the Making of Unpinning Desdemona video (included below). Watch the movie and you will find a Professor and an actor using iMovie to “build to think, build to learn”. It’s not just the ease of reviewing footage and building movie sequences that makes this such a great tool for thinking. iMovie 09 also includes the ability to add many types of text title. They can stand alone (for example to demarcate a point in the structure of the narrative), or they can overlay the footage (to point out a detail or add information). There are animated titles to add interest, scrolling subtitles to extend the information given. All added by simple drag-and-drop, but looking like the work of a professional. Adding audio is just as simple (copyright permitting). Nice or novelty transitions are available to smooth the gaps between clips. As all of these get added to the movie timeline, the movie can be reviewed instantly – building to think.

There are three further features that Carol and Jon found to be especially vital for creating this kind of movie. We can drag and drop any image or clip over another in the timeline. Several options appear on a menu (you need to active the advanced editing tools in iMovie preferences to get this). Two that are particular useful are cutaways and picture-in-picture. Cutaways allow us to show a short clip as the main clip carries on playing – don’t forget to mute the audio on the cutaway. Picture-in-picture inserts the second clip as a small frame in the corner of the first (it can be repositioned). Carol and Jon used cutaways to show action on stage from several angles.

Voiceovers building narrative

Finally, the perfect build to think feature: voiceovers. The iMac has a quite good quality mic (as well as an excellent video camera). Voiceovers can be recorded into iMovie and layered over the movie, repositioned and edited. The background audio can be muted, or “ducked” (with its volume automatically dropped in sync with the voiceover). In the Making Of video, you can see Carol and Jon doing just such a voiceover. If necessary, you can also record video straight into iMovie using the built in camera (for example to record an introduction).

Many of these features are available in different systems, but my experience has taught me that when working with novices to create movies that deal with difficult academic topics, the software and hardware needs to be as slick, simple and integrated as possible. iMovie 09 offers that. It’s an ideal addition to your instruments of experience, supporting a creative and wide ranging reflectivity – 10/10.

The Making of Unpinning Desdemona


Unpinning Desdemona the Movie by Carol Rutter and Jon Trenchard

A short introduction to the movie and its aims by Carol Rutter


1 In Experience and Education, Dewey writes of "a potent instrumentality for dealing effectively with the future" (Dewey, 1997: 23)

Tech review: edmodo class microblogging

Writing about web page

I’ve been considering using Twitter in teaching. It would allow a class to collectively record activities during and between classes. A kind of hybrid notebook, message board and discussion system packaged in an interface that is elegant and simple (with many mobile options). A way of providing instantaneous recording of ideas and events, for example from within open-space learning workshops. And also a way of joining diverse learning and teaching events together. But Twitter is severely limited in format, and too public by default. I want to be able to easily do things with images, sound, video, discourse. Edmodo offers an alternative, designed specifically for teaching. I’ve been investigating its features. Here is a review that might convince you to try it.

Here's a screenshot of an Edmodo class stream.

Edmodo screenshot

Edmodo is a social networking tool based around the microblogging design pattern, with the addition of teacher/student role differentiation and several education-oriented message types. I’ll explain…

Edmodo is a kind of microblog. What does that mean? A microblog is a web page onto which users post short updates, messages, questions, views etc. These accumulate in a date-time ordered “stream” on the page. Users can subscribe to streams from other users, and then see a combined stream of their own updates and those of the people they are following. Twitter is the most successful microblogging site. Facebook also has a microblogging feature. A microblog is therefore a kind of personal notebook, with the option of viewing several such notebooks together in date-time order. Microblogging is pedagogically valuable in that it provides a fast and quick way of recording and sharing notes – immediately and as an archive for later use.

Like Twitter, but for education

Edmodo is an enhanced microblogging tool. Twitter imposes a limit of 140 characters on each post, and supports hyperlinks (but written out in full), but not images or other media. Using Edmodo, there seems to be no limitation on the length of a posted note. Users can respond to each other’s posts. Responses to a post appear directly underneath it (unlike Twitter), so that discussions can develop.

Threaded discussion

Furthermore, there’s a proper keyword tagging system, so that each post may be categorised, and filtered views of the stream produced based upon selecting a tag.

In addition, users can add files (including images, video, audio and texts). Files that are posted are displayed in the stream – for example, if an image is posted, it appears in the stream as a large thumbnail-sized image.

Edmodo photo

Edmodo offers the multimedia capabilities that many people see as a major omission from Twitter. Users may also post links to content elsewhere on the web (including embedded videos from sources like YouTube, and Flash applications). These enhanced multimedia features make Edmodo an ideal tool for recording active learning, workshop and lab activities, open-space learning and activities on field trips and work placements.

Like Facebook, but for education

Edmodo is a kind of social networking site. What does that mean? Web sites like Facebook and Twitter allow users to organise themselves into groups through “friending” (Facebook) or “following” (Twitter). Friends/followers are then able to follow each other’s updates, and offer each other access to information and events (including viewing each others lists of friends). Edmodo follows a slightly different pattern. Teachers, a special type of user, set up class groups. Each class has its own join code (for example d8sbpw). By default, classes are private to the members (although they can be made public). The teacher can invite students to join by giving them the name of the class and its code. Students cannot register for the system unless they have been invited to join at least one class. Once that they have joined, students can post updates to the whole class or to individuals (including the teacher). They can share text notes, files and links. The student has a single stream for all of their classes, but can filter the stream to show posts from a selected class.

The student/teacher hierarchy is further reinforced by a series of additional types of update that may only be created by teachers. Teachers can send alerts, set assignments and create class polls.

