Monday, August 31, 2009

100 Essential Web 2.0 Tools For Teachers

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you All100 Essential Web 2.0 Tools For Teachers
The ever-increasing abundance of free downloadables available for educators continues to astonish me.They are as numerous as the sites that catalogue them by the hundreds.

Recently I was made aware of yet another index – this time specifically for teachers. I must admit I was sceptical – just another list, I thought. But closer inspection got me thinking that, perhaps, this one was worth a second look.

My last GPS Website Gold Rush site for this month is Online Degree, a resource for online degree program information. It has just posted an article on 100 Essential Web 2.0 Tools For Teachers. There are goodies listed there I've never seen before.

Check them out. To name a few, I recommend taking a look at:
    Befuddlr (No. 93) – adds fun to pictures by making them into puzzles – easy-to-use, it offers choices of flickr picture groups to choose from

    Fleck (No. 86) – puts sticky notes and annotations onto existing web pages and permits you to share them with others

    Many Eyes (No. 94) – a take on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns – this tool has the potential to create great discussion and debate in the classroom.
As well, Online Degree presents a broad series of reviews of top rated online degree programs and offers an online degree search tool.

Could be a useful site to bookmark?

A Green Pen Society contribution

Ka kite anō - Catchya later

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Complexity & Standard-based Assessment

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Complexity The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education – Albert Einstein

Last year, I attended a seminar on Complexity and Education given by Brent Davis and Denis Sumara. In my attempt to pass on to my respected colleagues what I’d learnt, I wrote a report that’s still available on our work-place Intranet.

Immediate reaction to it was mixed. The responses that most interested me were those expressing some concern:
    Perhaps the subject is a bit academic?

    Who bothers with this stuff anyway?

    Had I gone clean out of my mind?

Coming from educators, I thought that these were odd points of view.
I began to think of how we think of education as educators.

Education is adaptive and emergent


Education has the ability to adapt and evolve. A system with this attribute is like a living system rather than a mechanical one.

The adaptive nature of Darwinian evolution resembles education more than does the dynamic nature of Newtonian mechanics.
Education can change its structure and is said to be adaptive because of this.


What arises within education is a synergy from the activity between and within its individual structural components. The effect of the whole is greater than the sum of the single effects from any of its parts.

Education should be forever striving to embrace emergent technologies, innovative knowledge, developing social issues and world opinion.

By keeping a focus on these goals, it is extremely reliant on situations that constantly arise in life. It is emergent.


The word complex, and all its derivatives, is finding its way into the routine language of educators. Rather than taking the position as an adjective to other context-related things, its occurrence and use, in referring to complexity, is becoming a more common inclusion in educational discussion.

I think it is significant that there has been recent discourse in the blogosphere on the distinction between what is complicated and what is complex. Some of the similarities and differences between complicated and complex are listed here:

Complex and Complicated
Education versus standard-based assessment

Process standards and technical regulations find their way into standard assessment for trades qualifications and certificates of competence. The stepwise introduction of standard-based assessment in New Zealand secondary education, 2002 to 2004, meant that senior secondary education is now geared to complicated training routines.

To achieve their required level of qualification according to NCEA, learners are coached in delivering subject oriented responses. These preparative measures are selected and delivered to address narrow strips of the curriculum. They use constraints of vocabulary dictated by prescriptions found within each standard.

Practice in the application of rigorous protocol is needed when giving answers to questions that lead to a level of achievement. While these techniques might well be considered good ways to train people for trade qualifications, they are certainly not so efficient in providing education.

Recursively elaborate

Education is complex, yet it embraces things that are not complex
things that are often routine and habitual. In this respect and in others, education tends to be recursively elaborate. A unit of learning that occurs in one place may appear in many other places in different forms, described by a different vocabulary or situational relevance.

Generic Mathematical expressionAreas of learning appropriate to Mathematics, for instance, find their use in other subjects. These inclusions may all adhere to the same fundamental set of laws. Conventions for their use may differ from subject to subject or even within a subject, however, so much that at first sight, they may be almost unrecognisable to teacher and learner.Recursive Fractal

Mathematics as a discipline is just one of many common parts of knowledge that contribute to the
recursively elaborate nature of education.

