Tag Archives: Learning Portal

The Future of Learning: School in the Cloud #SOLE

Have you heard of the Hole in the Wall from Sugata Mitra (@Sugatam)? No, then before reading any further you ought to watch – “Sugata Mitra shows how kids teach themselves“.

“Young kids in this project figured out how to use a PC on their own — and then taught other kids. He asks, what else can children teach themselves?”

The results are still being discussed and dissected today, almost 6 years after he first announced and presented his findings. And now Sugata Mitra is back, building on this pioneering work, with his new TED Talk “Build a School in the Cloud” (below).

Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud

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Reflection on the ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC, Wk.1 #edcmooc

EDCMOOCHere are some notes, links, conversations, thoughts, and reflections on the first week of the University of Edinburgh / Cousera ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC. This reflection will form part of the work required by the MOOC as well as reflections on the processes and Coursera system itself.

Initial thoughts on the course and/or platform (supplemental to my earlier post):

  • Agree to abide by an ‘honour code’ – much like a learning contract that some places use with students, does anyone have any indication that this works (or not)?
  • There is so much hype around this MOOC, why? Is it because it’s the first in the UK by Coursera AND a UK HEI?
  • There is so much going on, on all the platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Coursera discuss boards, etc.) that, even day after the official start, it’s very overwhelming and I am thinking “what have I let myself in for?” Is this why so many people don’t finish (or even start)?
  • So far I’ve done the whole MOOC on the iPad, including this post using the WordPress app. It’s not easy as the formatting in the post needs fine tuning and this can really only be done (still on the iPad: links, image alignment, etc.) through the admin web interface.
  • One discussion board per week/topic … for up to 40,000 students? I think this needs further management to make it something that can work with and for the students. Even after the first day the number of posts was intimidating, who knows what it’ll be like in a week or so.
  • Don’t confuse the learners with inappropriate or unnecessary language or jargon. This will only make them feel even more alienated and removed from the objectives of the course and cause unnecessary worry and stress. If you want us to produce a blog post, video, presentation, etc. then ask us to do this .. I have never used the term ‘digital artifact’ and probably wont start now either.

Now for my reflection on week one of the course itself:

  • Thankfully the terms ‘utopian’ and ‘dystopian’ are explained – this was causing me concern as I had no idea what I supposed to understand by this until now, in relation to education and technology: ‘utopian’ (creating highly desirable social, educational, or cultural effects) or ‘dystopian’ (creating extremely negative effects for society, education or culture).
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Blackboard Users Conference #durbbu: Blackboard Roadmap and The Challenges Ahead

Durham Blackboard Users ConferenceDay two of the Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference started with this extremely useful insight into the roadmap Blackboard is taking with the ‘Learn’ product, as well as Blackboard’s own opinion on the conference theme: “Make Do or Spend?”.

Greg Ritter (@gritter), Director of Product Management with Blackboard Learn, showed Blackboards perspective on ‘the challenges ahead’ and on the conference theme, ‘Make Do or Spend?’. Greg showed us, and discussed:

  • Blackboard Analytics [product]: extract student data, from both Blackboard and Institution student-records systems, for use in reporting to different stakeholders.
  • Focus on fundamentals, 2010 to 2012:

Focus On Fundamentals (Bb 2010-2012) Continue reading

How Students Learn

How Students Learn

While we may think we know ‘how students learn’, do we?

This post called “The virtues of daydreaming and 30 other surprising (and controversial) research findings about how students learn“, from Julie DeNeen, has some interesting findings, of which the following are interesting (to me – read the full list on the link above to see what gets your interested):

  • Scary/violent video games … “can be an alternate way to release negative emotion, and help children alleviate their innate desire for risk and adventure.” I’ll sit on the fence on this one: while there may be some positive benefits to these kinds of games I’m not sure if they outweigh the negative?
  • Science practicals … “isn’t always as effective as it may appear on the surface.” This statement says that science  or lab practical work isn’t working – is it the actual time spent in a practical or the actual experiment itself that isn’t working? I enjoyed my science lab work, even more so when it didn’t work, but (and this was more down to the way it was taught and not the subject, I think) I was not given the opportunity to ‘try’ out different things.
  • Chess … “forces students to slow down, concentrate, use precise thinking, active both inductive and deductive reasoning, as well as recognizing difficult and complex patterns.” Yes, but so do lots of other ‘games’ in different and equally beneficial ways. Let’s not single out a specific game, we should be able to advocate all game-based learning, especially when there is scope for the student to “understand that ‘losing’ the game is as valuable as winning.”
  • Building blocks … “one of the simplest and longstanding toys, teach geometry, patterns, shapes, colors, and physics” not to mention spatial awareness and dexterity?
  • Music and movement … help children to “learn to appreciate the pacing of words and how to speak more clearly” through rhyme. “Children who engage in music from a young age have a more finely tuned ability to speak and communicate” therefore are more articulate when it comes to reflection and critical thinking in later life?
  • Drama and comedy … induce a “vibrancy of emotion that shows a student’s entire mind and feelings are engaged in the activity” and learning, in various ways, is a result from an engaged child – “one who is more likely to absorb information, retain it, and make real-life associations with the knowledge.”