Edmodo options


Edmodo includes a basic assignment submission system and grade-book. An assignment is set for a specified class or individual, with a submission date. Files can be associated with the assignment. Students then receive the assignment details in their own personal stream. This includes a link to submit their response. The student is able to submit a file before the deadline. The teacher receives submitted assignments, gives them a mark, and returns the assignment (with additional files if necessary) to the student. Results are stored in the system, associated with the assignment.


Polls can also be created and assigned to a class. A poll asks a question, and provides a set of alternatives. Each student chooses one of the alternatives. They can see a graph of results updated immediately with their vote.


Edmodo allows for updates from other systems to be automatically added (by the teacher) to a class, so that they are posted into the streams of its members. These “feeds” can come from certain types of news and calendar pages (many systems including Warwick’s Sitebuilder provide the required RSS feeds), from YouTube (video), Flickr (images) and many more sites. This can be used to add a “real-world” dimension to the class. Also, cameras and editing software is increasingly integrated into these sites, allowing for easy uploading. For example, the new generation of iPod Nano will shoot video and upload it to YouTube. Sequences shot during a workshop may be uploaded and appear in the Edmodo class stream through RSS.


Edmodo is a nice clean web design, and should render well on all devices. There is an app for iPhone. Support for RSS from YouTube and Flickr adds further mobile options as described above.


It’s a simple, elegant design with a familiar look and feel. I’ve looked at it with a Warwick undergraduate (final year Italian Studies). She was impressed, and said that she would happily use it. I am really looking forwards to using it in workshop situations for the Open-space Learning project. However, the student/teacher distinction will be a significant limitation when used within HE. We might want students to be able to create a poll or even to create an assignment. Perhaps they should just join the service with teacher status (there’s nothing to stop them). It would also be nice if we could give each class more of a distinct branding.

Remember that this is a free service, with absolutely no enforceable guarantees. It’s unlikely to happen, but you could start teaching with Edmodo only to find that the site disappears.

Otherwise, very much recommended: 8/10.

June 25, 2010

OSL Design Concept: A Geography of Shared Concerns

The second part of the Handbook of Open-space Learning Technology will consist of a series of "design concepts" - experiments in OSL design using new technologies. The OSL design challenge is outline in Part One of the handbook. I am basing the design concepts on sessions that I have observed at Warwick, and other activities used by members of the project team. We can implement some of the designs with the available technology. Others are rather more "blue sky". I hope that people will be able to suggest products that make them feasible!

Here's one that tends more towards the experimental end of the scale...

A Geography of Shared Concerns (adapted from an original OSL activity designed by Professor Jonothan Neelands)

The room, about 20 metres by 10 metres, well lit but sparsely equipped, contains only five significant elements:

1.    At one end, a long series of tables, upon which are placed an eclectic collection of handleable objects;

2.    At the other end, the participants, in this case 12 third-year undergraduate students who are starting to identify topics for their dissertation projects;

3.    With the students, the workshop facilitator;

4.    Along one side, a large interactive digital display;

5.    In the middle, a large white rectangular surface placed flat onto the ground.

The lights are dimmed, except for spotlights illuminating the table of objects. A vertically mounted overhead projector throws an image down onto the white screen in the middle of the floor. The projected image, spread across the floor, is of a map, representing a coastline. There is land, with some features. An ocean, complete with gently moving waves. And between land and sea, a large golden beach.

The participants immediately get the connection between the table of objects and the projected map. The objects are each in some way representative of one of the three geographical zones: transport (of various kinds including a submersible), buildings, personal effects (including a wellington boot), animals etc.

The workshop facilitator walks over to the table. She explains the task:

“Think about all of the different topics that you have studied in the first two years of your degree. All of the issues, techniques, problems, people, concepts that have concerned or inspired you. Pick just one of those topics. Choose the one that you care most about, the one that has been of most interest to you.”

“Next, examine the objects on the table. Pick them up, handle them. Think about their characteristics and what they suggest to you: (speed, safety, excitement etc). Choose an object that somehow represents your chosen topic. Attach your personal RFID tag to the object.”

Each participant has their own personal Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag. When placed on an object, it identifies it as “belonging” to that person. An RFID reader is then able to specify the physical location of the tag.

The facilitator picks an object from the table.

“Your task then is to think about where that object should go on the map. Perhaps you are happily sailing far out to sea? Or perhaps you are out of your depth? Place the

She places the object onto the map. She then activates the interactive screen at the side of the room. The landscape is now also shown on the screen, but with the addition of an image of the facilitator next to a blank digital post-it note. It is placed in the same location as the real object on the floor map.

“And finally, find your post-it note on the screen, and write down a brief description of your chosen object and the topic that it represents.”

She picks up a digital pen and demonstrates writing onto her post-it.

“Don’t worry if you change your mind, you can move your object, change objects, delete your notes. After 15 minutes we will save the map with your notes posted to it. I’ll upload it to our class blog.”

The students understand. There’s even a bit of a rush as they get over to the table to choose. After much playing around with topics and objects, placing them at various locations and considering the implications, the 15 minutes are over. It’s all been quite a bit of fun. Playful. But also serious. A chance to reflect upon their own learning and upon their subject discipline. An opportunity to find others with similar interests and concerns (talking to their immediate neighbours on the map), but also a prompt to look at and investigate choices that are very different to their own – to consider new possibilities and alternative connections. Perhaps even providing them with the inspirations that they will need to successfully choose and complete a dissertation project.

About this blog

This is the “observatory” blog of the Open-space Learning project. It contains snapshots of OSL activities, techniques and tools from Warwick and beyond.

OSL is based in the CAPITAL Centre, and is funded by the Higher Education Academy.

See the OSL web site for more information.

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