Education is transdisciplinary

In the mid 60s a friend announced to me that he had enrolled in Ecology, a new degree course at Edinburgh University.

I’d never heard of Ecology, but I was delighted to learn that it involved many disciplines.

Other areas of education that encompass multiple disciplines are information science, biology and economics. They are examples of the many parts that form an all embracing transdisciplinary entity.

Education is transphenomenal

In his recent address to staff at TCS, Scott Flansburg demonstrated and spoke of the different ways people use to perform multiplication.
He reminded me that everyone has their own personal understanding of this complex process. It is not limited to computational routines. Here are just a few of the ways how multiplication can be considered:

The list is not exhaustive. A study of the above operations shows how parts of education may seem multi-faceted, almost ubiquitous in the way they call on different conceptual representation. To make complete sense of the idea of multiplication, however, requires investigation of personal experiences. Unfortunately, these are not commonly explored when learning about multiplication or how to apply it.

Personal appreciation of multiplication can be:

    embedded in hereditary structure – biological

    supported by one's own activity – personal experience

    structured within social interactions – symbolic tools

    made possible by cultural tools – societal usage

    part of an emerging discourse between people.

The items in the above list embrace characteristics of different phenomena. Moving from one idea to the next involves jumping between thoughts to do with each phenomenon – transphenomenal hopping.

To embrace the many facets of ideas around a topic, a teacher and learner may be forced to engage in transphenomenal hopping. This cognitive aspect is what makes education transphenomenal.

Subject relevance
versus standard-based assessment

Subject-specific vocabulary of particular learning is important to learner understanding in a subject. It is also particularly appropriate that the learner has opportunity to embrace the situational relevance of what is learnt.

Part or all of a unit of learning may reside in several different standards. So it is with NCEA. It permits a degree of subject relevance to be included in the teaching of a generic standard. However, such NCEA standards tend to be listed as exclusions. This means that qualification credits are only counted once if a learner achieves two or more credited standards where the same exclusion occurs.

Some standards have been adjusted so that part or all of a relevant unit of learning has been removed to a standard in a specific subject area. In presenting such standard-based units of learning in another subject area, teaching relevant content becomes compromised by the constraints of the standard itself.

Just one of many instances of this happened in New Zealand in 2006 when the unit of learning on Radio-chemistry, incorporated in a standard relevant to Level 2 Physics, was removed from a Level 3 Chemistry standard.

Education should be enlightenment

At present, learners pay a fee to receive the results of their educational achievement (NCEA) determined by standard-based assessment.

It is my contention that standard-based assessment that drives learning, degrades the potential quality of education that could be made available in school. For as much as it is argued that the curriculum should drive the learning and that it should not be driven by assessment, this is not what happens in practice. It never has.

The compartmental character of standard-based assessment, and the narrow focus that this brings to learning, throws the spotlight on complicated assessment routines and the preparations leading up to them. It leaves the rich complexity of education in the shade.

To argue that studying towards standard-based assessment provides an education is a contradiction.

relevant posts - >> ( 4 ) ( 3 ) ( 2 ) ( 1 )

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Touch and Taste - Now Sight

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Eyes in the brain
We are all familiar with the discomfort of a hair in the mouth. This extreme sensitivity of the surface of the tongue is in addition to its usual function to do with taste.

At the Université de Montréal School of Optometry, research into this sensitivity is being used to assist the blind to see.

Daniel Chebat has been researching neuropsychology at the Université de Montréal School of Optometry. He works with special technology that uses the digital output from a camera to provide electrical impulses to a small area on the surface of the tongue.

We see with our brain

Normally, information from the eye passes to the middle of the brain. The information is then passed through the brain to the visual cortex where it is interpreted as sight.

Apparently, impulses sensed by the tongue and registered by the part of the brain that interprets touch can be reinterpreted by the visual cortex. With training, a person can learn to use their visual cortex to interpret these impulses as sight. The equipment used in Chebat’s research permits people who are blind to see.