These are just a few of the interesting ‘findings’ on how students learn, so be sure to read the full article on the link above to read more about these and:-

  • “Children who construct their own video games experience increased cognitive and social growth”
  • “Engaging children in planning and reflection enhance their predictive and analytic capabilities”
  • “Children are not blank slates on which adults imprint knowledge”
  • “Children learn more when they initiate an activity and are actively engaged in it”
  • Children behave better when parents are involved in their education at home and at school”


UCISA 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK

2012 UCISA Technology Enhanced Learning Report

UCISA 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK

If you’re involved in any way with Learning Technology or Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) then you ought to spend some time looking through this report – at 149 pages it’s a lot to take in, it does have a very useful summary if you want the best bits.

UCISA (Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association) have produced this report regularly since 2008 to look at:

“the use of technology enhanced learning in the higher education sector. In addition to reviewing the technology in use, the survey looks at the drivers behind the adoption of technology enhanced learning in institutions.”

The report identifies and defines TEL as:

“Any online facility or system that directly supports learning and teaching. This may include a formal VLE, an institutional intranet that has a learning and teaching component, a system that has been developed in house or a particular suite of specific individual tools.”

I would also think, in my mind, that the survey and report will expand to include systems that support teaching and learning ‘indirectly’? The use of Social Networks like Facebook and Twitter is increasing, and how they are being used are developing as both learning portals and areas for administrative contact (which I doubt will replace Institutional systems, but are useful first-contact portals to feed the student request/need to).

Decoding Learning

“The Proof, Promise, and Potential of Digital Education” NESTA Report

Decoding Learning

This NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) report was highlighted on the BBC News website this morning with the text that caught my attention – “there is clear evidence that technology can boost learning”. Powerful words. What’s worse, however, is that it also confirms what we’ve all thought for a while now, that while “digital technology that has the power to transform education [it] often sits in boxes because teachers do not know how best to use it, a study claims.”

Excellent news, proof that we’re all talking sense then when we try and use current and emerging technology in a manner to improve what we do and how students can use it to their advantage? When talking about expensive technology, the report found that

“they say that too often they are used without a strong understanding of their power to transform education, and many schools still use technology to support 20th Century teaching methods and learning objectives.”

I wonder, has anyone actually explained to these Schools’ what they’re buying, or is just someone sat down with a catalogue and a budget and told they have to spend the budget, even if they don’t need or want it, or they don’t get anything next year, when they may need it? Do Schools get any training on the tech they buy other than “this is how you switch it on and connect to it the network”? Anything contextual or helpful is probably left to the School’s ICT Co-ordinator to figure out for him/herself.

“We have lots of examples of brilliant use of technology from all over the world and this report brings them all together.”

Excellent, I’ll be spending some time reading this then. Click the image above or use this link to download the full ‘Digital Learning’ report.

Envisioning the future of education technology

Envisioning the Future of Education Technology #edtech #eLearning

“Education lies at a peculiar crossroad in society. On one hand it has the responsibility of anticipating real-life skills by preparing us for an increasingly complex world – but education methodologies can only be formalized after practices have been defined. This dichotomy is particularly aggravated when it comes to technology, where fast-paced innovation and perpetual change is the only constant. This visualization attempts to organize a series of emerging technologies that are likely to influence education in the upcoming decades. Despite its inherently speculative nature, the driving trends behind the technologies can already be observed, meaning it’s a matter of time before these scenarios start panning out in learning environments around the world.”

Thanks to Michell Zappa for this follow-up infographic to the Envisioning Emerging Technology I posted yesterday. Malcolm Murray commented that he was disappointed that education was not included. So here is it!

