TAG | Education
0 Comments | Posted by naomi in Alternate Reality Games, BETT, Development, Education, Events, MOOC, Personalised learning, Uncategorized, augmented reality, online learning, online university courses
Running from January 30th to February 2nd last week was the 29th Bett show, the British education training and technology event. This year was bigger than ever before and to accommodate the increasing demand Bett moved to the Excel arena which meant our journey involved an exciting trip on the DLR. There was a lot of hype around the event this year with #Bett_show trending throughout the week:
New this year was the Bett Arena, a 750 seat amphitheatre to host talks from influential thought leaders in education from around the world, including Vince Cable and Professor Brain Cox. The education sector was shaken up in 2012 – ‘The year of the MOOC’ – so it was exciting to see two MOOC pioneers also attended the show – Shimon Shocken and Daphne Koller of Coursera.
In the opening ceremony Microsoft’s VP for education Anthony Salcito’s proclaimed that ‘’Technology will always step up to the challenge we need in our classrooms’’, so let’s take a quick look at what stepped up this year:
Innovation was abundant and it was focused around tablets, apps and cloud technologies. As expected, everywhere you turned to look there was an interactive whiteboard and some were showcasing some impressive improvements – SMART were exhibiting their Short Range Projectors which can be mounted only 50cm away from the board, meaning no more blinding lights for teachers. GloView have launched Any Surface IWB which can be used on any wall to turn it into a touch sensitive interactive whiteboard. 3D projectors like 3D Visualisation by Reach Out Interactives Ltd were another exciting development meaning that students can see objects such as a beating heart in 3D, moving it around to view all angles. Augmented reality apps also featured at the show with Samsung showing an app that scanned codes to show 3D objects that could be moved around on a 2D screen.
The range of interactive learning resources on show was incredible and we particularly enjoyed being shown around the Royal Society of Chemistry’s interactive periodic table:
Big this year was the Cloud; looming and ominous, it looks to be supplying programmers and educators with unlimited possibilities. Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 were promoting their cloud based applications. Microsoft Office 365 enables you to run Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel within your web browser – to launch the program all you need to do is log into a website. Integration with SkyDrive cloud storage and the fact that you don’t need the programs installed on your harddrive to run them means that students can access the programs and their files anywhere.
However, whilst there were lots of impressive technologies on show, this does not always translate straightforwardly into improved learning in the classroom. In November NESTA found that “costly digital technology that has the power to transform education often sits in boxes because teachers do not know how best to use it”. Chief executive Geoff Mulgan said: “The emphasis is too often on shiny hardware rather than how it is to be used.” The technology available offers so many valuable opportunities to educators and students that it cannot afford to be underutilised. The show opened with the message that technology should follow the needs of teaching and this was a theme ran throughout Bett 2013. The slogan “vision before technology” was used by Janet Hayward (Cadoxton Promary School) and Tom Rees (Simon de Senlis Primary School) as they expressed the “need to take an educational perspective as opposed to a technological approach to digital learning by training our best teachers to talk about how it benefits them and their classes’’. This is where Bett becomes all-important; events like TeachMeets allow teachers to share their experiences, favourite resources and to learn from each other. Resources such as Teachers TV, which we were very happy to see in it’s new form at the show, are vital to share knowledge and helping keep teachers up to date and informed. The countless workshops, meetings, breakout sessions and LearnLive talks that Bett facilitates provide a platform to bring together and encourage discussion between the developers, teachers and content providers. Communication on this level is vital to ensure that the exciting technological advances exhibited at the show are used to their full potential and not left clean and shiny in their boxes.
We found this infographic “The Learning Life: An Inside Look at the Habits of the Modern Student” on Faculty Focus. It was created by StudyBlue, a leading mobile study tool with more than 2 million users, using data from a survey issued November 26-30 to the company’s users aged 15-22 attending high schools and colleges across the country.
The results highlight the increasing connection between students and technology:
View infographic that accompanies this post.
In the UK we are used to accusations of being over-traditional and stuck in our ways and our education system is no exemption to this. In my final year at university I experienced the American lecturer for the first time. Lecturers from the US made fun of our class for expecting to just turn up, sit down and be lectured. They wanted a dialogue, response, audience participation – they taught us in a way that, in contrast to my previous experience, seemed almost futuristic. But I was wrong- the future of education is not in Americans making you say constructive things in lectures, apparently the future is in MOOCs. But what is a MOOC?
