2010 ALT Awards open for entries

The annual ALT awards recognise good and innovative practice and achievement in learning technology.  Entries for this year’s awards open this month in three categories: learning technology practitioners, learning and teaching resources and effective use of video.

  • Practitioners who feel they are ‘outstanding in the use of technology to support learning’ may enter the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Award by Thursday 10 June.  The award is split in two streams depending on the status of the nominee.
  • The Jorum Learning and Teaching Competition which recognises ‘exciting, innovative learning and teaching resources’ will again be presented at ALT-C.
  • Information on the ALT/Epiguem Award for the Most Effective Use of Video will be available on the site shortly.

Awards will be presented at the ALT-C Gala Dinner in Nottingham.  Good luck to all who enter!

The investment gap

I’ve just had a short chat with a lecturer who was taking a quick break from the class he’s in the middle of teaching.  He mentioned that he was using a SmartBoard, and his frustration at seeing what he could do with the technology if only he’d had proper training in how to do so – as he said, being one of over 100 people at a 20 minute demonstration 18 months ago just doesn’t count as training, no matter how much the powers that be might want it to.

He also reported a similar situation at another institution at which he teaches, which has invested a great deal of money in technology enhanced classrooms and none in training people how to use them.  As a result, the potential of these classrooms is completely unused, and lecturers are frustrated at their lack of knowledge of how to tap into it.

‘They don’t need to pay us to train!’ he said, suggesting that both institutions simply open the classrooms for an hour or two some evenings with a technologist there to help people out, and let small groups get actual hands-on practice with the technology.  It’s just not reasonable to expect a lecturer to have his or her first experience of using new technology be in front of a class of 50 students.

This lecturer’s enthusiasm for exploring new ways of teaching, and his vision of the things he’d like to be able to do if only he knew how, were inspiring and infectious, and it’s so frustrating to see such a clear example of why new technologies aren’t being made the most of.  The reluctance to invest in adequately training staff to use the new technology an institution has just spent heavily on seems like a terrible false economy.

Future imperfect

Following the third Pew Future of the Internet survey and the most recent Horizon report, I came across this Map of Future Forces Affecting Education recently and keep finding myself drawn back to it despite myself.  Though the interactive map itself looks smart, it’s a bit clumsy and impractical to use (somehow I wasn’t surprised that their ‘how to use this map’ video was made on a Mac ;-) ), but there’s a nice pdf version (requires registration) also available for the more Web 1.0 amongst us.

It’s intentionally US-centric, but many of the trends, dilemmas and topic hotspots will be very familiar to educators elsewhere, such as participatory pedagogy, cheap mobile devices, serious games, open content, transformed learning environments and alternative financial models.  The map offers an opportunity to look at these in a wider context of change and under influence from other, competing or complementary, factors.

So why does it make me feel so uncomfortable?  There’s a heavy emphasis on personsonalisation and diversity, yet at the same time there’s a strong underlying perception of ‘Generation Y‘ as a homogenous group, all of whom are highly adaptable (or fickle), socially-orientated, technologically adept and heavily into group activities, and a distinct sense that all the innovations proposed serve a single, extroverted learning style.  There’s the inevitable reference to ‘integrating digital natives and digital immigrants’, yet voluntary and involuntary digital exiles are disregarded, and there’s an apocalyptic, been-watching-too-much-Mad Max feel to some of the predictions which undermines its intention to ‘provide a common framework to explore innovations, new solutions and experiments’.  To be fair, it doesn’t intend to propose a single potential future but rather to act as a ‘conversation catalyst’ based on the assumption that ‘a trend is a reasonable possibility’, and it largely achieves that with only the odd wtf moment. 

WebPA: making an impact

Congratulations to the WebPA team at Loughborough University and the University of Hull, whose JISC-funded project has been shortlisted for the 2008 IMS Learning Impact awards.  The awards ‘recognize [...] high impact use of technology in support of learning’, acknowledging both technological innovation and educational value.  The WebPA project makes a mature, open source peer assessment system available to the community, and is notable not least because this tool is already in active use in both universities.