Envisioning the future of education technology
Click to enlarge full version

Point 6 on the infographic (aligned to the mid 2030’s) highlights that “over time education becomes a continuous, interconnected effort, allowing students to cope with a perpetually changing world.” I would argue that we are already there? What do you think?

VLE – the discussion continues #VLE

The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a system/tool that sparks a fair bit of controversy when you mention it in any education setting. Whether you like it or not, use it or not, you will no doubt be involved in one, to some degree.

Last month I posted the poll to this blog about what name or label you have for your ‘student-centred’ learning environment (I know, that in itself is ripe for a huge discussion about whether a VLE or CMS could validly be called ‘student centred’ or even a ‘learning environment’):

Update, March 2012 – due to performance issues with the blog and the hosting company I use I have had to delete the poll plugin to reduce the load on the server. Apologies for this.

I am not surprised with the results as the VLE is deemed the most popular one I observe in discussions. Whether it is the right classification for the tool is also up for discussion but the results show the term VLE as the one we use.

However, Steve Wheeler got me thinking (again!) when he tweeted during last months eAssessment Scotland Conference:

The institutional VLE is where content goes to die #eas11
Steve Wheeler

Now, while Steve is somewhat known for sparking ‘heated’ discussion he has a point here, even if it’s one we don’t want to like it. I have constant battles when I see PDF and PowerPoint files being uploaded to the VLE, with no explanation on what they are or how/why the students should use them, and to then see them called ‘eLearning’. Arghh! That is barely even eDelivery and certainly not eLearning. In this day and age there is no reason why we can’t develop decent learning packages for the students, or arrange for appropriate explanation of what they are expected to do with the materials we provide for them … right?

However, from Steve’s post above I then saw the following tweet from Matt Northam, a colleague at Bournemouth University:

Why is it that students will happily talk about course stuff and whatnot on Facebook/twitter/etc but not in designated VLE's(?) #mes11
matt northam ™

Indeed, why do students not interact wit us or each other in the Institutional VLE? I’ve searched around on this topic and haven’t really found any definitive research or evidence that I’m happy with. I retweeted Matt’s post and received some welcome replies, which I’m sure Matt is also appreciative of too. The following are a selection of the replies, so I apologise if your’s is not included and commented on – you might have something similar to another reply?

  • Tim Dalton: “Feeling that the VLE is part of the assessment process so I filter what I write there?”

Indeed I have heard similar feelings from students at BU, but if introduced and explained properly then any form of required interaction (group based, personal, journal, informal/formal, etc) should negate these feelings? The VLE is not, to my knowledge, intended or even used to replicate or replace existing communication channels, but rather to enhance a particular section or activity. For me what you post to the Institutional VLE is always considered confidential.

  • Ben Bull: “Because your VLE isn’t as good and isn’t as socially relevant to them?”

Certainly the VLE is not as ‘socially’ relevant to the, but it’s not supposed to be, is it? As far as the statement that it isn’t “as good” really depends again on how you use it, and which one you have. I would say that from my experience most VLE systems are not developing as fast as the world of social media/networks.

  • Jon Scott: “VLEs outdated. Need to improve + integrate with workable pedagogy which encourages online communication and collab.”  and “hard to achieve- need to show a requirement for it. how do you demo requirement without a system to try pedagogy on?” (2 tweets)

Jon echo’s my sentiment from Ben’s tweet, VLE systems are slowly catching up to online behaviour in social networks, but unless they make radical changes they will always be playing catch-up. More importantly is that there needs to be a reason to have the VLE, and any changes within it, that must be relevant to the pedagogic need for the technology, and how we use it.

  • Doug Belshaw: “Discussions on SoMe instead of VLE because of ownership of space? Identity?”

I’ve blogged about this before too, but the ‘safety’ of activity within the Institutional VLE is something we can and should advocate. When we or the students take the work/assignment/conversation/etc out of this environment we lose control, they lose security, and we and them are open to external influences and activity/exposure that, for me, we ought to prevent. While I’m sure someone will argue that we should not have control over the conversation, I am merely stating here that we should be ‘controlling’ the technical infrastructure to provide a safe online environment for course-based student activity.

  • Natalie Lafferty: “Usability, interaction design, ownership maybe why students prefer talking about course stuff on FB rather than VLE”

Interesting point here: while I talk about (our) ‘ownership’ of the Institution system the idea that the students want their own ownership of the system they use is not one I had thought of until now. However, their data, details, communication, etc, in external systems are at the mercy of those T&Cs .. and we all know how unreliable and changeable Facebook has been in the past about that. The question of ‘ownership’ is one we ought to take seriously.

