Category Archives: Technical platform

What you get? Tea Lab

What you test. You get what you inspect not what you expect. That said, tonight I tested my webcam and the podium computer in Brookes Boardroom 1 where we are hosting Tea Lab tomorrow. I was fully expecting it not to work on at least three fronts: the composite USB webcam/microphone, the room audio output to speakers, and the Java version. But, today it worked! So what can I do but hope that the same fates attend tomorrow. Now just to think about how to let it happen.

Musing on simultaneous remote presence for T-Lab

We (OK, I) made a bold (OK, foolish) assertion that T-Lab meetings would be live broadcast for those who wanted to participate remotely.

This could be achieved with various solutions:

  • a Wimba Classroom in a Moodle site as long as the kit in Boardroom 1 can handle it. AND as long as people could get into the Moodle without too much hassle.
    • Is there a web cam in BR1 or can one be installed easily?
    • Can Wimba work outside Moodle?
  • a Google Hangout live streamed to YouTube (which I have seen work once and fail spectacularly once)
    • But can we do this with our Google Apps for Education?
  • a Bb Collaborate session on Sylvia Currie’s SCOPE community
  • LiveStream through my LiveStream account (flakey with the personal free version)

Ideally I would like the G+ Hangout solution. But can we do this in our G Apps for Education set-up?

A note on badges

On FSLT13 Badges were  awarded for completion of each of the four activities. Participants who wanted to collect the FSLT13 badgesl needed to register and enrol on the Moodle – AND needed to sign up for a Mozilla Backpack. Badges do not carry any academic credit but are a fun way to signal engagement with the course. Badges were be awarded using the WP Badger plug-in for WordPress, which implements the Mozilla open badges framework, Mozilla Backpack and Persona.

Why badges? We are doing this course to explore some of the developments on the cutting edge of contemporary learning and teaching practice. Badges for lifelong learning are on this rapidly approaching horizon: see Mozilla Open Badges Blog, HASTAC What’s on your badge list, and James Michie’s excellent and balanced presentation on badges on his Open Online Course #crit101.

Launch of the OLDS MOOC

Well things didn’t look promising at 1600. Cloudworks database error, and YouTube livestream not streaming. The QT feed from the OU worked. But the uni-directional presentation with no back channel or discussion forum (well there is Twitter!) made it a bit well… lacking?

Twitter was sort of engaged but mostly with the tech problems for the first 40 min or so, not the ideas. But after about 40 min the tech comments died away as many left the room. Then there were some interesting questions and a few conversational turns.

Design as an issue was something Jane Seal, I and others addressed a few years back (in Seal et al 2007). Through the fog of technology there were some interesting points made.

It always seems to me that LD and instructional design and some key players in this MOOC do believe that the teachers role is to control learning. That is the technology is used intentionally to intermediate the relationship between teacher and learner rather than to disintermediate that relationship. I accept that disintermediation is impossible. But design can be used to make explicit or to obscure. LD  can appear to reduce teaching to a form of engineering (no disrespect to engineers). Engineering can be a good model for teaching, but it is not the only one (uniparadigmatic).

Reference
Seale, Jane, Tom Boyle, Bruce Ingraham, George Roberts, and Claire McAvinia. 2007. “Designing Digital Resources for Learning.” In Learning Technologies: Multiple Perspectives on an Emerging Field, ed. Grainne Conole and Martin Oliver.

Blogging the iPad Study

Just read Andy Saul’s excellent post on blogging the iPad project.

Using blogs for peer mentoring is a very good idea. It is the way the “blogosphere” works. Bloggers carry on conversations on their blogs. I am slightly less certain about the need to make the readership a closed group. Maybe I am just being conservative, but I have established blogging patterns and platforms and do not really want yet another.

If the readership is open, then through the mechanisms of trackbacks, pingbacks, categories, tags and blog rolls we can have the conversation using the native language of the Web and not be confined to a single platform.

I guess if the blogs are being used for commenting on academic work there is some case for privacy. But for private one-to-ones doesn’t e-mail do the trick?

Rasberry pi

Well I am as excited as the next geek, about the rasberry pi launch. Good on them for getting it going. What will be really interesting is seeing how the “ecosystem” develops as people start hacking them and sharing the results. Will everyone run a server in their pocket? Can we develop a mesh of rasberry pis? Does it even do wifi? Someone will need to develop a wrist or sunglasses monitor and portable power supply.

