Podcast talk-fest at Create World 2008

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase, source unknown

I spent a few days recently at the Apple University Consortium (AUC) Create World held at Griffith U in Brisbane Australia. I was part of a podcast team headed by Allan Carrington and Ian Green from Adelaide University.

I managed to get some interviews with various presenters and participants in conference sessions, and thought I’d link to the interviews that I did right here.

  • The Importance of Being Earmarked. Brett Muray talks about crafting an interactive theatre piece where a ‘booby-trapped’ set responded to light, movement and sound.
  • iTunesU: the growing fan club. Lorraine Harker on the good stuff about using one of Apple’s new services for higher education in Australia and NZ.
  • Second Life as an arts education environment. Jason Zagami on the results of a study into the use of Second Life to teach arts concepts to pre-service primary school teachers.
  • Gaming? Consider the Possibilities. Luke Toop talks about the way online games can be turned into learning environments.
  • Cinematic Theatre. Marwell Presents (Steven Maxwell and Brad Jennings) talk about their productions and the conventions used in what they call ‘cinematic theatre’ or the blending of live action and video.
  • Using iWeb as a tool for e-portfolios. Jenny Mundey talks about the way pre-professionals in training can prepare their portfolios to show their ability to reflect upon their professions-to be.

There are lots more of course done by Allan and Ian as well as from Cat Hope from Edith Cowan University in WA. Check out the podcast program of AUC Create World 2008 blogsite here.

It was a talk-fest all right, just the way a conference should be. Why not extend the chat. Add your ideas and comments on the blog or as they say, ‘Be part of the wisdom.’

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Do real bloggers tweet?

I took this photo of my :en:iPhone and its SIM...Image via Wikipedia

Are you blogging more and enjoying it less? No … OK, are you twittering more and blogging less? Or does twittering/tweeting count as blogging/micro-blogging? Is there a trend developing here? Does it really matter?

My own rhythm of online communication and blogging in the past couple of months has altered a lot. Well, OK, I’ve been away but still. It all started with Seesmic video posts and comments, and has continued with Twitter. And don’t even start me on Friend Feed … no seriously, I love Friend Feed. You can probably detect a note of mild guilt between the lines. You know, the guilt about frivolity being a bad thing! And seriously, Twitter and Seesmic are fun!

This little video below on how or why some folks use Twitter is interesting and not only for the number using iPhones. Fact is, I am micro-blogging/commenting more and blogging in the original sense of the word … less. Time to ponder on the outcome.

I’m thinking the fun factor comes from the immediacy of the social media … blogging is more considered and yes, takes longer to do … no bad thing of course! It can also be very lonely … no feedback, no sense of community. Twitter and Seesmic are anything but lonely. There’s always someone hanging out ready for a conversation or comment. Maybe that’s it. Social network platforms are increasingly becoming easier to use as they evolve technologically and become sophisticated. Now that’s good design. From the aesthetic point of view, I find sophistication in design to be inherently attractive.

Whatever … I will continue to use whichever media suits my purpose, but I suspect my blogging posts … which get sucked into (aggregated) Friend Feed will change in style as a result.

How Do You Use Twitter? from biz stone on Vimeo.

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My e-learning report card

Report Card

It’s that time of year when assessment, exams and reporting on student progress take precedence over more mundane matters. I thought I’d take the time out to check through my own progress and outcomes in the use of e-learning materials this semester. Apologies in advance, as it’s a biggish post, and I had thought about breaking it down in smaller, bite-sized chunks. I’ve ended up making it part of a new series I’m calling Getting Going in e-learning.

So what have I used, how did the experience pan out? Here are most of the e-learning tools I’ve used for various learning and teaching projects:

Moodle My school took on the Moodle course management system for the first time this year. After a couple of training sessions offered by the university’s IT, I played in the Moodle sandbox and set up my course home pages and learning resources. Moodle became the hub of many, but not all of the apps and services I used this semester.

Moodle’s a long way from the Web-CT push technology we’ve been used to for some years in course management systems. For a start, the ability for an individual teacher to customise the look and way course materials are presented is a big advantage. However Moodle’s skeleton remains sufficiently rigid to please the centralist tendencies of IT administrators.

