Sunday, February 28, 2010
This week I was introduced to the beta version of an elearning application I thought I was familiar with and that I’d been using for the past 6 months. I’ve seen one minor upgrade in that time.
Beta is one of the stages of development in software release cycles when the application is made freely available to users, well before the general release date. This practice allows software developers to gather general feedback on design layout and functionality. It also assists with the detection and monitoring of otherwise unknown faults.
I prided myself on my competence in using the generally available interface (not the beta). I thought I was at least as capable using it as I am in using many other applications on my PC. But I felt like a newbie when I attempted to use the beta release, even when I appreciated that there were evident improvements compared to the accustomed version.
This scenario is not uncommon. I often find that my apparent expertise on a computer disappears. And it’s not failing memory either. It can happen overnight when a new application version is installed or a so-called upgrade is made.
Give and take
I concede there has to be a balance between the need for a more attractive interface to impress new users who may otherwise be put off with what may appear to be a less attractive interface, and the necessity for regular users, familiar with features and layout of an application, to be able to utilise the new environment with relative ease.
But experienced users have the knowledge of functionality and feature. Though they may not know where to find these on the latest version of an interface, they will know to look for them. I feel grateful when I have this knowledge.
When I go looking for a feature or function, the prior knowledge that such a feature or function exists in the old version spurs me on to keep looking for it. I always hope that it hasn’t been listed with other, perhaps unrelated options or features to do with a different functionality.
Take the introduction of Word 2007, for instance. My expertise with a word processing application literally became virtual when I began working with Word 2007. It took me several weeks of use before I felt reasonably comfortable using the menus on the new release.
Even now, there are some functions I know must exist in that application that I can’t find – even using the help menus. How do I know they exist? From my knowledge of feature and functionality my experienced use of past Word versions has given me, of course.
What’s more, I had to find out that the Word 2007 default .docx files that could then be created on my PC were unlikely to be readable by others when I sent them as attachments. So a whole functionality, new to me and many of my colleagues, had to be sidestepped in order to achieve necessary connectivity, despite that functionality being given in the default file type.
It’s one of the vagaries of change. Despite the best intentions, things will evolve that aren’t necessarily helpful or useful.
In future, the watchword is concept not know-how. The future expert is one who can take forward the conceptual framework of ideas, features and functionality and look for their equivalents in new circumstances.
The successful future machine, application or interface is one that can mirror these ideas, features and functionality in a way that permits them to be found intuitively by the expert.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Typists who could rattle out a notice on a Remington Portable knew nothing of word wrap. So-called word processors simulated part of the procedure of carriage return by using ‘Return’ keys, now replaced by ‘Enter’ keys on the QWERTY keyboard.
I worked in an office when bound, printed instruction manuals were in their heyday. I didn’t need to read a manual to find out that it was useless either. I could tell from its crisp pages and gleaming cover.
The contents of useful manuals fell at my feet when I took them from the shelf. Company experts on procedures were usually those who wrote, added to, or amended manuals like these.
Many things we now do in the workplace, and the way we go about them, have arisen through the inclusion of the computer. Much of those were modified and re-jigged, or even scrapped from practiced routines and procedures and reinvented, when the use of computer technology became a mandatory part of the processes.
Dissemination of procedural instructions
One of the artefacts that almost disappeared through all this was the printed process specification or business procedure manual. It was sometimes replaced by an online version – less convenient in some ways, more facile in others.
One argument in favour of this replacement was that updates to procedures could be conveyed instantly to a network of workers. In the past these changes were scribbled on the margins of printed manuals and referred to until new versions were published.
But if there is no rigorous and timely procedure for updating an online manual, the user can’t scribble notes in the margins when instructions drift out of date. That is unless they print their own version at some stage. Many do, for this and a number of other reasons. In doing this, however, they may lose touch with subsequent amendments that are only announced on the online version.
Sometimes the business procedure manual, if it existed at all, simply disappears altogether, to be recreated in notes and copies of those made by industrious workers who recognise the need for a manual of some sort. Announcements of new procedures or changes to existing ones sent round by email are filed in either digital or printed form by this diligence.
Through this process there evolves a wealth of expertise of varying quality. Someone in need of information about a business procedure may skip around a workplace looking for advice from those workers well known for gathering and squirreling away procedural information.
And new ‘experts’ come into being.
This is all very well, until there is a real need for a unified approach to a specific and important procedure. It is a property of communities that exists in large workplaces, that they are recursively elaborate and capricious in how each separate part functions according to its situation.
So what's the solution to communicating unequivocal up-to-date procedural methods of practice to all parts of the workplace?