Teaching across two sites using “Classroom” audiographics – trials and tribulations

Audiographic tools can enable teaching and the support of learning across two or more sites but our university’s classroom computing infrastructure cannot support audiographic tools: local hardware is not up to the job.
I conducted a trial this week to test these propositions.

Context
Our University has four main campuses. We are structurally divided into four faculties. However, the departments of the faculties are not located together on the same campuses. Faculties are distributed. Inter-campus transport is not great. You need to allow an hour between the end of an event on one campus and the beginning of an event on another. We teach a number of combined honours programmes and some modules are common to several programmes. Students may have seminars on different campuses. Students may be resident on different campuses. Lecturers may teach on different campuses. PhD teaching assistants may work predominantly on one campus and have occasional teaching duties on another. To further complicate matters the main campus is a building site and pressure on teaching accommodation is severe.

For all these reasons, and more, it makes sense to consider whether groups might be distributed between two (or more?) campuses, where a lecturer in a “home” room speaks with people in that room and simultaneously to those in one or more “satellite” rooms.

A scenario in which this seems to make sense is when a lecture is followed by seminar groups, especially if there might be a rationale for holding these break-out seminar groups on different campuses.

An additional benefit would be to enable (rudimentary) lecture capture for later re-play.

The trial
Participants on the New Lecturers Course and Postgraduate certificate in teaching in higher education (PCTHE) are based on all four main campuses and there are also participants from affiliated colleges and other universities.

The New lecturers course is not only supposed to teach the basics of surviving in the classroom, but to push the boundaries of teaching practice.

This week we tried distributed teaching with our “Microteaching” workshop. This workshop is aimed primarily at very new lecturers. Participants gather for a plenary at 0930 in which we discuss teaching observation and peer feedback. And, then at 1000 we disperse to smaller rooms in groups of about 5 participants, each facilitated by a tutor.

We offered participants the opportunity to have their break-out sessions on the campus of their choice while we hosted the plenary on the main campus. In the event, about 17 people gathered in the plenary home room and four people chose to have their session in the satellite room on another campus.

Findings
So how did we do it? What were the challenges? Did it work?

The plenary session was a success in that the lecturer was able to speak to both the “home” and the “satellite” room. Participants in the “satellite” room could see the lecturer and contributed to the discussion, asking and answering questions. Participants in the home room could see and speak with colleagues in the satellite room.

The “home” room would have been better served if there had been a microphone to pick up questions from the floor as well as the lecturer at the podium.

But, there were many challenges, almost all associated with the equipment in the two teaching rooms, and the solutions were decidedly Heath Robinson.

The detail

In advance of the session I installed a “classroom” into the Course VLE site. This was completely unproblematic. The link between Wimba Classroom and Blackboard (WebCT legacy) CE8 worked perfectly.

I then went in to the assigned home room on Monday afternoon to test things out for the distributed teaching session which was to take place on Wednesday.

The plenary home room was one of our newest teaching rooms with a podium full of computing and AV equipment. However web cams are not part of the setup and podium computers are not routinely provided with microphones. We would have to use external USB cameras and microphones. I have a Logitech composite camera and microphone, which works with “most machines”.

I started the podium computer (a reasonably recent machine running our standard Windows XP set-up) and logged in, thereby establishing there was a local network connection. I plugged in the composite camera/microphone. The machine recognised it (which was an initially pleasant surprise). Then I clicked to load a browser. The application loader failed. No browser would load. I tried Firefox, Chrome and IE. Nada. I did a hard reset and waited while the machine rebuilt its registries. Same thing: the app-loader application wouldn’t run. I noticed a sign on the door telling students that, earlier in the day, a last minute room change had been arranged. I guessed it was because no one could get this machine started. I wandered down the corridor, found an administrator who said that someone had mentioned that the machine wasn’t behaving properly and that IT was coming. We called IT again and to be fair someone was there in about 10 minutes. They went through what I had done, determined that the machine wasn’t working, called Operations, took my mobile number, said they would look into it and went away. I had a coffee.

In about 20 minutes they rang back and said they had resolved the app-loader problem. I went back to the room, fired up the machine, loaded Firefox and plugged in the camera/microphone. Now the machine refused to recognise this device and told me I didn’t have the necessary privileges to install hardware. I gave up. got out my MacBook Pro, and plugged in the peripherals, including the room audio-out mini-jack.