Moodle is pleasantly easy to work with once the format for writing pages, and uploading and organising files is understood. One of its best features is being able to write an email note to one student or to the entire class and to have it delivered into student-specified email boxes. Likewise they can write to me and have the mail land in my mail box of choice. I’ve chosen to have a daily digest format delivered at day’s end; this way I can keep track of student requests and all course activity on a regular basis. What I really enjoy is not having to log in to your Study Desk to access email in individual courses. In fact, time is saved and productivity enhanced through not having to click endlessly to get to where you need to be to do what you want.

One of my goals was to make the first view that students have of their course home page a pleasant and welcoming one.

Design matters

One of my courses is offered entirely in external mode, and I spent a good couple of weeks assembling resources into topics and weekly activities. These included visual images, sound files, hotlinks to videos, websites and quizzes. After loading these files up to the Moodle platform I sat back and waited for the rush of students eager to join in the e-learning experience. Reader, I waited in vain. They poked around in a desultory fashion, didn’t want to engage in forums (asynchronous discussions) or join in scheduled weekly synchronous chat sessions which were organised around the week’s topic. It felt like I’d thrown a party and no one had come. After the first essay results were in, I offered to lead an online writing intensive for anyone who wanted to join in. I got 3 takers. No show. (F)

Now why was this I asked? What’s the resistance here? Well the fact is that except for a few of the early uptakers and the curious, most preferred to rely on the old, known resources … study materials provided in their paper based external study package. External students are often busy people studying part-time, so part of the transitional strategy had to include consideration of time-saving. I teach a couple of other mixed-mode and purely on-campus mode courses, and had prepared similar course homepages with enrichment materials and study advice. In these latter on-campus and mixed mode offerings, I had to encourage students to get online and try for themselves. My findings were that students continue to prefer lecture notes or handouts obtained in class.

I found most internal and external student expectations of online learning materials were confined to the ubiquitous Powerpoint stack

Those students who checked out my course sites were delighted to find weekly podcasts either as ‘trailers’ for the next topic lecture or podcast-lectures presented in 15-20 minute episodes as well as the Keynote slidestack (pdf). Just as a sidenote, I’m experimenting with strongly visual materials to aid retention of concepts and key themes. I’m heavily influenced by Garr Reynolds and his work on Presentation Zen. Do check out his take on what he calls ‘slideuments.’ It’s worth a read and a check against one’s own teaching presentations. Summed up, it’s all about context: slides are slides and documents are documents, and we shouldn’t mix them together.

Marking online has been a new and pleasantly positive experience for me. I urged the braver student souls in one class to submit their final major essays via the Study Desk. In external mode courses, most submissions will be delayed by several days from submission by the student, through the marking process to return from the university after grades have been entered. I’m delighted to report that most of the class took advantage of my suggestion, but very few didn’t follow up with an email asking whether the essay had been received … anxiety you see! Marking using Word’s reviewing tool bar with tracking changes switched on meant I could annotate the essays quickly and clearly. With only 2 or 3 clicks I was able to return the essays and have the marks sent through to Gradebook. The students then received an automatically generated follow-up email. Neat. (A+ for productivity and ease of use)

We’re in transition here in terms of study materials provision. With the push for student e-portfolios coming hard, it’s imperative that well-designed and presented study materials be prepared for offering on line or via digital media. Until then and until students are engaged positively in using online systems, feel comfortable and confident with their use, I doubt they will be enthused about switching from the tried and true. (A for effort, but a B in outcomes)

Blogging Again this year I introduced a new class of students to blogging as reflective practice during a creative arts production project. I wanted them to learn how to blog and to share their reflections on work with one another. I chose the Edublogs platform because it had the administrative capacity I wanted; I’d used Blogger last year and each student had created individual blogs. This resulted in more work for me as I had to log on to up to 20 blogs when perusing student posts. I hadn’t considered feed readers back then; now that’s something I’ve learned in a year.

