Thursday, February 04, 2010

e-Learning needs better tools

The webinar on “Trends in Personal Learning” by Stephen Downes, at Canberra Institute of Technology today was disappointing. Stephen was billed as "a reliable forecaster of trends and events in online learning", citing his "prescient" 'Future of Online Learning' and other works. But the technology for the webinar did not work properly. This made anything he said about using such technology less credible: if a guru of the technology can't get it to work, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

There were difficulties with the sound quality for the first part of the talk. I was tempted to offer to help (as I have a CIT certificate in A/V production), but the staff fixed it after about ten minutes. However, there remained intermittent problems with the audio, video and slides.

As for the content, what we got was a rambling monologue. Stephen was not able to get effective and timely feedback on the presentation due to the technical problems. This confirmed my view that such video conference presentations are of little value when used as a substitute for live presentations. Either the technical facilities have to be of a very high quality, or the system and presentation format has to be adapted to allow for the inevitable problems. The technique I have used in the past is to pre-record the presentation and only use live links for the question and answer time. This reduces the need for a reliable high speed connection (it also forces the presenter to present a well crafted, succinct presentation).

As for the content of the presentation I liked the description of the iPad as personal and portable. Stephen addressed the issue of the lack of content creation tools by arguing that later versions and similar devices will add those tools. Essentially the iPad is not important as a device, but because as a way to popularise the idea of highly portable devices for taking notes and for learning. Ironically I was using a cheap netbook with a keyboard to take my notes (which works very well for education and costs half as much as the iPad).

Stephen argued that new tools will spark creativity to create new content. Unfortunately what he was showing in reality were poor quality Powerpoint slides. This largely lowered the credibility of the argument. If these new tools are so good, then why wasn't he using them?

Stephen then discussed the value of videoconferencing. Ironically in the middle of that the image cut out. Of the video events I attend, only about one in twenty works well. The rest were as this webinar was, with much of the time taken up trying to fix problems with audio, video and slides. Even when the technology is working, what is presented much of the time are poorly prepared rambling monologues. I do not believe that this is the future of education, or of human communication in general. It is disappointing that after so many years of claims for video-conferencing the technology has advanced so little.

I had not heard of by Stephen Downes before CIT invited me to this event and I did not learn much more about him or his ideas from it.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Trends in Personal Learning Webinar

Canberra Institute of Technology are hosting a seminar on “Trends in Personal Learning” by Stephen Downes, 12 noon, 4 February 2010, in Room A108 on their South Side Campus, and online (RSVP: Penny Neuendorf).
Canberra Institute of Technology

The Gaggle invitation

Stephen Downes has long been a reliable forecaster of trends and events in online learning, making his mark in 1998 with the prescient 'Future of Online Learning' and in 2005 with 'e-Learning 2.0'. More recently, he authored the volume, 'The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On'. Downes has also informed the development of online learning technologies with
papers such as 'Learning Objects', 'Resource Profiles' and
'Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge'.

Thursday 4th February 12.00pm - 1.00pm
Where - At your desk or come and join us in Room A108 for light refreshments.

Log in at:
and enter the relevant details. If you have not used Wimba before, please run the Wimba Wizard prior to the event.

  • Online learning environments
  • Networked learning aproaches
  • Implications for the future of learning
  • Are you an e-learning practitioner?
  • Educational Designer? Or Developer?
  • Based in the ACT and surrounding region?

Today’s presentation: “Trends in Personal Learning” by Stephen Downes

Educators have been earning experience in social networks and other Web 2.0 technologies for several years now, and as e-learning 2.0 becomes more familiar it is beginning to transform into a more robust and personalized form. Newer and more powerful collaboration tools, such as Google Wave, are appearing. Individualized applications, such as the Personal Learning Environment, are appearing. Tomorrow`s
e-learning student can look forward to having a range of powerful tools at his or her fingertips. This presentation outlines trends in the development of these tools, and
describes what an education system that uses them will look like.