An amazing organ

It seems the tongue is an amazing organ. It offers a rare portal for information to the brain. Future improvements to existing technology may offer a unique way for the blind to see with their tongue.

Daniel Sieberg reports on the revolutionary technology - BrainPort:

related post - >> ( 1 )

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You Think You Can Multi-task?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
You’ve probably read all about it. People who multi-task are no good at anything they do while multi-tasking, other than switching from one task to another.

That’s what the latest report says from a study by Stanford University. This is backed by findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Is there anything new here?


What’s new, or relatively so, is a fashionable idea that multi-tasking is a real cool thing to do, that doing two or more things at once can be effective. Anyone young and mentally agile can multi-task effectively.


Where did this come from? This myth that some people, that anyone can effectively multi-task?

17,800 hits

In October 2001, Marc Prensky claimed that so-called digital natives “like to parallel process and multi-task”. This line has been quoted ad nauseam since then, to the degree that You have to multi-task! has become a work-place maxim.

A Google of the quoted phrase is likely to return at least 17,800 hits! Check it out.

Almost everything I read to do with multi-tasking seems to subject me to a brain-wash-like repetition that there are two species of people – those who can multi-task and those who cannot. On a number of occasions I have been told verbosely that these groups fall into the respective categories of so-called digital-natives and digital-immigrants.

Tragic statistical evidence

A recent legislation in New Zealand will outlaw driving while using a mobile phone, whether txting or in audio-conversation. That is unless dispensation is given for hands-free usage for specific purposes. Many other countries have already brought in similar legislation.

The decision to legislate was based on the tragic statistical evidence that people, no matter what their age
no matter what their mental ability, are incapable of giving their all to the important task of driving a vehicle when busy with another mind-engaging activity, such as using a phone. The move has considerable support from industry.

Thank goodness the legislators have managed to get it right. They have recognised that there can be serious consequences to assuming that when we see young kids engrossed in playing with new technology, their brains must work differently from their parents.

I am heartened that at least the concepts of so-called digital-native and digital-immigrant are shifting. Some of the changes come from people who are younger than half my age. That makes me feel good.

related post - > ( 1 )

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Monday, August 24, 2009

Classifying Elearning

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
RanginuiDoorRanginui Door, Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Nāu te rourou nāku te rourou he pai te iwi kātoa
With your food basket and my food basket our tribe will prosper

On his recent post, What Is One Hour Of Learning?, Manish Mohan asks the question:

What are the different levels of elearning and how do you classify them?

My reaction to this was that my answer would be far too involved for a comment, but perhaps worthy of a post.

Having been steeped in the New Zealand education system for decades, I am too familiar with the word ‘level’ being used to refer to many different aspects of teaching and learning:

  • curriculum level,
  • qualification level,
  • year level,
  • reading level, etc.

My first preference is to tie down what’s meant by the word ‘level’.

Within wide constraints, I assume that ‘level’ does not necessarily refer to primary, secondary, tertiary, commercial, training etc, with the proviso that there are parameters that can be deemed to transcend these.
I take a stab at a generic elearning meaning for the word.

I might be biting more off than I can chew here. The whole idea of tying down the word ‘level’ is to moderate the chances of me doing just that.

A taxonomy

David Wiley defined a taxonomy for learning resources. He applied it to what he called the ‘learning object’, the much maligned packaged resource, spawned near the end of the
20th century, gestated into the 21st century and which was virtually stillborn by the end of 2003.

Attempts to revive it have been met with little success, yet its siblings survive in what are known as (digital) learning resources.

Learning resources make up a broad basket of items that include elearning resources. Some of these are tailored to deliver learning so that defined learning objectives can be achieved. They can form part or all of an elearning course.

Level of elearning

I’ve not come across a better way of classifying elearning resources than Wiley’s taxonomy. I believe that most asynchronous elearning resources, and even some that are used in synchronous environments, can be categorised according to this taxonomy.

Not only is it useful for classifying resources, it can also serve to define the hierarchical levels of elearning development required. I stick my neck out and summarise it here with appropriate simplification.

