Category Archives: Technical platform

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).

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.

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.

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.

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 ( 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.

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. ; ;, but in 2007 I wrote about Web3. I called it mesh networks and widely distributed databases ( and cited Dust Network’s ( 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

Enquiry based, experiential and situated learning – Cloudworks

We are starting to collect resources, but it is not exactly clear how we are going to collect and hold such resources. For the moment, I have started this “Cloud” as one means of collecting resources together. I will be offering these to the Brookes institutional repository, also.

Posted via email from George’s posterous

Zotero Everywhere makes me happy

Zotero Everywhere will have two main components: a standalone desktop version of Zotero with full integration into a variety of web browsers and a radically expanded application programming interface (API) to provide web and mobile access to Zotero libraries.

This is one of the best pieces of news I have had in a little while. I love Zotero. As a citation manager it is hands down better than EndNote or Mendeley. The ability to form groups, share libraries, and tag and publish libraries is just what a research group should do. The parsing of citations from databases (Academic Search complete, etc) is slick and pretty much fool proof. As for citation and bibliographic formats, it has more than any other tool I know of. (OK, they still haven’t cracked Oxford, but no one has.) Web clipping, annotation, cross referencing all just work. It has been developed by researchers for researchers funded by a major research funding body (Mellon Foundation). Zotero is open source and free to use. If you want an open tool for cataloguing OERs, this is the one. They provide a generous amount cloud storage space free and reasonably priced additional storage if you want to keep all your pdfs on line for access anywhere. The only drawback (in some eyes) has been that the client is integrated into the Firefox browser. This has not been a problem for me but has been a problem for colleagues who for various reasons are not as fond of Ffx as I am. As long as Zotero was close-coupled to Ffx I couldn’t really sell it to others. But, now, the best just announced the intention to get seriously useful.

Posted via email from George’s posterous

The first day of the PCTHE

We must have been given the worst teaching room in the University (Gibbs 2.15). It was on the edge of a building site with fork lifts reversing all morning. The room was the only unrefurbished one on this floor of the building. The seating was really poor quality: ripped seats, gum on the floor. There was no wireless coverage or 3G in the room (some might consider this a positive feature?). Roy is looking into finding a different room for Wednesday.

But that was not the whole story. The participants were a buzzy group: very little evidence of reluctant participation and a real willingness to talk with each other.

Frances showed Mike Wesch’s excellent video, A vision of students today. This stimulated discussion: what are we preparing learners for? This opened up a discussion of transferable outcomes or “graduate competencies”: team working, communication, academic literacy and so on. Frances also referred to John Biggs, one of the theorists that we draw on. Biggs characterised the “academic” and the “non-academic” learner (deep and surface) and advocated constructive alignment as a means of creating or inducing the behaviours of the more academic student in the less academically inclined. Our challenge is as much how to involve less academic learners as it is to stimulate and challenge the more academically inclined. This reminds me of a discussion I recently had with a participant on a previous cohort whose background was from an ancient university in another country. Her observation was that Brookes students, compared to those she was used to, were less well motivated. I am cautious of such generalisations, but I do expect that we experience much greater diversity in all dimensions of learner difference here than in some other places; but, I also expect there are places where the diversity is even greater. This is a factor of British Higher education policy over the past 15 years or so. The great benefits of widening participation are matched with new challenges for teachers.

The VLE introduction session took place in a brand new pooled computer room. The room was locked when I arrived 15 minutes early to get set up. There was no projector. It appeared as if the computers had never been turned on. All took 15 minutes to boot while building the registry, updating applications and so on. at least five computers would not run at all. At least five others would not launch applications from the desktop – though they did run from the “Start menu”. These are the things sent to try us. But again, the participants this year are a very tolerant group. They coped probably better than me!

I wonder, indeed, if this is the last time we need to run this session in this way? Each year I observe that the participants are more and more computer literate. At least half the problems, if not more, were due to the Brookes LAN and the pooled room: the computers not booting correctly and logging into the Brookes network caused more difficulty than interacting with the applications. Even people who had never used the VLE were able to find their way around and use the forums. Categorically, only the use of the Wiki was problematic, and some of those problems were only down to the fact that not only our group of 30 people were accessing. Greg observed that at the same time across the university over 500 people were engaged in similar  sessions. The load will be balanced by next week. Though the Wiki was a challenge for some to use, we probably picked the worst time and the worst place and the worst way to address the challenges.