RSVP: Penny Neuendorf
E penny.neuendorf(a) T 6207 4041

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Questions about e-Learning

After my presentation at the ANU meeting of educational designers today ("The Gaggle"), I was asked a series of rapid fire questions by an unidentified attendee who was obviously frustrated by the lack of opportunity to ask questions earlier on. He then commented he had Twitted the questions, with the tag Gaggle. This was poetic justice and at the previous event I had become frustrated by the inability to ask my questions and blogged about it. Perhaps these events should adopt the Public Sphere/Barcamp web enhanced technique, but this can take some getting used to for the uninitiated.

Later I was able to find that the Tweets were from Leigh Blackall (leighblackall), who according to his blog, works in Educational Development for the Otago Polytechnic and specialises in developing open educational resources. Here is my attempt to answer his questions more fully:

What if anyone could pick and chose anything from anywhere to make a degree? Why limit it to institutions?

You can pick and choose anything for your education. But it may help to have someone help you pick and choose. That is part of what institutions do. They also provide a form of quality control for you, and for others, to say what you studied and what you did with it was worthwhile. This particularly applies to education for professions which effect on people's lives.

I help educate engineers and other professionals where mistakes can result in causalities, as well large financial loss. The students and society therefore need some assurance they know what they are doing. In the case of the green ICT course we are attempting to help arrest the greenhouse effect. Failure will result in the suffering of millions of people.

It is possible to structure courses which allow for more freedom. My Green ICT course (COMP7310) is part of the ANU Graduate Studies Select program which allows student to pick courses across the university from any discipline. One student is at another Australian university and one works for a Canadian university and is just doing the course for interest.

Exploring a topic with a guide is essentially what is done in Masters and PHD research. This does not happen so much at undergraduate level. But the ANU ICT undergraduates can do projects, where they explore a topic with guidance from a supervisor. But with this freedom comes very hard work and a much higher risk of failure

Some examples of project work from my students are: Semantic Web for Museums and Evaluating Emergency Management Websites. The work on museums has been taken up for building indigenous databases. The work on emergency web sites was studied carefully by the ACT bushfire authorities, but regrettably not by their Victorian counterparts.

An idea expressed by an anti web Guy, design describing researchers adding info to archived artifacts. Um, internet?

Not sure about this one. The ANU is centre for work on how to build e-archives. But a lot of what is in those archives can look frustratingly old fashioned, such as PDF facsimiles of traditional academic papers and books. But it helps to keep that stuff and make it available online, even when conceiving new formats.

One of my students worked on a publishing system for the ACS. This resulted in the IFIP Digital Library. While a useful service, it is frustrating that the content indexed is either in PDF or in a copyright commercial database. The Australian National Data Service is providing access to research data in a more flexible way, with generated maps , for example.

Oh dear, I have very little in common with the ANU experiences

We probably have a lot in common. That may not have come across in this forum.

If I engage with a www network, instead of your closed moodle group, will I fail your little group work assessment?

Yes, the course requires the students to work in the closed Moodle group. This to help teach the students how to work together and to help them teach each other. Also it is to protect the students from the world at large and protect the world from the students.

Some of the students have very little experience, having come from an undergraduate university course at a university. They find discussing a topic difficult, especially a topic new to them. They find it very confronting having to discuss it with people they don't know.

Other students have work experience and are more able to hold an open discussion. However, these students may be working in the field and prohibited by their employer from discussing the topic in public. Some of my students hold positions in governments and corporations and while they can discuss some of their work in a closed university group, they cannot discuss it in public.

Also the partly trained students may be a danger to the public. As an example the students will frequently make mistakes in my course when calculating greenhouse gas emissions. They commonly confuse units of measure, with results which are wrong by orders of magnitude.

Me and my big mouth. I need to try to question less confrontationally.

That is nothing. For real confrontation, try giving a seminar at Cambridge University Computer Lab. I once tried giving a seminar at the lab on security. The group swiftly tired of my general talk and started a very detailed discussion of how they had hacked the British banking system.

ps: Thanks for the questions.