This time I decided that I wanted everyone to post and comment in the same place, so I set up a class blog and created individual pages within it for each of the students. The front page was designed to share general findings and for me to write posts and to call for comment. Students would keep their own production reflective journal on their individual pages. In time they learned the difference between logging on via the back end of the blog and writing a page, or posting a comment. It was a very useful exercise and results from this were positive from students: ‘Yes I’ll use a blog again’; ‘It was simple to extract quotes for my final report’. Most had never blogged before this project requirement. (B)

I self-host on WordPress.org and maintain another blog to which I often refer students for posts. (A for modelling and reference)

Google Docs This is the current app of choice for a creative writing project for final year acting majors that I teach with a colleague. Students work across the semester on scripting and then presenting a 20 minute one-person show. The advantages of having one place to collaborate and stay updated on the script (formatted to industry standards) and to refer back to earlier drafts is just great. Scripts can be worked up to the last minute and are instantly available for print out. (A+)

Flickr I set up a group to collect images for use in the production project (above) and once again many students had not used Flickr or realised its creative potential. With the discovery of Flickr, there was a useful opportunity to discuss copyright and Creative Commons licensing of an individual’s work.

Creative Commons comes as a revelation and a strongly debated discussion point with future artists and creatives.


Facebook also provided the opportunity for students to create an event in order to market their production projects. In the entertainment and arts industry Facebook is becoming more and more popular as the way to promote performance-based events. (B+/A)

Garageband This had been my choice for creating enchanced podcasts i.e., podcasts with accompanying images and sound effects … what you lose in production time, you gain with a polished product at the end. However, given the time factor as well as the problem some students have in accessing or converting mp4 files, I’ve come round to recording audio-only podcasts on my lightweight Olympus DM-20 digital recorder. Files then upload easily and quickly via Moodle. Students can either listen online or download to their own mp3 devices. (A)

YouTube Now this is one app that doesn’t need talking up with students. Most use it pretty regularly, but making the leap from online entertainment to learning resource needs guiding. I linked videos to blog posts as discussion tools, and encouraged students to do likewise. (B+-A)

Summary I’m settling into a pattern with my use of Web 2.0 tools. Blogs are becoming my writing tool of choice for class and individual reflections with Google Docs out there for collaboration on individual student projects. Linking to Flickr and YouTube within posts beefs up the potential for discussion within the blog. Moodle is here to stay within the university system, and finding a way to integrate blogging within this platform will be the next step in creating a one-stop for students to work online. At the moment blogging is not available within Moodle.

And I see iTunes U has come to Australia this week. Wonder how that will work out?

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Reflections on a month …

William-Adolphe Bouguereau's La leçon difficule (The Difficult Lesson).

Image via Wikipedia

Nearly at the end now, and days 29-31 have been about wrapping up the 31 Day Comment Challenge. The final 3 days focus on the learnings: to prepare a commenting guide for students, to consider how learnings from this commenting project could change one’s teaching practices, and finally … to reflect on what we’ve learned from the challenge.

I have to say that the task of preparing a commenting guide for students is more difficult than I’d imagined. I know that students do know how to comment, can comment if they want to, or if the encouragement to do so … the incentive is sufficiently meaningful, and if the atmosphere is conducive to discussion. The challenge is to make the horses drink once you’ve brought them to the water.

Now I teach in the world of the performing arts where expressive, imaginative commenting out loud is almost a given; most of these students have the confidence to contribute their opinions in a lively and engaging way. I also teach non-performance majors in arts history courses. Encouraging these students to contribute in live tutorial sessions often proves difficult … especially if the class is shared with a group of voluble actors or musicians. The challenge with a live class is to generate a good discussion, to enable commenting from everyone who wishes to contribute … not all do of course … and not let one or two dominate the session. Useful to remember though that it’s OK to lurk … you can learn this way too.

Now when it comes to interacting online, I remain convinced that for most students, their insecurity about technology, lack of access or poor net connection, along with anxiety about the concreteness of words really do prevent the kind of free-flowing discussion that we like to encourage. Further inhibitions could come from the fact that you can’t read body-language in words on a screen, and can’t see a face or hear vocal tone … think how the simple upward inflection at the end of a statement actually encourages further comment. And that’s not the same as a question mark on the screen.

Yesterday I had a scheduled tutorial session which followed on the previous day’s lecture. It was a cold day and the class was sluggish as they entered the room. I wondered whether creating a playful but purposeful environment mightn’t warm them up. So I applied the kind of approach more often found in a rehearsal room. I asked a student (an acting major) whether she could run the discussion as tutor for the day … to be provocative, outspoken if necessary, and to encourage comment. She went immediately into role as ‘lecturer’ and it worked far better than I’d hoped. Students relaxed … I felt the fear factor diminished … I wasn’t out front for a start … and the discussion rolled along even amongst the quieter contributors. This strategy worked ‘live’ but I wondered whether throwing responsibility to one of the group mightn’t work in the same way in stimulating online discussion. Variety as the spice and all.

