TAG | learning
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.
Just a quick one, but I felt this needed more than a single line in the feed on our homepage. I had an illuminating meeting at the Leading Edge programme at the SSAT this Monday. It’’s rare that you meet someone in such total agreement with you as to what technology can do in the classroom, and I would have walked away sufficiently impressed by that occurrence alone were it not for the little demo I got of the SSAT’’s learn AR tool. You”d think that AR in the classroom would start off as a gimmick but for the most part this stuff goes beyond just allowing students to visualise things more clearly – it allows them to do things they might not otherwise be able to.
Cue a Geiger counter experiment (can”t get a screenshot for love or money) that some schools can”t carry out because they can”t get hold of the right materials: 1 marker for the counter, 1 marker for the radioactive source, and another to represent whatever you””re putting between them to compare the absorption of different materials. Engaging, safe, cheap, magic. Not surprised it was a hit at BETT.
“Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words” – Shailesh Nalawadi, Product Manager for Google Goggles.
Google’s new Goggles project allows users to gain access to information about an item or location simply by pointing their phone at it. So the phone can connect to reviews of a restaurant, the history of a landmark, or price comparisons for a book – all without any text having been inputted.
The technology works in conjunction with a mobile phone camera; the user takes a photograph of an object and the application scans it, comparing elements of that digital image against its database of images. When it finds a match, Google tells the user the name of what they’re looking at, and provides a list of results linking through to the relevant web pages and news stories.
The results can then be saved as a history, allowing the user to refer back to these links of interest. As the results are programmed to be relevant and are adjusted to each object: if the user takes a photo of an artwork, the results include the artist’s biography; whereas for a landmark, the phone provides historical background information.
Google Goggles also uses optical character recognition to identify text, allowing items such as business cards to be snapped and scanned to make phone calls and to add as a contact in your phone directory. Some results don’t even require a photo to be taken due to integration of GPS, augmented reality and digital compass technology. Simply pointing the phone at a location (a business or shop for example) allows the app to place a button with the company name at the bottom of the screen. This can then be touched to load information from a web search.
Google Goggles demonstrates the potential for computer vision technology, but it is not at its full strength yet (hence it is being released by Google Labs). At the moment users will be able to lookup things like CD, DVD and book covers, wines, barcodes, businesses, artworks, logos and landmarks with great success but other objects will not work so well. Cars, animals and food are still in need of development to be photographically understood. Despite the immaturity of the technology, Google states that Goggles can recognise tens of millions of objects and places.
Google also claims that the technology has the potential for face recognition. So in theory a mobile phone could provide personal information on anyone in its viewfinder. Clearly this raises some pretty major privacy issues – and there are currently no plans to release this feature of Goggles. As Vic Gundotra, Google’s Vice-President of Engineering, has said, “We still want to work on the issues of user opt-in and control. We have the technology to do the underlying face recognition, but we decided to delay that until safeguards are in place.”
With this new technology comes exciting prospects for education. Visual search allows for a more interactive and creative form of learning; education can be taken outside the classroom without the need to carry text books for reference. And the fact that these searches can be stored in a history allows for retaining and referring back to this knowledge later.
For example, a class could visit an art gallery on a school trip and simply take photos of the exhibits without having to make a note of the artist. This allows for a liberated experience not tied to pens and paper. Web links generated by these photos would allow a student to purchase a(n e-)book about the artist before they have even left the gallery.
This mobile learning style could engender a sense of adventure and exploration while still linking learners to reference material. Classes could strolls around a new city, capturing images to discover the history of buildings and landmarks. Google Labs state in their accompanying video that they envisage Google Goggles being able to discover the species of plant from a leaf. An added bonus to this visual search ensures that the students need not worry about spelling mistakes and the phrasing of searches in order to gain the results that they require.
Neither the technology behind the application nor the concept is entirely new. Quick Response (QR) codes are two-dimensional barcodes which link to online content when the user takes a photo of one on their camera phone. A simple piece of software enables the phone read the URL encoded within the QR code, and the user is taken directly to that site in the mobile browser.
Image-based searching isn’t completely new either. Prior attempts at the technology include Nokia’s Point and Find and Amazon’s image recognition search released in October. The most similar product on the market is an application called IQ Engines. But this has a much more commercial focus – connecting mobile users with reviews, prices and purchase links. It remains to be seen whether Google can bring the technology into the mainstream.