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Training Lawyers Online

Greetings from the meeting of educational designers at the Australian National University in Canberra. One interesting presentation is on training Lawyers online. The idea is that the students do a finishing school in a simulated law firm, which makes heavy use of online tools. This is by Jonathan Powles, College of Law: The development of a simulated professional learning environment for law. Apart from the value in improved education, this has proved popular with the students and profitable for the university.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Educational Design in Canberra

The next meeting of educational designers at the Australian National University will be in Canberra, 16 October, 4-6pm. The event is free and open to interested educators from academia, government and industry (please RSVP). I will be giving a brief presentation on my Green ICT masters course, which is delivered without lectures or examinations.
Educational Design at the ANU
GAGGLE Program
4-6pm, 16 October 2009,
Sir Roland Wilson Building, Short Course Room 1 (on the left at the top of the stairs)

The ANU has educational designers, developers and technologists in every
College, each engaged in activities with a College-specific focus. This group meets regularly, but while there are common themes to their work, each area is using a slightly different approach to the issues.

In this session, representatives from each area will speak briefly about their
work, their professional practice, and the current focus of their operational activity. Each speaker will make a 10 minutes presentation, and then there will be a panel discussion about the issues and implications.

Session A: 1 hour

1. Megan Poore, College of Arts and the Social Sciences: New media
literacy in the new knowledge space
2. Aliya Steed / Jonathan Powles, College of Law: The development
of a simulated professional learning environment for law
3. Lauren Kane / Debbie Pioch, College of Engineering and Computer
Science: Online management of course information / CECS and the hubs and spokes project with UniSA
4. James Meek, College of Asia and the Pacific: The Conference
Model (and alternative to lectures) and Hidden Treasures (archival
source material)
5. Paula Newitt, Colleges of Science: Research experiences in the
undergraduate curriculum
6. Deborah Veness, College of Economics and Business: Finding a way
to make standards descriptors useful to a University teacher in the
business disciplines

Session B: 1/2 hour

Each speaker will finish with a provocative question, which will lead
into a group discussion.

Session C: 15-20 minutes

Finally, Tom Worthington will give us a brief presentation on his Green
ICT course
, which is delivered without lectures or examinations.

Everyone is welcome, so please pass this invitation on to any of your colleagues not already on the mailing list. Please remind them to let me know if they are coming ... by 12 noon on Thursday.

Deborah Veness | Manager | Education Innovation Office | College of
Business & Economics | The Australian National University | Canberra ACT
0200, Australia

t: 61 (0)2 6125 9504 | e: | office: Rm 1136
Copland Building 24

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Learning e-learning in Canberra

Sir Roland Wilson Building at ANUGreetings from the GAGGLE @ The Australian National University. This is a free meeting of educators at the ANU in Canberra, on e-learning and distance education. The program had to be changed to put the expert panel debate on first, because, ironically, the data projector is missing. Yoni Ryan, Allan Herrmann and Robert Fitzgerald are debating about the detail, standardisation and precision needed for describing university courses. What will be interesting is if universities will swallow their pride and ask for help from the vocational sector and industry bodies who have been doing this for years.

Robert Fitzgerald talked about the importance of the notion of presence with technology such as Twitter (his presentation is on Slideshare). He cited "The Social Life of Information", "The Wealth of Networks" and "Opening Up Education". He argued that Facebook had a symmetrical relationship (I would call it binary), where you have friends and not friends, whereas Twitter allows more complex relationships. It would seem to me that technology like Mahara would suit this.

Allan Herrmann talked about the effect of learning spaces on learning and how to design flexible learning spaces, both physical and virtual. He started with a quote from Alice Through the Looking Glass, the point of it was you need to know where you want to get to when designing the physical spaces and learning materials. He recommended the latest EduCause on designing learning spaces.

When someone finds the data projector, we will have Karen Visser and Jenny Edwards on the best of EDUCAUSE 2009.

Topics include the implementation of the open source Moodle learning management system at ANU (which I am using next semester to teach Green ICT around the world).