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
This week I submitted my plans for three Science learning resources that I will be writing this year. The expectation is that the drafts will have an online component.
I say drafts, for when the resources are built and accessible to the learner, the intention is to amend and refine them, as part of an ongoing process, dependent on analysed feedback from the learner.
Each resource set will provide teaching and learning material for a learner to achieve an associated NCEA Level 1 Science standard.
There will be no formal question-and-answer written tests for these.
All of them include reporting of a sort – a way that learners can show their communication skills – as well as demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of the various aspects of Level 1 Science.
Learning and assessment
I was heartened by Britt Watwood’s response to my last post on elearning and pedagogy.
He kindly included a link to the Virginia Commonwealth University Online Teaching and Learning Resources Guide, which I read. It was a joy to see the inclusion of the terms formative assessment and summative assessment, with appropriate links given so that their use is unequivocal.
Summative assessment will take the form of teacher assessment, driven according to assessment schemes written against the NCEA Level 1 Science standards. But the formative assessment that has to occur before that will consist of an assortment of methods including:
- self-marked booklet study
- computer assessed interactive activities
- teacher feedback
- creating and maintaining learner engagement.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, formative assessment is a means used by a learner to reflect on what’s been learnt and understood. A course of action may be followed to do further learning if required.
Formative assessment can involve a teacher who provides feedback to the learner. It takes the form of automatic computer feedback in interactive elearning resources. Or it can be a checklist of answers or explained processes to supplementary examples given in a printed resource book.
A rudimentary example of formative assessment is a list of answers to clues in a crossword puzzle.
Down to Earth
One of the standards involves investigating an astronomical or Earth science event. When writing my draft resource for this standard, I will be pulling on all appropriate techniques in elearning that are available to me and my cohort of learners:
- keeping a balanced approach to what is e-offered to the student
- elearning pedagogy (Oops! Did I really use that description?)
- use of existing resources appropriate to the teaching, such as the learning resource on drawing scientific graphs – this resource provides computer created formative feedback
- use of existing internet resources such as the wealth of specific webcam portals – these resources can be incorporated as a series of possible internet links
- use of possible internet resources filtered through the use of specific, teacher created criterion focused internet searches.
I will keep in mind the usefulness of games-based learning and will try to remember all that’s considered to be elearning myth.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Southern Georgia teaching an intermediate session to ISTE members in Second Life
Isn’t it strange that we read, hear, and see a lot about elearning, but we so rarely read, hear and see as much about eteaching?
I keep coming back to this topic. It is so vital to everything to do with teaching. The term, and all that it implies, also embraces elearning.
By implication, the focus is on the learner, and this is fine up to a point. But it is as if what goes on in the teaching is silently implied in the word elearning. The teacher has become the silent participant.
Well I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that there is a need for a change in emphasis so that elearning also implies an appropriate involvement by a teacher.
I’m not campaigning for teacher centred learning – not at all.
I’m agitating for pedagogy to return to its rightful place where a teacher is involved in the learning, which includes elearning.
A simple examination of my blog’s statistics shows that the posts on pedagogy are considerably less popular than posts on learning. Yet they were written with the same passion, care and attention I give to posts on other topics.
My hunch is that for some reason not yet too clear to me, there is less interest in the part played by the teacher than the technology when it comes to elearning.
Interesting, isn’t it?
Friday, February 5, 2010
In September last year, I ventured into Second Life (SL) to explore.
My purpose was similar to that of most educators whom I have welcomed in the short time I have been a SL ISTE docent. I wanted to find out what SL could offer as an elearning environment.
I now have a clearer idea of its worth and potential.
The near-reality of much of the 3D simulation offered by SL is a valuable element – it is a key quality of this elearning platform. However, its aesthetic charm may dull even an educator’s appreciation of the true value of what SL can hold for a learner.
I enjoy the fantasy aspect which is so often present when I’m in SL. The huge variety of costume, and the opportunity available for disguise, make it splendid for roleplay. This aspect of SL has great potential to extend the imagination of the participant.
There are a number of features that identify SL's genuineness as an authentic elearning environment:
Second Life is an environment that embraces people. This quality alone brings authenticity.
There is a wide range of ways of recognising the presence of people, wherever the participant happens to be in SL. Channels to engage in communication between those who are online are easy to use. They can be facilitated in many different ways and at different levels. They are certainly not limited to simple txt or voice chat.
Even body language can play its part in exchanges between people.
The sharing culture
There is a culture of sharing that is clearly evident among people in SL. This has possibly arisen through recognition of the need for assistance, sharing and collaborating when people first come into SL.