Resource types can be classified
    Simple – An individual digital image such as a diagram or photograph.

    Combined-closed – An intimate combination of a small number of digital resources. For example, a video with accompanying audio.

    Combined-open – A large number of digital resources combined but existing as separate entities. For example, a unit of learning that combines dynamically an image and a video file together with associated text.

    Presentation – Logic and structure for combining (or generating and combining) lower-level learning resources (Simple and Combined-closed types). For example, a Java applet or Flash file capable of graphically presenting a set of examples by way of demonstration.

    Instructional – Logic and structure for combining or generating and combining learning resources (Simple and Combined-closed types, and Presentation). For example, it can be a combination which both instructs and provides practice for the learner.

    This can include formative feedback or summative assessment. It may also incorporate a window for synchronous learning, such as a chatroom or a virtual classroom.

Elearning pathways

The elements of good instructional design are to do with the essential links between what is to be learned and how to select the most appropriate pathway for the learning to occur. The individual components of learning that together lead to the desired learning outcome have characteristics that may be used to choose a possible pathway.

In the development of a learning resource or resources to meet part or all of a learning objective, the constituents of what has to be learned must first be analysed carefully. In so doing, a pathway (or pathways) to engage the student in the learning process can become evident.

A course provides such resources as would meet one or more related learning objectives in following such a pathway.

Subject and developer

Elements such as storyboarding, the inclusion of appropriate formative feedback and if necessary, summative assessment, can all form parts of a plan for a course. The realms of teaching and learning embrace the complexity of pedagogy associated with the respective subject.

To achieve a cohesive blend of good teaching with the most appropriate technology requires subject specialist and developer to work together
closely. Accomplishing this requires a thorough understanding of elearning classification, by developer and subject specialist alike.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Friday, August 21, 2009

Complexity in Action

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Complexity in Numbers
This week I was privileged to see Scott Flansburg in action. He visited TCS and entertained a huge audience of staff while demonstrating his calculative ability.

He began with a few warm-up activities. How quickly can you add up a set of four two-digit numbers? Try this:
A human calculator

Scott can give you the answer to the above sum quicker than you can read the first number. He can do complicated calculations, with huge numbers, that would challenge anything you, I or an expert accountant could do with a calculator.

He calculates at lightning speed and very rarely makes a mistake.
And he’s proved it. He holds the world record for mental calculating.

Scott is an ordinary guy with extraordinary mental abilities. No slouch, he uses his smooth, motivational manner and enthusiasm for numbers – mathletics he calls it – to inspire and motivate young learners. At the moment he is touring schools in New Zealand doing just that.

Young mathletes

Fascinating his audiences by demonstrating patterns in numbers and in the properties and qualities of the array of single digits 0 through to 9, he is number crunching his way across the world, engaging
young learners in taking an interest in Mathematics.
NinesHe believes that there is nothing necessarily unique in the way his mind works anyone can learn to use their mind the way he does. What makes Scott different from you or me? He explained a few of the differences in the ways he thinks when calculating.

Basically he doesn’t use the memorised routines that are normally part of mental arithmetic. Times tables and addition tables assist us till situations arise where the tables run out. Beyond those, we resort to cumbersome hierarchical computational processes.

Memorising is limiting

Scott says that using memory in the traditional way for doing these manipulations is severely limiting.
AdditionThe ‘carrying figure’ and all that’s associated with it when adding lists of numbers is another aspect that Scott thinks slows you down. This is mainly to do with speed, accuracy and the way the mind works. With adding figures, he advocates toting columns of digits from the top. Starting from the left-hand column and moving right is more facile than the traditional right-column-first approach.

His ability is not unique, but his prowess of speed and accuracy puts him in a distinct position among many who demonstrate similar mental capabilities.


Plainly, Scott demonstrates the power of the brain to perform seemingly impossible and colossal computational activities, almost effortlessly, if used in special ways.
And guess what - he doesn't multi-task when he's calculating!

