Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rage against the raffle (or expecting the unexpected)

Girl Guides have been selling cookies for decades. You can be assured that Op shops will carry copious numbers of bad 80s records. School fetes always have a sausage sizzle. Vietnam veterans rally to develop a nude calendar... ...woah! What!?

Well, it was an eyebrow raiser for me as I sat flicking through the local community magazine, waiting for my cousin at the airport! What really raised my eyebrows was the title of the news story about Vietnam vets changing tack on their fundraising efforts, and going for a tastefully done (aren't they always?) nude calendar: Vietnam Vets rage against the raffle - Gotta love it!

There's a lot to be said for catchy titles and well worded taglines. It makes a huge difference to the reading experience. Magazines are a good example, especially when we turn the discussion to online forms of information, where our habit - as with mags - is to flick, browse and scan across a range of sites and screens on our desktops.

Adverts are a classic example too. Like this one below...

In this example the image and the text work together and the image is certainly not what you'd expect for a women's beauty therapy advertisement! It's tongue-in-cheek and attention-seeking, which is why it works!

I often check out the tips on Ben Hunt's 'Web Design from Scratch', when talking about writing online content with teachers. Also, checking out how formats like magazines layout information on their pages can give us a good start towards how we can design online content to grab students' attention and engage them.

It's not just the format but the experience too. The two examples above made me laugh, made me look twice and made me read more detail (although I couldn't recall the beautician for you!), and had me engaged so I had to run after my cousin as she wandered out of the building!

Hunt refers designers to A List Apart's article on learning to write which covers these points.

  • User experience isn?t just visual design, and
  • Text is interface.
Worth a read, especially as it's main message is that designers do need to focus on the message in the text, as much as the look and feel. Part of the look and feel comes from the words themselves.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Test blogger from mobile phone

Hope this works from my mobile!

Margaret O'Connell
- Educational Designer
- 2002 Flexible Learning Leader

Friday, August 25, 2006

Value adding to online 'presentations'

I've kept my brief conversation with Michael Nelson in the back of my mind (and the various comments from others on Michael's post), about attempting to close the gap between step one (starting out with online learning) and step two (moving forward from just learning the tools)...

I've come back to this in the last couple of weeks due to a run of workshops we've been doing and have been reflecting on ways to reconcile the IT needs of teachers and moving them into thinking about ways to use technology to value add to what they do - that is how can the technology generate news ways of doing things that can enhance teachers' work online as well as improve the online student experience?

I agree with MIchael and Kathy and others, it's got a lot to do with "what's in it for me" factor and also, how do you make your online subject really ROCK! without having to step too far away from what you already do (i.e. will it increase my workload if I do this?).

In working with teachers over the last few days where we've looked at including powerpoint slides on their WebCT sites, I've asked them - why do they want to? How will it add value for students and their learning? What does the presentation provide students?

Image: stefanrechsteiner

And also, what do teachers feel they've achieved by including the presentation online?

So, we undertook the task to break down the slides to see what they could really add to students' learning and what else was needed to support the information the slides provided, in moving the information to the online environment.

We considered interactivity...

  • What could students DO with the information?
  • Could they manipulate it?
  • Include comments? Make notes?
  • Have a space to ask questions or talk to each other about it?

We considered various formats...

  • Was it worth maintaining the information on slides?
  • If much of the presentation is text, how else could we format it?
  • Can some text work with images or diagrams?
  • How could we consider ways to present information textually, visually and aurally?

We considered learning activity...

  • What sorts of activities encourage learning?
  • What do students need to know to do a learning activity?
  • How do we get students 'doing' things online?
  • how do we support them online?
  • How do we measure what they are doing?

It was great to hear one of the teachers say that they didn't want to be doing all the work and that they could begin to see how students could find their own bits of information for the activity. The slides offered just enough to students to send them on their way to learn more.

From one presentation there can be much activity, interaction and many ways to present the information itself that takes us not only beyond the powerpoint presentation, but also in to ways of reconfiguring (or my fav, remixing) information and learning and most importantly, contextualising a learning experience to make it 3D, meaningful learning.


Image: Kathy Sierra

And I can't resist adding this gem from Kathy Sierra about killing presentations! :o)

You might like to pay particular attention to the "Do you need slides" test and the "Do my slide suck" test! I reckon these also apply to the online setting as well as face to face settings.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Closing the gap between informal and formal learning (TAFE Futures inquiry)?

In addition to my last post on informal-formal learning and the gap in technology use, comes this post...

I was listening to Hack on Triple J last week and heard a piece about the TAFE Futures inquiry being run by Associate Professor Peter Kell. The Hack team interviewed some TAFE students about their experiences at TAFE and asked how relevant their TAFE studies were to their work. The responses were mixed, depending on the areas of study, but it was clear that there remains a tension between the curricula delivered and the relevance to industry(ies).