The cultural practice of sharing tends to be passed on. And it is accomplished at different levels, from a brief offer of situational help between two strangers at meeting, to organised sessions where experienced trainers can volunteer skills to others who are less competent.
SL presents music to its participants through various pathways, either live, pre-recorded or streamed directly from international radio stations. YouTube plays its part in all this, bringing music, new and old, as well as videos on many other themes to the eyes and ears of participants who have full control over audio levels within a full range of different sound channels.
Within the first few weeks as a visitor, I was able to engage in the construction of the digital stuff that is the fabric of SL. I don’t think there is another elearning environment where participants can so freely make use of the componentry and structure that comprise the environment they are in.
Many of its cultural environments provide support for this engagement, through classes provided voluntarily by experienced exponents of the craft.
Two main techniques that contribute to this are building and scripting. They go hand in hand, employed in the construction of the simplest thing such as an item of jewellery, to the most complicated assemblage of the foundation of the environment itself.
For the motivated learner, there is a copious amount of well-laid-out tutorial material to be found in centres throughout the environment. Splendid examples of these are the Particle Laboratory Learning Centre and the Ivory Tower Library of Primitives, where a learner can acquire knowledge and skills on the fundamentals of building and scripting.
It is at centres like these that both beginner and experienced developer can visit and gather pearls of 21st century wisdom on the construction of the digital fabric of Second Life.
Monday, February 1, 2010
It looks like John Hattie’s words of wisdom may well have been said in vain. Implementation of the New Zealand National Standards for primary and intermediate school pupils starts today.
School boards and principals are not convinced that there is much to be gained by applying the standards. They have numerous reasons for their beliefs. Many school boards are planning to boycott their use, which would be illegal.
Nevertheless, government approval has been given for the campaign to persuade communities and school boards of the usefulness of the standards, at an estimated cost of $26,000,000NZ.
The pros and cons
I listen to the arguments that abound in the national news, buzzing with the debate between the parties in favour of using standards and those against. Some politicians who were originally in favour of the standards are now arguing against them. I’m amused at what I hear.
Here’s an example. There is argument of dismay expressed about the 25% of children in New Zealand who are well below average in literacy abilities, an average which was no doubt considered when setting the literacy standards in the first place. The argument is that the introduction of standards will help those in that well-below-average group.
I wonder if some of the contributors to that argument can understand what a distribution is, and the significance of an average based on that same distribution. Misguided use of statistics, even by authorities, is not unknown in disciplines other than education.
In the late eighties, the Plunket movement was very enthusiastic, as it is today. Mothers with newborn children can choose to be visited by a Plunket nurse who administers advice when needed and who makes regular checks to record the development of children under their care.
I knew a young family back then. Murray and Pauline who is a nurse, had a beautiful bouncing baby daughter. Both Pauline and her husband were petite people of delicate build and stature. At birth, Elizabeth was a small baby. The presiding doctors agreed she was normal for her birth weight. She was a healthy child who developed well in all respects.
One day I walked round to see the family only to find Pauline quite upset. She’d just had a visit from the Plunket nurse who’d said that Elizabeth was well below average in both size and weight. Pauline had been told that she should ensure Elizabeth was given the food required to lift her weight into the ‘normal’ range.
Pauline felt insulted and annoyed. Her reasoning was implicit. A petite newborn from parents of small stature would be expected to grow into a petite child, and subsequently mature to a petite adult. Over the years we found that was exactly what happened.
Furthermore, Elizabeth’s potential to maintain this has been with her since birth. It comes down to the difference between body size and body development. These measurable quantities are not the same.
The Plunket movement in New Zealand do a deal of good work in monitoring and caring for the health and welfare of the very young from birth. But the interpretation of the growth chart by the nurse indicated that Elizabeth’s data was being clearly misunderstood.
There is a parallel in the academic progress of children who are developing normally. That’s not to say that a child who is below what’s considered ‘average’ at an early age won’t continue to develop to have useful and perhaps even above average abilities in the future.
But there is always going to be 25% of children who are well below average in literacy ability. Any standard based on what is expected of an ‘average’ child will indicate this when applied to a fair and random sampling from a nation’s children.
I applaud the arguments that are saying let’s improve the nation’s academic achievement through good teaching. Forget about assessment of the child at early stages as a comparison with what’s considered ‘average’. Let’s look towards progress and development in the child.
My hunch is that the introduction of standards will not bring about an understanding of what is good to look for in child development in literacy, numeracy or any other ability. Instead, it is likely to serve as a measuring stick for a whole range of things unrelated to child development.