If there is a metaphor, I suggest the speed, agility and accuracy of the touch-typist who looks neither at the screen nor the keyboard, against the two-finger typist who looks down searching for the letters and aiming at the keys – that would be the level of my mental arithmetic.

Watch Scott Flansburg 'The Human Calculator' Promotional Video in Educational | View More Free Videos Online at
Rangimarie - Peace in Harmony

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Index Page

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
World Map courtesy GoogleAnalytics

I’ve been nudged to review my stats this month, something that I normally do as a matter of course but I’m reporting on it here.

Tony Karrer’s post, Alternative Views of Blog Content, reminded me that the last time I’d reported on the Index Page Project was in March this year.

The Index Page for Blogger in Middle-earth was a project I embarked on in January 2009. It was initiated by Tony’s First Time Visitor Guide, which provides a brief description of what his blog is about with selected posts listed under general topic headings. I admired his Guide, and as I was already thinking about building a blog index, it prompted me to start one.

Initial novelty value

The new Index Page certainly caused a lot of interest for a few months after it was published, during which time it was the most popular post on the blog. I suspect that this was more its novelty value. The time spent on the page suggested that it was being inspected rather than used directly for the purpose I’d intended.

In recent months activity has settled with a steady flow of visitors who obviously use it as an index – its favourable bounce rate of 27% indicates this, as does the 1:17 time on the page.

There is a significant correlation between activity on the Index Page and the dates of new posts. This tends to suggest that those hits are made by newcomers to the site, though this is not entirely conclusive.


I'm inclined to tinker when it comes to some aspects of blogging. Perhaps I put more time into tweaking and trimming than I should – who knows? That’s purely my own judgement of how I make peripheral adjustments to posts. Part of it is curiosity to find out what works best.

For instance, I’ve found that putting in links to related posts like the ones at the base of this post, though time consuming, actually provides some access to posts that might otherwise become time-capsules.

When this activity becomes a chore, I’ll probably give it a miss. The time spent updating the Index Page is nevertheless much less, perhaps only a minute or so each time I publish a new post – a small percentage of the total time I spend on the hobby of blogging.

Usefulness as an index?

I’m probably the most regular user of the index. With now well over 200 posts on the blog, I find it increasingly difficult to locate one of my own posts unless I use the index. GoogleAnalytics has indicated that the latest category, the monthly archives, is being used by visitors as are the post-label links.

This last period it ranked 8th in popularity, and attracted 3% of the total visits to the blog. Considering that it received more than twice the activity of hits in its first few months, the Index Page is undoubtedly the most popular post on the site this year. It does not have the long-tail profile of a typical post, which makes it quite unique.

Usefulness as a first-time-visitor guide?

The jury is still out on this one. Laurie Bartels gave me a lot of support in her comments in the first two months and I am grateful for those.

So far there have been no comments that indicate there’s any need for improvement! My suspicion is that the need is there nevertheless.

If you have a useful suggestion, why not nip over to the Index Page, check it out, and tell me what you’d like to see there? Go for it!

Nāu te rourou nāku te rourou he pai te iwi kātoa.
With your food basket and my food basket our tribe will prosper.

( 6 ) << - related posts - >> ( 4 ) ( 3 ) ( 2 ) ( 1 )

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Post to Post

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Love Controversy
This week is proving to be busier that usual for me, with no time to catch my breath, or thoughts in posts, so it seems. I'd decided to catch up on my post reading, reduce the list on my RSS Reader and do some hard thinking rather than writing. But it doesn’t always work out that way, of course.

I end up commenting on posts on other blogs and writing more there than I would if I’d written a post. That’s how it’s been for me since the weekend.


George Siemens’, Why Groups Fail To Share Information Effectively, was such a post that drew my comment. He picks up on the Psyblog article of the same name.

I recalled Tony Karrer’s post, Reduce Searching start Talking, that prompted my long reply in June, and also Michele Martin’s earlier discussions on homophily.