What else have I learned from the challenge to change or value-add to my teaching practices? The tension between the ideal and reality in the use of online digital media has surfaced on an almost-daily basis in comments. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise the potential of e-learning, but like many I am frustrated by the slow uptake and even resistance to it … from colleagues as well as students. I realise the necessity to tread softly but persistently and judiciously as I model and mentor learning in this 21st century medium. And to be patient.

5 Learnings

  1. I’ve learned more about what I’ve been calling the commenting fear factor. It appears that we are still sufficiently anxious to be wary of putting our opinions out there. As a result, we’re perhaps less likely to comment than we should; a bad experience via a comment has the potential to do a lot of damage. And … people are less secure about commenting via video (technology, personal vulnerability) than they are about commenting per se. Will video and audio commenting develop? Yes.
  2. I’ve been reminded of the power of one comment to revive a flagging spirit. Someone out there is reading or watching, or listening, and thought enough of what was said to take the time to engage.
  3. What I’ve experienced has been the reinforcement of one of the greatest strengths we have as teacher-learners, and that is our capacity to generate and nurture a community of practice … whether online as in this project, or live and face to face. This lessons of this challenge have reinforced for me the necessity of collegial support amongst educators … by encouraging and supporting a colleague next door or down the hall; by engaging in a discussion in the lunch room, or by posting a video or written comment in a blog from a colleague half a world away. What matters is that we keep talking, sharing, and valuing contributions.
  4. I’ve been reminded of the power a well-designed tool has to encourage or turn off a learner. I don’t like design that’s flaky or loud with ads … sorry CoComment, it just didn’t do it for me! And I’m not convinced yet by Snapvine (audio). Seesmic is here to stay.
  5. I work better in my busy life in short, focussed or intensive bursts of work. For this reason, I would like shorter challenges … say a 5 or 10 day rather than a whole 31 days of tasks.

What will stay with me from this experience? Posts from a few new blog discoveries will continue to arrive in my feed reader. I’ve met up with and traded ideas with some wonderful thinkers, writers, and creative souls during the past month, and I’d like to continue this engagement.  I’ve received so much valuable, direct and indirect feedback, support and advice on my writing and on the tone and substance of my comments. My thanks to all of you. I look forward to continuing the discussion.

Hello June … and welcome winter to the southern hemisphere.

Comments as Inspiration

Where to begin on this one? I seem to have done little apart from read comments this week, and then trackback to the blog posts that spawned them. That was an interesting exercise in itself, and as is the way of blogs, one of Tony Karrer’s recent posts on eLearning Technology tracked me back to relevant comments from a couple of years back. The central topic was whether or not blogging should be mandatory for students and colleagues in education. It was a nice provocative question-based post.

OK that started the juices flowing for me … a bit of serendipity at work perhaps. Last week I spent a day with colleagues on a faculty retreat. We talked about many things including the need to embrace the arrival of e-learning, training requirements, and its introduction and development within the academic environment.

To the best of my knowledge very, very few of my colleagues blog. I’d wager many couldn’t define the term. I’ve also just come off a project with a class of students … one that required them to reflect on a daily or weekly basis on the work using blogging as a tool. I set up a class blog containing a page per student in addition to the front page, where everyone could post what they fancied about the project … this was usually me with my own comments, observations, focus statements, and video embeds to get them thinking. They could make their own page password protected or not … share or not; a couple wanted to create their own outside the class arena, and did so quite successfully. I’d visit and continue the conversation with each student on a regular basis. Anyhow I won’t go into details, but the results are in this week via individual wrap-up submissions on the project learnings.

So was blogging ‘mandatory’ for this exercise? Yes, but one or two students (as is the way of any class) didn’t do so. They kept written journals but forwent the conversation that blogging encourages. What did emerge in the student reflections was a general endorsement of blogging as an appropriate tool for this particular exercise at least.