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Canberra e-learning meeting

Sir Roland Wilson Building at ANUThere will be a free meeting of educators at the ANU in Canberra, 19 May 2009 on e-learning and distance education. Topics include the implementation of the open source Moodle learning management system at ANU (which I am using next semester to teach Green ICT around the world).

GAGGLE @ The Australian National University

3-6pm, 19 May 2009

Sir Roland Wilson Building
Short Course Room 1, Level 3
(top of the stairs, on the left)

RSVP Deborah Veness


3-3.15 pm

Meet and greet with a coffee and biscuit

3.15-3.45 pm

Good ideas in summary: the best of EDUCAUSE 2009

Karen Visser and Jenny Edwards

3.45-4.30 pm

Expert panel debate

Educational Design in 2009: The Hot Topics
Yoni Ryan, Allan Herrmann and Robert Fitzgerald

4.30-5 pm

Group discussion

Favourite take-home ideas

5-6 pm

Drinks and informal debate and discussion


Professor Yoni Ryan
BA Hons; DipEd; MA; (UQ); MEd (Melb); PhD (UQ)

Professor Yoni Ryan is Director of the Learning and Teaching Centre, Australian Catholic University, and has worked in education development at tertiary level in Australia and the Pacific for over 30 years, and specialising in educational design in her early career. She co-edited Supervising Postgraduate Research Students of Non-English Speaking Background (NESB (1999) with Prof. Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt, co-wrote major Australian government commissioned studies New Media and Borderless Education (1998) and The Business of Borderless Education (2000), and has most recently published with Associate Professor Rob Fitzgerald on Web 2.0 in education.

Her current research interests span the challenges of teaching new generation students, and using social technologies, as well as professional development for tertiary staff.

Mr Allan Herrmann

Allan Herrmann has been Manager of Educational Technology Services at the University of New South Wales for the past five years. Prior to that, he was a Senior Lecturer in Open and Distance Education at Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia. His main interests are e-learning in Defence environments, student and staff engagement with technology and isolated and rural distance education.

Dr Robert Fitzgerald
BEd (Prim); BEd (Sec Maths); MEd Hons (UNE); Phd (Syd)

Dr Robert Fitzgerald is Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Education, University of Canberra, and has worked for over 18 years in universities in Australia and Hong Kong. Robert has a strong grant and publication record in information and communications technology (ICT) particularly around its application to learning and capacity-building. He began his professional career in 1985 as a mathematics and computing teacher in the West Wimmera of Victoria working with his colleagues to trial the use of audio teleconferencing, facsimile, and computer conferencing software (Macintosh Timbuktu by Farallon Computing) to teach physics to remote students. He serves as an assessor for both the ARC (INTREADER) and ALTC (Australian Learning and Teaching Council) and has recently completed an ALTC project on Web2.0 and social technologies (Digital Learning Communities). Robert is currently working on a rural information and capacity building project using mobile technology in Cambodia (funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research).

Robert's current interests include elearning and the application of Web2.0 and social technologies to learning and problem solving; ICT integration and the role of open collaborative technologies and the use of ICT in developing countries (ICT4D). His website can be found at:

Karen Visser and Jenny Edwards

Karen and Jenny work within the Information Services Support (ISS), Division of Information at the Australian National University to build information literacy capabilities across the campus community. The ISS unit supports academics, students and general staff to make the best use the rich information services available for research, administration, teaching and learning. These information services include: online learning management systems (Wattle and WebCT) for teaching and learning, using collaborative online services (Alliance/Sakai), using resources within the ANU Library, and being fluent users of Information Commons computers and software.

This group were finalists in the 2004 Australian Awards for University Teaching, Enhancement of the Quality of Teaching and Learning and winners of the 2006 Carrick Australian Awards for University Teaching, Awards for Programs than Enhance Learning.

The ISS team is currently engaged in working with the ANU community to move from WebCT4.1 to Wattle (Moodle augmented with a range of other tools and applications).

GAGGLE 'gægəln.1.2. an orderly and cheerful group of professional educational advisors

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