George’s enviably short post summarises a number of related ideas that get me thinking:
  • Failure of (group) interaction to take advantage of the value of critique and debate
  • sharing information that will not cause conflict or upset others
  • the need for a degree of self-confidence (and a supportive environment) to ensure contrary voices are heard
  • group pressure to normalize ideas.
At TCS we have been and are following a series of sessions of appreciative inquiry. These involve staff group discussions where shared ideas, once collated, are ostensibly contributing in some measure to the path of the current restructuring of the organisation.
In the light of all of the above, perhaps you can figure the way my mind’s working right now?


Tony Karrer’s post, Free, picks up on Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, and homes in on the idea that “we value atoms more than bits”.

Rutherford's lithium atomTony highlights the theme that content delivered as bits (online, etc) has less value than the equivalent atoms version (printed book, say).

He summarises a number of interesting key questions related to how consumers might contribute to the system and how the effectiveness of networks might best utilise the system.

It bothers me that bits are regarded as being less valuable than atoms
. I’d already discovered that within my own family, bits are encouraging time-debts that are unlikely to be repaid, in the form of stocks of never-to-be-viewed TV video recordings, not to say too much about the posts on my RSS Reader that I might never get round to reading – sigh.

Upcoming events

Some free elearning events are coming up, now and till the end of October. Perhaps you might like to contribute to these enriching, free webinars through bits of participation and sharing?

related posts - >> ( 2 ) ( 1 )

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Un-trivial Story

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Māui and his brothersDesign from the Māori fable of Māui and his brothers taming the sun
The Marae, Te Papa Museum of New Zealand

    Novelists and playwrights are done without it.
    The success of the film industry depends on it.
    Folklore is embedded in its construction.
    It is the basis for substantive contributions to world poetry.

    The Old Testament is so graced with it there is not a page
    in that book where it is absent.

    Its might is well known and celebrated by educators,
    instructors and coaches of all disciplines and in all cultures.

    It is the fascination of children, the bread and butter of
    storytellers, the potion used by keynote speakers
    and even the magic pill of bloggers.

Yet in an age when change is the watchword, the modest story remains steadfast and unvarying in its ability to capture the attention of people of all ages and in all walks of life. The conundrum is that it should be so commonplace and yet so potent.

How can this simple device still be so assiduously engaging?


At a recent meeting I attended, the guest speaker
made an inelegant approach to the topic, was inept at choosing words appropriately and had a tendency to ramble. What saved the too long speech and made it memorable was a story told near the close of its delivery. I watched, fascinated as people moved from angles of repose to more attentive postures.

Designers of adverts use its arousing magic in a similar way to the speech-maker. Executed well in the manipulative exploit of advertising, it can result in awards being won, and not just for sales statistics.


No other teaching device can bring context so uncontrivedly and adroitly to a teaching moment as the story. Whether written, narrated or depicted in scenes in a video, it has the knack of introducing a packet of learning incognito.

Through the conduit of the story, the whole of Māori folklore has been passed down to us by word of mouth, as were the traditional beliefs expressed in stories and songs of many other cultures.


There is an innate tendency in everyone to follow the passage of a story. The successes of the publishing and film industries are testimony to that, individually and jointly. What senses-able child in western society today does not know of Harry Potter?

For as much as adventure-games appear to captivate and engage participants with the matrix of the game, it is the unfolding escapade that captures the interest of players. They create and experience their own stories within the contexts of their games.

At the start of this century, my wife, Linda, learnt of the Sid Meier’s computer adventure-game Civilization III. Despite my total disinterest in adventure games at the time, she enticed me to partner her while she played out her first game. We chose to be joint advisors in building a British civilization ruled by Queen Elizabeth.

Being new to the rules and capabilities of CIV III, we had to learn a lot to help our growing civilization to survive. And did we learn a lot!

After a long struggle, successfully avoiding conflict after conflict, we won a cultural victory, according to the rules of CIV III, in building a virtual civilization on a resource-rich land-locked virtual continent. For as much as we have played the game since then, perhaps hundreds of times, we can still remember the thrill of our first CIV III adventure.


My daughter, Catriona, is as familiar with ice-cream as she is with the Eye of Sauron in the
Lord of the Rings movie trilogy directed by Peter Jackson.