A ‘loser’ or a ‘moronic bonehead’? A cocktail bar in Leeds? A municipality in the Netherlands? Korean food? Or an acronym for Massive Open Online Course?. It’s the latter, but just in case that doesn’t make things clearer – MOOCs are open access courses that operate on a vast scale; available to anyone, online, for free. MOOCs are proving to be extremely popular – Coursera, which was set up by two lecturers in Stanford, has upwards of 1.5 million students from across the world enrolled and many MOOCs are attracting 10s of millions in venture capital.
In September of this year, the first students to pay £9000 a year enjoyed freshers’ week in the UK. In anticipation of this three fold increase in fees, applications earlier in the year were down by 12%. Our Higher Education system is becoming a privatised market place where education is bought as a ticket to a bigger wage packet. Meanwhile another form of higher education is emerging in the form of MOOCs. The ideology behind the MOOC is that knowledge and education should be free, available to all and sought for their own sake. The aim is to democratise education – Sebastian Thrun, founder of MOOC Udacity claims “It’s the beginning of higher education for everybody“.
But where will this divide lead? 2012 is being heralded as ‘The Year of the MOOC’ but what will 2013 hold? In the market place of higher education it appears that nothing can compete with the MOOC; they are free and open to all. In July the first UK university – the University of Edinburgh – joined the MOOC Coursera. So are MOOCs going to replace our outdated, corporatised universities? No, if we stop being scared of the success of MOOCs we can see that the two systems of higher education are not necessarily in conflict, in fact they are naturally complementary.
MOOCs need Universities. Most MOOCs host courses directly from universities. The MOOCs Udacity, edx and Coursera have all been started by lecturers or universities. It is unlikely that they would be aiming undermine themselves; more likely is that they see huge potential in elearning. These MOOCs derive credibility directly from the institutions that choose to offer courses through them. There are MOOCs that offer independent courses, most notability Khan Academy, but even these rely heavily upon universities. MOOCs are predominantly taken to supplement or refresh degrees; they are most valuable when used in this way, rather than as stand alone courses. In 2004 the UK elearning university UKeU was scrapped with officials claiming that “universities were more interested in “blended” learning involving a mixture of IT, traditional, work-based and distance learning to meet the diverse needs of students – rather than concentrating on wholly e-based learning” The Gates Foundation is a great supporter of MOOCs but their grants are mainly focused on the development of MOOCs “as a supplement to traditional courses, rather than a replacement for them”.
Equally, universities need MOOCs. MOOCS are essentially Learning Management Systems (LMSs) with the password restrictions removed. Most higher education institutions use some form of LMS to enrich teaching. For example UCL use the LMS Moodle which is accessible to all current UCL students and staff with a UCL email address. Users can use LMSs to share resources e.g. documents, handouts, videos of lectures; to communicate, to work together, to organise and structure work; and to administer online assessment.Universities can harness the potential of MOOCs to augment existing courses. The benefits of elearning cannot be denied and universities need to adapt to stay relevant. The fact that so many students are signing up to supplement their current university courses suggests that universities are missing something. Opening up courses via MOOCs benefits in-class students by producing a more diverse class for discussion and greatly improved elearning resources.
There is not just one way to learn. Everybody enjoys learning different things and in different ways. Maybe we are witnessing a new way of teaching and learning arising, but it doesn’t necessarily have to replace other ways. More choice can only be a good thing. As Stephen Downes, a MOOC founding-father stated – “MOOCs don’t change the nature of the game; they’re playing a different game entirely“.
“Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves”
Classrooms are changing. Technological advances are transforming the way that children learn, or at least are taught. This is happening fast – there are dramatic differences between my school experience and that of someone only 5 years younger. My French teacher used chalk and a blackboard to teach us our verbs, something which now seems positively prehistoric, although some teachers were more high-tech and favoured the overhead projector.
It is widely acknowledged that technology can aid learning: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt demonstrated that children who learn from an ipad version of a textbook compared to a standard paper version can score up to 20% higher on standardised tests. Through engaging children and capturing their attention with colours, videos and games, technology can improve learning with the same content just in a different format. But this applies in a school setting with teachers, so what if there are no schools and no teachers? Can technology help children to teach themselves? The organisation ‘One Laptop Per Child’ (OLPC) has teamed up with MIT to give children in Ethiopia Motorola Xoom tablet PCs. In villages with no schools and near 0% literacy rates they distributed solar powered tablets in unlabeled boxes with no instructions and monitored the results.
“Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android” Nicholas Negroponte.