Addressing from the start the sustainability concerns raised by other projects and being in the fortunate position of being a longer-term project blessed with useable software from the outset, one of the project’s key aims is to develop and maintain a user community around the software, working in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences and Engineering subject centres to achieve this.

Downloads are available from the project’s SourceForge space, and an online demo provides an excellent introduction to the system.

Foregone conclusion?

The third Economist debate launched yesterday, debating the proposition that ‘social networking technologies will bring large [positive] changes to educational methods, in and out of the classroom’.  Opening arguments from Ewan McIntosh (Learning and Teaching Scotland) speaking in favour of the motion, and Michael Bugeja (Iowa State University of Science and Technology) in opposition have already been posted, as have an impressively large number of comments from the virtual floor.  As Bugeja wryly observes, his chances of winning an online debate (held under a version of the Oxford Union rules that The Economist rather quaintly refers to as Oxford 2.0) on this topic are slim, and voting so far is as one-sided as might be expected. 

Rebuttals will be posted on Friday 18th, followed by closing arguments on Wednesday 23rd; the debate itself closes with the final count of votes on Friday 25th.  There’s still plenty of time to get involved, but are the books already closed on the outcome?

Update:  owing to a gloriously ironic technical fault with the website, the dates above have all been moved forward by a day.  As moderator Robert Cottrell observes, ‘you might say that this hiccup has lent support to Dr Bugeja’s argument that applied technology is dangerously fallible.’  Could Web 2.0 be it’s own worst enemy?

Massively Multi Learner

The HEA Information and Computer Science subject centre recently ran a workshop, ‘Massively Multi Learner’, on learning in multi user virtual environments which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

Perhaps inevitably, the presentations on the day were heavily skewed towards Second Life, a fact that I was glad to see the organisers themselves acknowledged as not necessarily ideal.  Unfortunately, Carl Potts, who had been scheduled to speak on learning within guilds in World of Warcraft, was unable to attend, but Laz Allen of TPLD (standing in for Helen Routledge) provided a non-SL and more game-orientated perspective on emerging technologies.  Of particular interest was the emphasis in this presentation on the assessment of game-based learning and of gaming activities, through reflection and debriefing, and through the logging and interpretation of ingame activities with reference to an identified set of skills.  Unlike commercial off-the-shelf games (COTS) and other resources such as SL, games specifically designed for learning can offer a more effective balance of learning objectives, subject matter content and gameplay, with assessment – often itself highly innovative - integrated from the outset.

The rest of the presentations all referenced SL to a greater or lesser extent.  I hugely enjoyed Aleks Krotoski‘s work on social networking in virtual worlds, in particular her identification of 75 avatars (“they know who they are”) who form “the feted [fetid?] inner core of Second Life”.  Unlike either single-player or MMO games, MUVEs such as SL are inherently socially orientated rather than goal-orientated; ‘success’ doesn’t come necessarily from accumulation of in-game objects or from PvP or PvE pwnage but from occupying key, extremely powerful positions within social networks.  As an infrequent and rather ‘resistive’ SLer, I feel strongly that the lack of scaffolding within SL, in contrast to the carefully balanced quest structure in games such as WoW which directs players through the game world and encourages casual grouping, makes social relationships within SL disproportionately important.

Other presentations explored some of the many purposes to which SL is being put.  Dave Taylor of the National Physical Laboratory discussed some very exciting international collaboration which has been taking place in the Space Island cluster, while Peter Twining demonstrated the Schome island pilot on the teen grid which is trialing SL as a learning space for a group of ‘gifted and talented’ learners.  Jeremy Kemp discussed Sloodle, an integration of SL and Moodle which uses mashups to connect the two systems.  The integration of SL and Moodle also offers the potential for resolving accessibility issues around SL by offering meaningful real time alternatives to inworld communications.

The final three speakers had all integrated SL closely into their teaching practice.  Mike Hobbs of Anglia Rushkin University described scripting tasks undertaken by second year Computing Science students to create learning resources used to explain computing concepts to first year students, while Annabeth Robinson (well known in SL as AngryBeth for her creative and practical objects) described the options her Design for Digital Media students had for woriking in SL and particularly for using it as a tool for machinima.  Mike Reddy provided an entertaining end to the day, looking at various ways in which Second Life can be integrated into a range of courses.