I loaded the VLE, started the data projector and ran the Classroom set-up wizard: Java check, certificate check, whiteboard check; no audio. I unplugged the jack. The laptop speakers were fine. The Wimba classroom was working perfectly, video and all. I made sure the volume controls were all turned up. Still no room audio. I turned on the podium PC again. Found a random MP3 and played it with the default audio device on the machine. No sound. (You need to do this in order that people don’t just say, oh, it’s the Mac.) So all the computers were working but the room speakers were not. The podium is locked down. You can’t get at the cables and see if something has jiggled loose. So I put another call into IT services.

This was about 4:50 on Monday afternoon. I said I needed to use audio in the room on Wednesday at 0900. I was given a service “ticket” number, assured that they would sort the room audio and if they couldn’t would bring a set of external speakers.

At 0900 on Wednesday I got to the room, plugged in the Mac and started everything up. But, no audio on the room speakers and no external speakers. I called IT services quoting my “ticket” number. I was told it “… hadn’t gotten to the top yet”. I said I need audio in 10 minutes. I think I sounded grumpy. In about 5 minutes a colleague came running in with an external speaker. At 0930 we were “live” on the web at the advertised start time for the session.

So what about the “satellite” room? We had asked for a “standard teaching room” with the “usual podium setup”. The room assigned had no kit. We were assured that a laptop and projector would be “delivered” and that the room did have the network. My colleague, who was facilitating in that room arrived. There was no laptop and no projector. He got out his MacBook Pro and plugged it into the ethernet port. There was no network at that point. Fortunately he was in range of wifi. The MacBook Pro worked fine. The VLE and classroom worked fine. He called our administrator who chased up the projector, which arrived at about 0935. As there were only five people in the room the on-board speakers were just about adequate.

Recommendations
All (most?) teaching rooms should be equipped with web cams, microphones and (working) loudspeakers. Obviously there would need to be a phased upgrade plan. There should be some (most?) teaching rooms, which also have cameras to capture the wider room and cameras to follow a lecturer who prefers to wander rather than stay at the podium. Room mics are needed to pick up questions from the floor.

Without such an upgrade, I suggest, the value of our investment in the Collaborate suite might not be fully realised.

Posted via email from George’s posterous

Back to the simple e-portfolio

Further to my comment in an e-portfolio CoP discussion on Cloudworks (http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/5020 7 April 2011), a colleague raised a question about whether presentation tools can be an aid to reflection. This, led her to wonder about the distinction between reflection and presentation when developing e-portfolio practices. Is there that much of a distinction between reflection and presention?
Maybe there is something like a reflective presentation: i.e. you present to yourself. For this, nothing fancy is needed. MSWord will do fine: keeping a diary. However, as Gordon Joyes suggested in a subsequent comment, the PLE approach does require a fair level of digital literacy.

If I was starting off as a student I think the 2 things I would want to be told about are

  1. bookmarking tools (Delicious, Bibsonomy…); and
  2. reference managers (EndNote, Zotero…).

Although, Alan Cann has written about the challenges of using such tools in undergraduate
teaching (e.g. http://scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com/2010/03/begin-beyond.html).

For the more visually inclined a photo sharing site would also be important (Flickr, Picasa…); maybe video (Vimeo, YouTube…).

On top of that all you need is a word processor to pull selected bits together. Master the WP and move on to a blog or wiki (WordPress, PBWorks…). Blackboard? Less said the better, though some people do like that it is a walled garden.

Posted via email from George’s posterous

Humanising the Real Wide Web – the mesh, widely distributed data and “Sensor-driven collective intelligence”

I wouldn’t want to presume to have thought of something before Tim O’Reilly (cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/mar/15/sxsw-2011-internet-online# ; http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/03/radar-roundup-sensors.html ; http://www.web2summit.com/web2009/public/schedule/detail/10194), but in 2007 I wrote about Web3. I called it mesh networks and widely distributed databases (http://my-world.typepad.com/rworld/2007/09/global-justice-.html http://my-world.typepad.com/rworld/2007/10/more-on-the-mes.html) and cited Dust Network’s (http://www.dustnetworks.com/) sensors as part of the puzzle. Semantic language technologies are part of it, of course, but the ubiquitous mesh, and widely distributed data is what, now, is transforming the world.
For me the challenge is how to humanise this phase of Internet technology development.

Paternity leave reflections

I returned to work yesterday after 2 weeks off. It took me the first week of leave to get out of my work frame of mind and by then the baby was born and there was a new life and a new rhythm.  Just as I was starting to relax into the new rhythm, bang! Back at work.

So, I will go and hang out in the VLE for a while and see what happens