She was just 12 years old when she first took an avid interest in all that The Rings had to offer. Catriona saw the films and then read the trilogy by J R R Tolkien a year or so later. When I discussed the nature of the Eye of Sauron with her, I was astonished at what she knew.

“It’s not the same in the films as in the books”, she told me. She explained that the film depicted the Eye of Sauron held in a tower, but in the book it was like the eye of a spirit that was seemingly ubiquitous.

Catriona read Tolkien only after having seen the films many times over. Yet the image of the Eye of Sauron as depicted in the film did not interfere with her ability to imagine quite a different concept of it as read from the book.

This experience showed me how able Catriona was at discerning a screen depiction from its counterpart in the original novel. But it was also proof of the power of the written story to excite the imagination, even in the wake of a different mental image laid down by a series of scenes in a movie.


I first learnt of Winnie-the-Pooh when I was eight years old, but not from a story read directly from one of A A Milne’s novels. My friend next door had a well-read older sister who delighted in telling stories to her younger brothers and anyone else who cared to listen.

In her own words she told the story that was later to become a favourite of mine and that I read to my children many times, “In Which We Are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees and the Stories Begin”.

Never underestimate the power of the story. Its unique ability to capture the imagination can make an everyday event memorable, add interest to an otherwise mundane activity, bring relevance to a teaching moment and wake up an indifferent audience.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You Never Can Tell With Bs

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
You Never Can Tell With Bs
Sometimes I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh when I try something different in a blog post. Being a bit like his venture with a balloon, such trials can be launched into cyberspace, leaving me suspended in mid-air.

Nothing to do except hang about and wait and see.

It can turn into one of those things that numbs the mind with a nauseating tedium. It can be quite a while before anyone comes out to have a look. First one or two, then a dozen or sometimes more.

There are times I get the impression that, perhaps, just perhaps, they suspect something. That I’m not really a ‘legitimate’ after all. I think on the pros and cons of letting go the balloon. There’s no parachute when you post, you know. It just floats up and stays there and you’ve just got to hang on and wait.

These are the times when I’ve felt that maybe I should have blogged and posted under a disguise. Of course, no guise would be truly effective, just like Pooh’s small-black-cloud-in-the-sky idea wasn’t.

There have also been some unexpected adventures that surprised me with the yield brought forth by a seemingly bearbrained idea. Hmmm. That, I guess, is the secret of having great adventures.

Have plenty of bearbrained ideas.

You never can tell with Bs.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Elearning Pedagogy?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Elearning Pedagogy?
There are some fundamental principles that are important to pedagogy, if not actually good pedagogy, when building an elearning resource.

The metaphor is the construction of a building. What’s listed here is about the composition of the cement between the bricks.

I leave the intricate fabric of brick and foundation – the individual subject pedagogy – to other discussion.

Myth, method and madness

    Elearning is complex. Digging up any idea that pedagogy can be applied easily to building elearning resources unearths bones of contention. Such is the endowment of the instructional designer, or teacher who embarks on the task of making elearning material.
    With any new medium in the hands of a designer, the tendency to construct philosophies from scratch is too tempting. Ambitious though this approach may be, I think that it is unwise.

    Considering the time usually allocated to preparing elearning material, it is unlikely to be efficient. It is especially wasteful given the time that’s needed to prepare effective elearning resources.
    Fortunately, much of what assists learning can also be applied to elearning.
Select the right media

    Podcasting an interview may be more appropriate than displaying a text transcript. Choosing to video it might be even better especially if the interviewee is performing an action, such as explaining how to take cuttings from a woody plant in horticulture. Selecting appropriate media to fit the purpose is often vital to successful elearning.
    Michael Hanley, in his post Podcast Authoring: Understanding and Remembering, describes explicitly the difficulties encountered when a designer is forced to use an elearning medium that’s clearly unsuitable for the content that’s to be delivered. If you have the choice, choose your media wisely.
More meaningful media

