scholar.google.com can be deeply disappointing

Today I was fact checking a FB post (as you do), and the screenshot below was the result from scholar.google.com. It was only the eighth result that even came close to being scholarly!

Screenshot from scholar.google.com
Screenshot from scholar.google.com

I admit that the problem might have been the search terms. But nevertheless, a blog and three html pages was not what I was expecting!

Google’s algorithm for scholarly searches needs improving, and this is clearly not a new issue as discussed by “Academic Librarian” in this post.

Everything I am I owe to learning touch-typing

Last night I met a middle school technology teacher and I asked her what her students learnt in class. She shocked me by replying “keyboarding”. The heightened level of shock may have been due to the St Patrick’s Day drinking that preceded my question but I had expected her to say digital literacy, e-safety, perhaps a little programming, or worst case scenario, that her students learnt how to use different software packages, perhaps Google Apps or Microsoft Office. The last thing I expected to hear was “keyboarding.

My shock turned to frustration on behalf of her kids. How boring to be drilling through qwerty keyboard exercises – exercises that haven’t significantly changed since I learnt to type in 1976! How can these kids possibly be engaged! They must be using games like tux-typing (open source option) or other games like 2Type (I first tried this out in 2005), or maybe they have gone all out and bought TTRS ? My new tech teacher friend (NTTF) responded that the problem with typing games are that the kids get too into trying to achieve success in the game and forget that they are aiming to “master the home keys”, though she did mention Dance Mat,  from the BBC and, ironically, just one small part of its great looking KS2 (grades 2-6) Computer Science and ICT course.

My NTTF obviously uses games sometimes but mainly relies on repetition whilst walking around the class correcting posture and fingering errors. Horrendous memories flooded back of drilling on a manual keyboard belonging to a big black monster object which looked similar to this:

From http://clickthing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/unsound.html
From http://clickthing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/unsound.html

Aaaa, ssss, dddd, ffff, asdf, asdf, qaz, wsx, edc, rfv tgb – oh the joy of graduating to “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. If I can’t type that phrase now quickly and comfortably on a new keyboard then that keyboard just ain’t good enough. 

But this morning, when the effects of the St Patrick’s day Guinness had worn off, I questioned my knee-jerk response to my NTTF. After all it was only 10 years ago that I visited my own secondary school’s feeder primary schools in the UK strongly recommending that they use some of their ICT teaching time with their years 5 and 6 to teaching typing skills. My argument was that students who were able to touch type were more confident on computers in KS3 (grades 7-9) and finding it easier, and much faster, to produce the coursework requirements for GCSEs (grades 10/11) – and in the KS3 ICT curriculum at secondary school there was no space for teaching typing skills (there still isn’t).

Fom my own history – if I hadn’t done those drills back in 1976, I would never have become a typesetter, would never have got a job at The Independent newspaper, would never have learned web development, would never have become a teacher, would never have worked at the Open University and certainly wouldn’t be writing this!

Do I think children need to be able to touch type on a qwerty keyboard? Yes. Do I think they are learning a skill they will use for the rest of their lives? Probably. Could they learn a different keyboard layout, i.e. Dvorak or alphabetic, and also type faster? Possibly. Will we ever know? Not any time soon. For fun do check out the Open Steno Project – after all these guys are the very fastest typists on earth.

So on that basis, I think that parents need to help their kids learn touch typing, starting on small keyboards for small hands. Some interesting articles worth reading about this are listed below. But do I think middle schools should spend 90 hours of kids time learning to touch type — at the expense of some other very important digital literacy subject matter? No. Make it homework, make it a lunchtime club, make it a valued skill? Yes.

typing certificate
Health Warning – difficult application for anyone with Dyslexia – letters swim across the screen.

Teaching Keyboarding: More Than Just Typing by Linda Star, Education World
Elementary students learn keyboard typing ahead of new Common Core tests by Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post

 

More about video for video feedback

I spent the last couple of days emerging again into the world of edtech having hibernated over the winter. On Tuesday I went to a Meetup in Portland that attracted way more people than the basement room was built for, nevertheless it was a good way to meet people – we were all close!

