Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Experiments in Virtual and Distance Education

Dr Euan Lindsay will give a free seminar on "Virtual and Distance Experiments: Pedagogical Alternatives, not Logistical Alternatives" at the Ian Ross Seminar Room, The Australian National University, 2 October 2009 1pm:
Laboratory classes are an integral part of undergraduate engineering education, providing a valuable alternative to lectures and tutorials. Recently there has been a trend towards providing these laboratory classes through remote or simulated access - where the students are separated from the hardware and interact through a technology-mediated interface. This trend is driven by a demand to provide increased flexibility and opportunities in the delivery of laboratory classes to students, but it also has the consequence of affecting the learning outcomes of the laboratory class.

Dr Lindsay's work in Remote and Virtual laboratory classes has shown that there are significant differences not only in students' learning outcomes but also in their perceptions of these outcomes, when they are exposed to the different access modes. These differences have powerful implications for the design of remote and virtual laboratory classes in the future, and also provide an opportunity to match alternative access modes to the intended learning outcomes that they enhance.

This presentation will address not only the nature of these changes and the factors that cause them, but also the place that remote and virtual laboratory classes have within an undergraduate engineering curriculum. ...

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Personal pod settings for blended learning

Andrew Leach reviews Richard Kurk's design for the University of Queensland's new GPN4 (General Purpose North Four) building in Architecture Australia magazine (July August 2009). The building includes a Collaborative Learning Centre (CLC) and an Advanced Concept Teaching Space (ACTS). The design won a regional commendation in the 2009 FDG Stanley Award.

Collaborative Learning Centre in University of Queensland GPN4The CDC has what are termed Personal pod settings. From the provided photo these appear to be boardroom size desks each seating eight students, with four in rows on each side of the table. At one end of the table is a large flat screen display (the display may be on an electrically operated mount to have it retract into the desk). Presumably a human convenor can sit at the other end of the table. One photo shows six such tables, seating 24 students in total. Each seat appears to be equipped with a laptop. The desks appear to be too deep, with an open slot in the middle. In contrast the space beside each seat is limited. The designer could have used narrower longer desks to give more useful space and allow for better group work. Also the room layout looks a little too rigidly defined and I preferred QUT's more flexible arrangement with mobile flat screens.

Advanced Concept Teaching Space in University of Queensland GPN4The ACTS appears to be a 21st century interpretation of the traditional stepped lecture theatre. The rooms appears to seat about 100 students in four tiers. There is what appears to be a LCD display at each seat (perhaps a touch screen?). There appear to be two large flat panel screens and two presentation stations at either end of the stage at the front of the room. The large white wall between the two electronic screens can presumably be projected onto.

Each tier of seating has one continuous curved desk. The desk appears much deeper than would be normal in a lecture theatre (and much larger than needed). But this may be an artefact of the wide angle lens needed to show the expanse of room.

There are swivel high mesh backed executive style chars used in both the CDC and ACTS. These do not appear the most durable choice for a learning environment. Also the large backs will tend to obscure sight lines.

The use of the hardwired LCD screens is questionable (at least they are not built into the desks like some previous designs). Using the same laptops as in the CDC would have advantages, as would assuming that most students would bring their own laptop, netbook or smartphone.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Energy use in schools

Scott Humphreys of eco-Kinetics produced a very useful Energy Audit of St Vincent’s Primary School in Queensland in 2008. By my calculation this indicates that 26% of the electric at the school is used by ICT. This is comparable to the figure I estimated for the ANU Computer Science Department, which was 30%.

Total Electricity Consumption By Category
CategoryPercentage Electricity Consumption
AV Teaching1%
Computer Equipment7%
Computer Network16%
External Lighting4%
Food Prep7%
Lighting - Admin3%
Lighting - Classroom10%
Lighting - Other1%
Water Heating15%
Air Circulation0%

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Low Power Lights and Solar Systems for Education

Greetings from the DesignBUILD 2009 exhibition which features "Green Building" section at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre in Sydney until 23 May 2009. One product which got my attention was a low cost solar power system from Soanar for $899 (show special). This has a 80 Watt solar panel, controller, 600 Watt 230 Volt inverter and 100 AH sealed lead acid battery. This is enough for a small independent power source for a holiday home or perhaps a one room school.

One issue which such small solar systems bring into focus is the amount of power used. Soanar were also selling low power LED replacements for halogen downlights and LED strips to replace fluorescent strips. However, if you replace halogen and fluorescent lights with LEDs of equal brightness the cost will be high. In many cases there is more light provided than really needed. Frank Harrington from Soanar said they will custom design lighting layouts for industrial and business use. I suggested a 1 Watt down light would be useful where too many down light have been installed (and a dimmer is used). The 1 Watt LEDs are much cheaper and do not require a large heat sink.

Another application where less light is needed is in libraries converting space to learning commons, such as the one University of Canberra Library are building. Libraries need brightly lit areas for reading and particularly university libraries where blurry archival documents may be used. However, a learning commons will mostly use computers. In this environment the general lighting can be much lower and task lighting used. This can save 75% of the energy used in lighting (and as much again in air conditioning power used to take away heat from the lights).

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