The same comments series that got me trawling also mentioned colleagues’ use of blogging as a potential tool for sharing progress in current research projects, or attendance at conferences. This got me thinking. Given the general disinterest in this tool by faculty, would the cause of e-learning be assisted by forcing the horses to drink? Should blogging be mandatory? Perhaps not … any dictate from management is guaranteed to get your average academic back up. But would the by-product of this carrot and stick approach encourage productivity? Probably. Would it be useful? Heck yes. It would also be a relatively painless way of generating communities of practice … a buzzword right now in my neck of the woods but seemingly well nigh impossible to realise. ‘Too busy … too hard!” You’ve heard it all. The rebuttal to the no time-why do I need it line was a delightful other post from Tony Karrer in 2006: 10 Top Reasons to Blog and 10 Not to Blog. Check them out. They’re pretty much spot on.

What stuck with me was the bottom-line advice to get your priorities right and manage your time better … and as far as it’s being too hard … well, don’t be a little wuss. That sent me smiling into work this morning.

Reader Appreciation Day: it’s the blogger not the blog

Thank You

It’s (late) on blog reader appreciation day, and I wanted to say thanks to everyone out there for your part in making my adventures in e-learning such a rewarding experience. The ‘Dear Reader’ was often acknowledged in those great 19th century novels; the Misses Bronte and others knew how powerful an incentive the readerly eyes out there are to the writer. You’ve kept me focussed and on the job. Today I wanted to share a couple of the staging posts, and changes in the journey with you … by way of appreciation.

I’ve been writing this blog in various guises for over a year now. In fact its first post is dated December 11 2006 and begins with the lines

This is a blog I have been promising myself for a while. A blog where I can simply chart the happenings of each day, the curiosities that emerge, the lovely things and the sad, the intriguing and the rolling pattern of the seasons of my life.

Well after this lofty and romantic-sounding aim, the blog’s focus changed a bit over the following months. I found myself charting so much, so many angles, that the blog became unfocussed, rambling, and let’s face it, of less interest to others than to my own indulgent tendency … a little like a lady’s diary for reading ‘something sensational on the train’ (thanks Oscar Wilde).

What gradually emerged was an emphasis on new media, especially the potential of the platform of blogging itself for what I came to call e-learning. And so by this time last year, I noticed that many of my posts were talking about how I was using blogging in education … mine and my own students. A focus had emerged; time for a change of title and by-line and an active engagement with the e-learning community through blog searches. In rolled the social media bandwagon in its wake: Facebook and My Space, Twitter, Jing, and Tumblr. I’ve tried them all. A new phrase entered my consciousness: Web 2.0. It opened up the giddy world of open-source, free and flexible education, design, blogging platforms (hello WordPress) as well as opening up the whole box and dice of online communication. I was hooked!

This new engagement with blogging revealed a treasure trove of similar adventurers, and so began what I like to think of as ‘my’ ongoing global community of practice (CoP). As an academic I am mindful of the necessity to continue one’s scholarship and research; blogging has become a way for me to keep writing, and to get feedback and peer-reviews (aka comments). Last year, and as a result of this developing interest in the field of e-learning, I trialled new Mac hardware and software, wrote several papers, gave as many conference presentations, and extended the CoP even further.

However, the seminal event in my life as a blogger so far was the 31 Days to a Better Blog Challenge which Problogger Darren Rowse initiated last August. I wrote about this intensive learning experience in Building a New Blog as I emerged blinking into a new day on the road. Thanks Darren. During August and the challenge, I met blogger colleagues who remain part of my circle of inspiring writers and fellow travellers. I want to thank especially Michele Martin of The Bamboo Project; the amazingly energetic Sue Waters of Edublogger and web-developer Laura Whitehead of Laura’s Notebook.

Blogging is about conversation …and whilst content is king, it’s the blogger behind the blog that is the driving energy, voice and hook.

Other discoveries included the fabulous Merlin Mann of 43 Folders whose wit, erudition and all round savvy as far as productivity and working online has kept me laughing and sane. I also can’t live without my weekly fix of geekery with the guys on the Macbreak Weekly podcast; they don’t know it, but they’ve driven many miles with me and opened up the potential of podcasting in ways I hadn’t thought about. I love it when guys get passionate about bandwidth, backups and stuff!

Oh I could go on … and it would become probably an unmanageable post and certainly, if you have read to this point … can I say sincere thanks. Please stick with me, dear reader … the journey and our conversations will continnue, but in other posts. Hasta la vista!