So did it succeed? Can children teach themselves? They taught themselves how to use the tablets and even how to hack into Android but it is as yet unclear whether they will teach themselves to read and write. The fact that the tablets are in English rather than their own language probably won’t help. But even if the children do learn to read and write, to say that the children have ‘taught themselves’ is not strictly true. They may not have been taught by a ruler toting, glasses wearing, librarian-esque old woman but instead they are being taught by app designers and content devisors – the people who wrote and selected the “preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs” . Tablets were chosen over laptops because of their intuitive usability which captures and works with the natural curiosity of children. Features which seem intuitive to the user are heavily designed and the fact that they seem easy and natural is a result of brilliant design. The same is true of programming and writing – e-learning programs have to seem intuitive, mimicking the natural learning process to guide you through it.
Even in non-education focused games “good game designers are more like good teachers” because they need to teach you how to play the game; anticipating your possible next moves and steering you through the process without you even realising it. Subtle signaling, encouraging and gentle nudging in the right direction is the style of teaching involved here – in line with the vision of OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte “I believe that we get into trouble when knowing becomes a surrogate for learning” . It is true that in contrast to the traditional slate tablets which Victorian children used to rote learn facts, modern tablets – some even named after slates – facilitate a more exploratory and creative development but it is not true that the user is unaided in this path to discovery.
Learning is often said to be most effective when the user is given the chance to interact with the content, and when lots of users share or pool their knowledge via forums or Wikis. Online digital media has great potential as a learning tool, because it can easily fulfil these requirements for interactivity and collaboration.
A recent online education offering, which strikes a balance between quality content and user collaboration, is TEDEd. This learning platform contains a bank of video lessons which teachers are encouraged to customize according to their students’ needs, and then share with other educators. Teachers can add their own materials to original lessons; however, it is not a YouTube-style free-for-all, and videos must follow a set structure including lesson-based quizzes to maintain interactivity. But digital education is not something that appeals only to tech-savvy students. Digital learning is revolutionising continuing professional development (CPD) programmes, and the need to deliver high-quality learning that is also collaborative and interactive is just as pressing.
Most professionals are required to participate in CPD, which has traditionally involved taking time off work to attend seminars, workshops and testing. Discussions amongst colleagues, and between colleagues and speakers can make these events interactive, whilst careful selection of speakers ensures high-quality content. The main problems are time, money, and inconvenience, and the predicament of UK nursing is a case in point. Sending staff to traditional face-to-face CPD means paying for transport and event expenses, and also paying for less experienced temporary staff to cover while they are away. Nursing staff shortages are compounded by high turnover, so CPD is an ongoing burden. It is no surprise then that the Royal School of Nursing has increasingly opted for online CPD.
Online or digital courses can be taken anytime anywhere and content is broken down into short modules – this flexibility eliminates the staff exodus that occurs with traditional CPD days, and can be especially useful for remote practices whose staff are often isolated from the academic centres where face-to-face CPD takes place. Digital CPD may also encourage interaction from those who would otherwise have taken a back seat, such as more reserved learners who may be disadvantaged by face-to-face learning. In addition, if the programmes are offered in different languages, then language barriers for immigrant workers will be eroded.
In fact, online and digital CPD has swept through the professions: lawyers, opticians, and even swimming instructors. Many of the programmes are accredited by the professional body; in other words, taking part allows the user to earn credits which help to fulfil CPD requirements. CPD credits are often awarded on the basis of an end-of-module quiz during which learners can test their knowledge and clarify any misunderstandings thanks to corrective feedback.
Not only is digital CPD changing the way the user interacts with the learning content, the interaction between user and content provider and vice-versa is also changing. After completing a CPD module, users are often invited to fill out an anonymous feedback survey – you’ll notice the ‘Take Survey’ icon on the screengrab of the DOCET app – and this can only help to improve the quality of content. However, in future, users may also find themselves the target of digital marketing if content providers allow advertisers to exploit the captive audience that the CPD users represent. So, opticians may come across adverts encouraging them to offer particular brands of contact lenses to their clients for example. If digital CPD providers wanted to become open access, then there is the potential for digital marketing revenues to fund the free content. Examples of high quality, accredited, and open access CPD courses are hard to come by; however, there are examples of reputable open access learning opportunities in other fields. Take for example the ‘Stanford Engineering Everywhere’ free online engineering classes.
Whether or not the future of CPD is open access, online and digital CPD may need to get even more interactive if it is to compete for quality with face-to-face CPD. Traditional CPD still has the advantage of being able to network and debate with colleagues as well as ask questions to leading experts. To match this experience, online CPD may need to become more social and collaborative as well as more interactive. This could involve secure professional forums and perhaps live webchat sessions with experts. At the same time, quality needs to be maintained so that the courses continue to be accredited for CPD points. Even if this is implemented, there will still be areas of learning that are best served by face-to-face interaction, such as the practical components of the medical professions. For example, CPD for physiotherapists continues to be achieved by on the job appraisal and by individuals reflecting on their own practice to identify points for improvement. Nevertheless, buoyed by the current climate of cost-cutting, digital CPD will be used more and more extensively. Fortunately, reduced cost need not imply reduced quality – a well executed digital CPD programme has the potential to be an interactive, flexible and accessible experience.