  • Sue Beckingham: “SoMe v VLE – interface more intuitive & visually pleasing + can easy communicate with chosen connections.”

If we can get the issues surrounding data security sorted then a ‘system’ or set of tools that utilises the best of both worlds could be on the cards, yes?

  • Shirley Pickford: “A student said its because the VLE doesn’t look/feel like FB/twitter/etc. Design tweaks coming up when I have time.”

I’d like to know more about this as the question for me here is whether it is purely the design of the two systems or do they mean the practical aspects of the way the two different systems work? I can see potential in this approach, certainly in finding out whether the students actually understand what each system can offer.

  • David Walker: “Perhaps because fear of being monitored? Or less fear of being shown up among immediate friends (Fb) rather than whole class?”

I’m not sure how other people use their VLE but for ‘my’ online students the conversation is about being monitored so we can gauge their progress and direct them to additional resources in case they start to lag behind, or even worse, get the wrong idea? Key here is that the conversation we expect/hope/plan for IS centred around their study, so this is obviously aimed at them using the VLE.

Is this question about the use of the VLE more about the basic fundamentals of each system rather than their merits? If we had a VLE that mimicked the buttons and function of the social network tool would the  students be more inclined to use it, or will they still use the external system because of the issue or ownership or the link to assessment?

This tweet from Carl Morris simply says “Ownership, familiarity and habit?. it simply covers the main topics. Is it more about familiarity and habit or is it about how WE introduce the VLE to them, explain what it is we will do and actually do it, as well as explain what we expect from them?

I saw a report recently (unfortunately I can’t find the  link now!) that highlighted what the students liked and disliked about their VLE. The aspects the students were positive about were orientated towards what the VLE did and how it did it, but the negativity surrounding the VLE was centred around how it was used. Therefore we are the problem, not the VLE?

This says a lot. Is the question about the success or failure of the VLE actually our fault, even though we pin it on the system or the students for not using it properly?

I don’t see the VLE as a place for conversation, I see it as somewhere the students ‘should’ be interacting with for the purpose of their studies. Yes, use Facebook and other websites to chat about housing, drinking, sport, etc but for your course studies they will benefit from using the VLE as we, the educators and facilitators, are present and able to join in when they ask us. If the students take everything outside of the space we provide then we can’t be expected to join them, or even know where they are. Can they?

I think this whole exercise has produced more questions for me than provided possible answers. What do you think? Do you have any research to add here that will help us all form a better understanding of what/where/how we need to develop our use and uses of the VLE? Please leave your comments below.

Image from CoolJinny

What is a Learning Portal?

I’ve heard a few people on Twitter talk about a ‘Learning Portal’ recently, so have been doing a little digging to try and figure out;

  1. what is a Learning Portal, and
  2. why are they talking about it?

So, what is a Learning Portal?
Imperial College London classes a Learning Portal as;

“A Website that offers learners or organizations consolidated access to learning and training resources from multiple sources. Operators of learning portals are also called content aggregators, distributors, or hosts.”

BJ Schone goes (thankfully) further in the explanation and says;

“A learning portal is a web site that contains links to all different types of learning and training materials for employees at an organization. It may display upcoming classes, online courses, job aids, programs, links to web sites, etc. It may also include search functionality, a rating system, bookmarking ability, and more. The content displayed on the portal may be general to all employees at an organization, or it may be customized for that individual and the role they play. In a perfect world, the learning portal would be able to analyze the person’s department, role, and previous training history. It would then auto-magically determine learning resources that may be most valuable to that person. It may take a little while, but we’ll get there.”

I think, in my language, this is like a really pumped-up VLE – not only is it delivering the learning materials (reading list, MCQs, assignments, assignment submissions, grade/feedback, etc) but also the timetable, account info, bookmarks, etc that is all specific to the individual learner/student that is accessing it?

I can’t see Blackboard ever being described in this way, even the anticipated upgrade to Blackboard 9 won’t  bring it closer, It will increase it’s usage and personalisation.

So, is a Learning Portal another name for the PLE – Personalised Learning Environment? It’ snot exactly the same,rom what I can see at the moment, but it’s close.

If you know more than me, then please feel free and comment below and either tell me, or point me in the direction so I can read more myself.