by SOH Hock Heng
Paper presentation at the Distance Learning and the Internet Conference 2008. 19-22 November 2008.
JISC, the UK organisation promoting the use of ICT in teaching, learning and research, recently announced the winners of the Outstanding ICT initiative of the year award. The big winner is the Teacher Training Videos site.
Some might scoff at this as being basic, but it is an effective demonstration of user-generated content. Russell is a teacher, so he created these ‘how-tos’ with other teachers in mind.
He practices what he preaches. Besides using Camtasia to create Teacher Training Videos, he also uses it to provide feedback to students about their assignments. You can view an example here. You can also see another example of this in the video embedded above. (The text is not so clear in this video.)
Camtasia is commercial software. TechSmith, the company that produces Camtasia, has basic but freely available screen recording software called Jing, which is available for Mac and PC.
This week’s edutainment is a short clip about electronic devices that keep on consuming power while they are on standby.
There is some controversy about this, as there are those who are of the opinion that switching devices totally on and off actually reduces the lifespan of those appliances. And the environmental cost of replacing those devices would add up to more than the vampire energy consumed over the lifetime of the devices’ use.
I’m not sure about all this. Singaporeans are so obsessed with new things and gadgets that most of our stuff never reaches their maximum lifespan. We replace things long before they are worn out. So, the lifespan reduction argument only works if most people in the country use their stuff until they absolutely cannot work any more. Look around at all our handphones. Anyone still carrying a monochrome screen non-camera mobile phone which were still common in 2003? (Military personnel excepted. Then again, their non-camera phones probably have a colour screen at very least.)
One thing I am sure of: we should switch off devices when not in use. Fans, lights, air-con, water heaters etc.
Whoops… I seem to have strayed away from edtech.
It started with two seemingly simple questions.
Can I set up a blog for my department’s staff and students, and can moderators be assigned?
The straightforward answers to those deceptively basic queries are:
- Yes, but not without difficulty. There is no single sign-on in Blog.nus, so user accounts would have to be created and managed manually.
- Yes, users can be assigned different roles.
The questions led me to probe further, as I wanted to know what the blog is supposed to be about, why it needed to be accessible only by staff and students of that department and what exactly they were trying to achieve.
It turned out that the idea was a safety issues blog.
“Fantastic!” I thought. I couldn’t understand exactly why it needed to be private. Then, I found out that the blog’s raison d’être was that it would be used to elicit suggestions about laboratory safety.
The department has been trying various ways and means to procure feedback from students. They have a good way already, it seems: face-to-face feedback from staff. However, getting constructive feedback from the students was another matter altogether.
Besides promoting the blog as an avenue to collect feedback, there was no plan in place to encourage students to give feedback.
I suggested a safety blog where staff and selected students (those who express interest in this) post about safety issues, pointing out best practices and highlighting hazardous behaviour. Apparently, this was tried using a different format – not sure if it was a website or email updates – but the contributors ran out of steam.
I pointed out that no one is going to give feedback just because there is a blog where everyone can post. I also highlighted that it would be unlikely that anyone would do so if there was just no motivating or factor. Further, people tend to take ownership of blogs, even group blogs. Very large group blogs don’t ordinarily work.
Even yesterday.sg, a popular heritage blog, which is open to anyone to join and post, rarely gets original individual contributions. Usually, dedicated contributors point to heritage-related posts elsewhere.
The conversation ended with no concrete outcome. The problem of soliciting feedback is not something that can be solved by any IT tool in isolation.
CIT has a personalised startpage called Nexus. This is by no means unique. There are many startpages such as iGoogle, My Yahoo!, Pageflakes, Netvibes… the list goes on.
What is unique about Nexus – which has been positioned as a Personal Learning Environment – is that you can see your IVLE modules, NUS email and a few other NUS-only services, right from a single customisable page.
An aside about PLE: It is not so much a particular product or software as much as it is a concept about people taking charge of their learning through various connective online software and tools. I suppose a startpage could function as a PLE, but that would not be my preference.
Back to Nexus. The trouble with this positioning is that the “make of it what you will” approach leaves too much wiggle room. As much as you don’t want to restrict people’s creativity, giving them a blank slate and telling them that you can do anything with it most often results in them doing absolutely nothing with it.
(The same issue with the ‘infinite possibilities’ tack plagues wiki adoption.)
Can a startpage be used for learning then?
The answer, according to Mark Marino from the University of Southern California, is a definite yes.
He has created a course page on Pageflakes which has various widgets which his students can use in their own startpages. In effect, he has created content in different formats, which some would call learning objects, for his students to grab and paste into their own startpages.
I’m not sure I explained that clearly, so it’s best to read Mark’s post about the Topoi Pageflake.
So, Nexus can be used in a similar manner. A course tab can be created and shared with students. On the tab, the teacher can pull in various resources related to the course – RSS feeds, relevant videos, bookmark lists, etc. These individual widgets can be copied by students to their own Nexus account for their reference.
Hat tip to Wired Campus for highlighting Mark’s use of Pageflakes.