    Interaction and feedback, in whatever form they take, are key tools in elearning. The opportunity to make use of them should be exploited whenever possible. It is helpful to remember this when considering the use of a long and detailed video or podcast as part of a module.
    Interactivity may not be optimal with such media length unless a stepped series of clips is used.
    For instance, interaction over key points can be inserted as breaks in a sequence of related video clips. Such treatment permits timely and specific feedback. It would be far superior to a long video followed by an interactive session covering all the points.
Simple text supports instruction

    Writing effective elearning text is a skill. Writers are sometimes advised to use the simplest and shortest words they can. But often that’s just too simplistic. Editing a draft may well be a more practical plan – culling redundancies and replacing long and perhaps complex words with simpler more common equivalents.
    Getting meaning across unequivocally is an acquired skill. It takes a lot of practice. A frequent mistake is stringing complex sentences together in paragraphs that are far too long.
    Cathy Moore recommends using Flesch Reading Ease as an indicator tool, rather than a disciplined approach. It is worthwhile on large bodies of text. It can also assist a writer who is new to resource writing. The key lies in conveying necessary meaning by simple language in concise sentences within short paragraphs but not so briefly as to be ambiguous.

    Acronyms or abbreviations are best annotated frequently throughout the text, giving precise meanings where appropriate. Another helpful ploy is to annotate all new and required vocabulary relevant to the subject. Glossing can assist with this provided it’s unobtrusive.
Spell-check all text and text insertions

    The introduction of typos and misspelt words occurs more often while editing and making insertions than at any other time during the writing process. It pays to leave thorough spellchecking to the last stage before text is finalised in a resource.
    As well, labels and instruction bubbles such as those on images and diagrams should be carefully spellchecked. Nothing is more likely to create distrust of online learning than obvious typos or misspellings.
Fonts of knowledge

    Type size and style of font were discussion points among web designers in the 1990s and even early this century. Research and dogged experience has shown that reading from the screen tends to be harder on the eye than reading from other media.
    Serif fonts tend to require a larger type size for the same ease of reading. Even so, some readers find that serif fonts lend an uneasy busyness to a block of text.

    It has become common practice to use plain sans-serif fonts.
Charter for diagrams and graphs

    A writer can do disservice to the elearner by not considering the conventions used in the discipline of the subject. Being creative by displaying a graph that contravenes convention may be smart on a billboard.

    When it comes to teaching, subject-associated conventions should all be adhered to. This applies especially to charts, graphs and their attendant labels and codes. Nothing new here.
The art of using visual objects

    In the 1960s, my Art teacher told me that garish colour is seldom effective unless used for a special purpose. The same applies to colour used in an elearning resource. Constant use of primary colours can convey undue business and be tiring to look at. Natural colours are often effective as are soft pastel colours.
    Colour, as much as design and form, should have an accord that contributes to the whole. But there is also an art in the design and placement of visual objects. If unsure, seek advice from an experienced designer, well trained in the use of colour.
Beware dead or morphed external links

    Links to external resources have a half-life since sites have a habit of either disappearing or being relocated.

    A relocated site may not necessarily be accessible from the old link address. Many designers follow a policy that all links must follow closed loops within the resource itself. But if it is required that external links be provided, vigilant automatic link-checking provides some help in alerting when a replacement address in a link may be needed.
    Avoiding learner distress through failed or inappropriate external links is difficult. A practice of providing several links to related resource materials, not on the same site, can give some ease with this. Links still have to be checked regularly, however, using a link checker or equivalent process.
    The problem becomes even more critical if the resource is delivered on a DVD or CD. Any updating with replacement link destinations on such resources is not possible unless the links point to an editable page held on an accessible web server. Such a provision can make fixing malfunctioning links much easier in more ways than one.
    None of these measures gives any indication if the content of a page changes so that it’s no longer relevant to the original intent. It comes back to manually checking the links for content relevance. Learner feedback can provide alerts with this, but they are seldom timely or frequent enough to be practicable.
Provide links to all required plugins

    In fairness to the online learner, notice of requirement of plugins and links to those should be given in an appropriate part of the introduction to the elearning module. Any other special requirements important to the resource, such as required computer specifications for their use, should be announced clearly on the same page.
Ka kite anō – Catch ya later