It's is an interesting time for Australian public TAFEs I think - state governments are varied in their attitudes and approaches to TAFEs via funding and governance, although (despite the?) there is a national training system that governs the VTE curricula and registered training status of TAFE institutions.

The inquiry adds to the conversation about what the future of education will look like and how institutions like our public TAFEs will need to be 'reconfigured' to remain relevant to learners and to industry. You can also make a submission to the inquiry. It asks this question (in framing its terms of reference):
What are the desirable futures for the public TAFE system in the context of its history and contemporary pressures?
Working in the public TAFE system myself, I don't see a blanket solution; more we need to recognise the diversity within the system itself, and I think draw out those 'pockets of innovation' in order to capture and then enhance the progressive elements currently in play. Change is itself a cultural thing and to change a culture will require time for substantive, meaningful change to occur.

I'm not sure how we can streamline the bureaucracy of public institutions which are also strained by reduced budgets, when the governing system is itself not readily open to change. It should be recognised that the part is connected to a greater system that is dominant and almost omnipresent! But it's good to see some of the commentary coming out of the submissions to the inquiry so far:
TAFE remains the backbone of skill development in this country...

The Inquiry is asking questions that go beyond the current narrow focus on skills...

TAFE needs to meet industry-led training, engage Australian youth and at the same time attract great staff to grow with these new needs...

This inquiry into TAFE will enable a comprehensive analysis of the effects of government education and training policy on the ability of TAFE to deliver sound outcomes... [see website for more...]
The inquiry, as many would agree, is an important step. Even more important is the results and their dissemination, and how the next steps will be implemented to bring about real and relevant change.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Closing the gap between informal and formal learning (not to mention uses of technology)?

I went along to a lunchtime elearning seminar at University of Canberra today, where Robert Fitzgerald and Lynn Sheridan shared their research and teaching of pre-service teachers using some social web tools in conjunction with their LMS based courses in their PICTL Project. They have used Elgg to encourage students to share their work and develop e-portfolio style information in conjunction with their practicals and assessment work. They also used Zing, a computer based visual brainstorming program, which was used for sessions within schools with year 7 and year 10 student groups.

I was interested in the recurring comments by Lynn and Robert, as well as from their students, about how difficult it would be to implement these new technologies in schools, given the heavy restrictions placed on web-based activities in schools. Robert recounted one instance where teachers in a school had to apply three weeks in advance of a class in which they wanted the students in their lesson to use Google for some internet searching!

One concluding point Robert raised that struck me was the fact that (they noticed) there was a gap between the informal and formal uses of the technology by school students. For example, students used services like MySpace at home, but at school there was no way MySpace was used (access of course was denied). It begged the question about the impbalance of 'policing' of internet use by children which showed the gap between home use (who's managing the use?) and school use (almost nil).

Pre-service teachers wondered how they could possibly bring such technology into the classroom when there was obviously a lack of support and understanding at government department levels as well as within schools themselves. Some schools were opting to take responsibility for student (and staff) use of the internet to a degree, despite the 'zero tolerance' approach by state government levels to minimise internet access for schools.

I see that the lines between informal and formal learning are blurring somewhat, which is interesting in comparison with the notion that the gap between informal and formal uses of technology is widening. It does call for more research and evaluation in the area, but I also think it is symptomatic of the way in which our education institutions are perhaps not responding as quickly to changes in learners, as much as the technology itself is rapidly changing. I think there is a big call for changes in the way we (prefer to?) administrate, given that our governance is what tends to mediate other 'systems' (like security, information management, records management, etc).

This discussion reminded me of an earlier discussion I've had with others (like Susan Smith Nash and her article at Xplana) on the future possibilities and potentialities of education. I've revisited this, and picked up again on a post by Nash, as well as Tama Leaver, who asked what will elearning loook like in 2016?

Seimens is on the right track, I think, in theorising new ways of learning in order to keep track of the way people are in fact learning.

How can we learn from the ways in which technology is changing people's behaviour, as well as how people are innovating ways to use technology to address or mediate their everyday needs (including learning needs)? Does this necessarily mean that digital natives are also 'learning natives'?! [hmmmm, maybe?... humans are curious beings aren't they :o)!] There are ways by which technology can metaphorise a transferability of learning, as Kay and Goldberg discussed back in 1977:

"Devices" which variously store, retrieve, or manipulate information in the form of messages embedded in a medium have been in existence for thousands of years. People use them to communicate ideas and feelings both to others and back to themselves. Although thinking goes on in one?s head, external media serve to materialize thoughts and, through feedback, to augment the actual paths the thinking follows. Methods discovered in one medium provide metaphors which contribute new ways to think about notions in other media (my emphasis, Kay and Goldberg 1977, reprinted in Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort, 2003; p.393).

I have always thought that to learn is to understand why we do the things we do, and how we can do things more efficiently; at the same time increasing our understanding of ourselves and the dynamics of the world around us. Learning how to learn is surely all the more important in today's world with the increased openness with and networked ways in which we live!