Most of you will be familiar with Foursquare, which allows its users to check-in at various places around town, and share favourite locations with their friends in real-time, while they’re already at the pub, the park or the gig. The point is to connect friends and places with one another – a bit of ‘planned serendipity’, the buzzwords so frequently tossed around by the architects of this and similar services.
Facebook has decided to enter the location-sharing social media market. The company has unveiled a new feature it calls ‘Places’, which functions a little like Foursquare, but with more emphasis on sharing the quality and stories related to particular experiences, in particular places, with particular people, particularly. The first concern which normally emerges with applications like Foursquare and Facebook Places is, naturally, privacy: Is my every location being broadcast to complete strangers? Will I be digitally cased by prospective thieves who know when I’m home and when I am not? Or, rather than being held up at a late-night meeting in lieu of attending her exhibition opening, will my girlfriend accidentally find out that I’m in the pub with my mates through an automatic check-in notification? Don’t let the specificity of the last example mislead you – these are just a few hypotheticals to meditate on (but for the record, the late-night meeting DID take place).
Nevertheless, there’s no question that over-sharing in social media is the result of both the products and services themselves – and how they’re used. Shortly after Foursquare’s release, a campaign called ‘Please Rob Me’ launched. This site did nothing more than aggregate publicly shared check-ins upon its launch, but its name and the design of the website (for would-be robbers and thieves to see who isn’t home) illustratrated its real purpose: to educate people on some of the more dangerous effects of location-sharing.
Point taken. But defenders of services like Foursquare and the newly-minted Facebook Places also are right to point out that the privacy risk is generally based on how these services are used – and the way users configure their privacy settings. Besides, is it any more dangerous than telling someone you have a 9-5 job in town? Or updating your Facebook status to let people know you’re on holiday in Spain? In some ways, no – although the ability for Facebook users to check their friends in without their permission is one issue centred on by critics.
While discussion of these location-sharing services is generally dominated by privacy and the dos-and-don’ts of trumpeting one’s every movement (bowel included), it was actually the words “planned serendipity” used briefly in the marketing video demonstration of Facebook Places which struck me. In fact, they bothered me. Why, beyond the fact of their wilfil self-contradiction, did they bother me? The short answer: because serendipity is fun as it is.
Serendipity is one of the things in life I tend to embrace. How often is it the case that the best people you meet, the most interesting facts, the most engaging events, the most enjoyable and fulfilling jobs you undertake, are happened upon by a seemingly random series of events? Serendipity has also served me well when it hasn’t produced the most satisfying or enjoyable outcomes. All the accidental wrong-turns and (so it seems at the time) dead-ends I’ve encountered in my life, figuratively and often literally, were enriching experiences because (I’d like to think) I’ve learned from them and grew as a result. Failure, which is almost never planned for, is one of the most enriching experiences one can have – even if it may not seem like that at the time.
Colleagues and friends of mine claim they use Foursquare more often than not to see what places to avoid: a certain ex has checked in to the Starbucks down the street; a work colleague – to whom a report is owed – just checked in to the restaurant at which you were planning to eat; and so forth. The downside of being constantly aware of the location of your ‘friends’ (in Facebook parlance – not to be confused with actual friends, obviously) might be the impact this has on your choice to seek out or avoid certain spaces.
Contrary to the intent of its architects, Foursquare – when used like this – does exactly the opposite of what it originally set out to do: open the doors to all kinds of new experiences, and connect them through a variety of overlapping networks. Facebook Places attempts to emphasize the attachment of stories and experiences to various locations – like a running review of existence. The service hasn’t landed in the UK yet so it’s a bit early to tell whether or not it will be used in a more interesting way than comparable predecessors.
A close friend of mine who teaches adult education in Canada is trying to use Foursquare as a force for good, with fairly positive results. His students – all of whom have BlackBerrys, iPhones and Android devices – receive points each time they check in at a museum or art gallery around town, but they can only collect and exchange those points – largely in the form of Starbucks gift certificates – by volunteering a five to ten minute presentation on an exhibit or feature piece at one of these places. Many of his students do in fact visit these places – and use Foursquare to see if their friends are checking (in and) out (of) the same spots as well.