So if our education institutions seem less relevant, does this mean 'schooling' dead? Are our institutions irrelevant, if so, what needs to change? How do we make learning (and our institutions) sustainable? Who is accountable for developing strategies for enabling a future of learning? What's at stake right now... and down the track?


Kay, A. and Goldberg, A. (1977). "Personal Dynamic Media," Computer 10, 3 (March 1977), 31-41. Reprinted in Wardrip-Fruin & Montfort (eds.) The New Media Reader, MIT Press, Cambridge & c, 2003.


Robert Fitzgerald @ Elgg
'Faster van' by science duck
OLPC Green laptop

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My first audio post

this is an audio post - click to play

Using writeboards for portable, editable content: a living document

I've been working on an flexible learning project with a group of teachers at CIT and we've been keeping track of our project using Writeboard. Everyone contributes and being password protected it means we can all add and edit without the feeling that someone is looking over our shoulder!

The writeboard has a comments feature and a version tracker and I also subscribe privately to it using Bloglines so I can be alerted to any changes (other than my own). Take a look at writeboard yourself, if you're keen.

Why it seems to work for our project is that it is immediate. This is great given the fact that we cram in as much as possible into our project workshop sessions (meeting once a week for 3 hours and trying to do stuff inbetween), and it means we can capture information as we go, rather than letting things slide into nonexistence. The writeboard is also downloadable as a text file or as a html page (good to link to if you're ready to 'go public' with your information there - although we haven't had a use for that yet).

The edit functions are fairly simple and team members have worked it out for themselves. This is a bonus of ready-to-use social software tools and services seem to offer readily. There are many possibilities and uses for Writeboard - it just depends on your interests and needs.

Similarly, I have been using writeboards to develop my workshop notes and content for PD/online training at CIT. I usually link the page into the interface and can update the information as I go - something I am doing with my 'Communicating and Collaboratiing Online' workshop (3 sessions in 3 weeks). This sort of development suits me, as I tend to plan for serendipity (if that makes sense), which leaves space to alter the program or adjust the content to suit workshop participants. This works especially well with teachers from various contexts around the Institute.

Working in a multidisciplinary team of flexible learning innovators, teachers and designers means we're scattered across the institute on various jobs, tasks and projects. The writeboard has been one way we have brainstormed ideas about how we plan our work and meet our professional development plans, along with department wide strategies for the year. The writeboard for our team has become a living document, rather than one that gets printed signed and shoved away into the bottom desk draw! It also ups the ante and has us all contributing, because we all have a vested interest in making sure it includes our needs and focus too! That's a pretty good incentive! Decisions become more democractically made rather than being left to management.

Just as Jay Cross says, I too am finding I'm moving more of my work to the Web, especially as I travel beteween different campuses and work with different groups. I'm carrying less as a result! I keep my online stuff, like the writeboards I use together via my wiki, which also helps to keep my work in context for me. I sometimes feel like a travelling roadshow as I flick between sites and show various things! That's the fun bit though, so I'm happy with that. :o)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The importance of circles (or, joining the dots)

There is something about a circle that is...hmmm...captivating? Hypnotic? Comforting?


The seasons in cycle, turning circles from birth to death to birth, round table discussions, learning circles, weaving circles, even broken circles.

Humans are pattern-seekers, ... we try to create meaningful narratives out of the universe's vast array of material [Shermer on crop circles in Wolff, 2005].

Our learning is never entirely new as we cycle through life. Some circles we leave unfinished. Others we circle without knowing why (or sometimes not wanting to know why) - a well-troden path. I look at this blog and others and see I often return to ideas, thoughts and commentary from previous posts or discussions. In doing so I build on previuos understanding and refine my position on matters important to me.

We often develop and process information and activity through cyclical development. In educational design terms I often use the phrase 'iterative development'. There is a definitive element of time in this. Iterations occur over time and as such cannot be rushed or pushed beyond one's level of acceptance or progress of understanding.

Understanding cannot be rushed.

Yet we cram as much as we can into a semester for our students (increasing our own workload pressures as well), partly because our time with them is limited to something like 13 to 18 weeks. We go from week 1 to week 18 which seems a linear process; but for us as teachers, there is a cyclical nature to the development of curricula and delivery that means we do it all again semester after semester.

How do we design learning with spaces and pauses? Time for contemplation and reflection in our increasingly busy lives? It is difficult to determine or measure these silences, especially as there seems always a pressure to fill them.

Joining the dots of what we do in our daily practice is really bringing small circles together to form a bigger picture. We often get lost in the myriad of smaller dots or equally inside the bigger picture.

That's when I like to take a brisk walk in the crisp Canberra morning, see the flocks of galahs and parrots on the lawns having their breakfast, and keeping my eyes peeled for the first buds signifying that spring has finally sprung!