It’s not quite planned serendipity, but as a result of his little experiment the number of half-open bloodshot eyes visible during the early morning portion of his class has dropped by over half. Like myself, he hopes that someone will produce an application that brings serendipity back to location-sharing social media products – kind of like if stumbleupon, Facebook and Foursquare had a baby. Facebook Places is in the early stages of its conception – perhaps this is the child we’ve been looking for.
Even the most casual visitor to the blogosphere will by now have read about Chatroulette, the website which indiscriminately matches strangers with each other and allows them to conduct webcam-assisted conversations. Disconcertingly for anyone writing about Chatroulette, there is no consensus on its relationship with capitalisation and spacing (Chat Roulette? ChatRoulette? Chatroulette? I’ve gone with the latter (obviously)). Created and run by Andrey Ternovskiy, a 17-year-old Russian student from Moscow, the site was estimated to have had 30 million unique users worldwide in February.
Most of the media coverage of Chatroulette – and there has been a lot of media coverage – seems to have focused on what one blogger calls “the masturbatory aspect of Internet expressiveness”. And, sure enough, a cursory visit to the site can be an unsettling experience for those among us whose idea of entertainment is anything other than watching the graphic onanism of a faceless 19-year-old from Wisconsin.
But others have been using the site more creatively. A number of Chatroulette-based games have become popular – while Merton the improv pianist has become, in his own slightly arrogant words, “a cultural phenomenon”. Meanwhile the imaginatively-named Cat Man has used augmented reality to good effect (as one chat partner says, “IT’S VERY NICE”), and one mischievous user has been taking her partner’s video stream, mirroring it back to them and then recording their reaction. Head bopping is the most common response, apparently. Make of that what you will.
The word “random” is bandied around these days with a regularity that if not alarming is certainly irritating, but Chatroulette is a rare worthy recipient of the adjective. And this randomness is the site’s greatest asset and its greatest flaw. The ease with which users can switch from partner to partner and instantly connect to people on the other side of the world is what makes the site appealing. But it also makes it unsafe for children and faintly pointless for adults.
As Larry Magid has pointed out, Chatroulette – or the idea behind it – has great educational potential. Children can speak to people in Afghanistan about their experiences of the War on Terror – or to women in Iran about life there. Israelis can speak to Palestinians. Creatives experimenting with QR codes or iPad software can learn from people in Japan or the US about these technologies. All these things were possible on the web already, of course, but the introduction of a video element brings people closer together – and this is a powerful thing. The draconian authorities in China have yet to ban Chatroulette, so it is providing a rare opportunity for the inhabitants of the world’s most populous nation to speak openly with Westerners directly and in confidence from the comfort of their homes. But as long as the user has no control over their chat partner, such edifying Chatroulette encounters are the exception rather than the rule.
And this leads to the other significant characteristic of Chatroulette conversation: anonymity. If randomness is one pillar of the site, anonymity is the other. There are no logins, no registration process, no name display – and people love it. Nick Bilton believed the success of the site “signals a nascent desire for anonymity online”. I’m not sure Bilton is right to describe this desire for anonymity as nascent – the anonymity provided by online chat rooms has been attracting many users since their 1990s heyday. In this sense, Chatroulette is not the future of the internet, but its past.
Either way, as with its randomness, Chatroulette’s anonymity is a blessing and a curse. The site is unsafe for children and its anonymity means that users tend to behave in ways they might otherwise not – hence the unsavoury scenes from Wisconsin. As Sarita Yardi, a doctoral candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology who studies the role of technology in teenagers’ lives, puts it, “Right now it’s kind of like an online Lord of the Flies.”
Magid suggests the introduction of channels so users can filter chat partners by things like subject matter, language and region. If these changes were implemented, it would no longer be Chatroulette, of course. If each participant in a game of Russian roulette knew which chamber contained the bullet, and chose whether to load that one or not, it would slightly defy the point. And in some ways, allowing users control over their partners would defy the point of Chatroulette. But the idea and the technology could certainly be used for educational purposes. With logins, channels, moderation and supervision, a video chat site could be a great resource to afford people an insight into the lives of others whom they would never encounter otherwise.
Some safeguards have already been put in place by Chatroulette spin-offs like Chatroulette Map, which ties users to their location. RandomDorm is Chatroulette for US college students, and requires them to log in using a verified college email address. But neither harnesses the educational potential of the medium. Until a site can get the security right and the user numbers up, Chatroulette and its various spin-offs will be like so many things on the web: nothing more than a fun way of wasting time. In the words of Cat Man’s chat buddy, it’s very nice – but that’s about it.
Courtesy of blogefl on flickr.com