I met a couple of guys who had driven down from Seattle for the event. They talked me through their video platform startup, circleHD.com. It sounded pretty interesting and I am still testing it. The main positive points from an edtech point of view, was that a teacher could have a free account, could store videos and share videos from their platform and, and this is the important bit, get some analytics from views. They say that are also including an annotation – which I haven’t found yet but will come back and write more when I have.

movenote in action
Capture from movenote review page

Yesterday I attended AcceleratED16 – a conference for education adminstrators (senior leadership team in UK speak) organised by OETC (an organisation that promotes edtech and arranges discounts for its members).

During one of the sessions on the professional development track Jennifer Scypinksi demonstrated using movenote to deliver a weekly newsletter presentation to staff.

I have been looking at it today in order to evaluate its use as a feedback tool to students. And I think it could be very good indeed. I have made one recording so far, though I nearly gave up because I had to fiddle around for hours to get Adobe Flash Player to listen to my microphone (switched from Chrome to Firefox in the end to get it to work). I am generally pleased with the result and I think it has real possibilities. I will need to rerecord this one because I’m not happy with the camera position.

After that I am going to compare movenote to screencastify and will post the results here.

software to use for video feedback (assessment)

This goes alongside my conference paper about using video feedback for assessment with students.

Evaluating software we can use to give video feedback to students:

Created with Compare Ninja

Personal learning environment – my space?

Personal learning environments (PLEs) are simply a collection of applications, websites and technologies that we use for studying. Because I also learn from people, I have included my personal learning network (PLN) incorporated with my PLE. It also changes all the time and this one was created a couple of years ago. I would make Twitter a much bigger part of it today if I were to redraw it and I would include Moodle too.

A representation of my PLE (mixed with my PLN)

My PLE also includes things which I am not representing on this image, because they don’t have icons. For example I am typing on a Chromebook and this little notepad computer has become the place where I study most of the time. I don’t write assessments and I can’t use Mendeley on it, but for reading, making notes and searching it is great and very portable. But the most important thing for me is that I am not at my desk, if I were at my desk I would be worrying about work rather than working on my studies. So I do think that PLEs need to also include a sense of the physical environment as well as the technological one.

When I first did this exercise I looked at a lot of other people’s PLEs and saved their images to Pinterest. Pinterest then became more interesting as a space for keeping diagrams, images of other research topics – as well as a shopping wishlist!

Follow Mandy's board PLE on Pinterest.

So where are PLE headed?

The very nature of PLE are that they are fluid, the applications and technologies will change as our needs change. So at the moment I am using Twitter much more than I have done in the past. Partly this is because it is encouraged by the course I am taking (MA ODE) and many of the students are using the #H800 hashtag to support each other and share experiences. It does make me wonder though whether the use of Twitter is therefore not really part of my PLE at all for this module but has actually been usurped by the module team? However, because I still follow many other people who are constantly introducing me to interesting resources and material, I think I can be relaxed about this.

I have also moved from eBlogger to hosting this blog in my own WordPress environment. As I learn from reflecting and I am using my blog for reflecting it therefore also needs to be included in my PLE. I purposefully chose to keep my blog away from the OU’s hosting service for it (still part of Moodle), because I wanted to use my blog more openly and, in the end, of course am intending to attract an audience. I don’t think that happens via the university’s hosted blog service. I certainly hardly ever read any blogs that are there, but at the same time recognise that for students who don’t want to have to start their own account anywhere else, it is more convenient to satisfy course requirements by taking the simplest route.

Issues

Students should be free to make choices and work together. Whether these choices are free of influence is a different matter and probably one that will become more interesting to look at in the future. At the moment I think we are in a time of settling in. We are getting more used to incorporating different technologies into our learning as students and our teaching as teachers. It is only when those technologies are embedded that we will be able to really see the effect they have had. There is a tension between innovation and experimentation and being able to give students a good learning experience.

I learnt this the hard way when I used a beta version of AppInventor with some students on a GCSE project; unfortunately the hosting of this application was changed halfway through their project and this caused a few problems. I had assumed that something hosted by Google would be more stable – now I know better. Considering the stability of any technology being incorporated into an assessment has to be a priority. Although everything turned out okay in the end, it was unnecessarily stressful at the time. When I was teaching my approach was always to stay ahead of the curve with technologies and I think that my students appreciated that they were getting to try out new things and it often made the tasks they needed to do fresh and exciting. But sometimes, as is the way with all technologies, there were delays and frustrations too.

This shouldn’t, however, ever stop us from assessing new technologies in order to find fresh ways to approach learning and teaching.

Evaluating video/screencasting softwares

Evaluation of Screencasting Software (SCS) including webcam support

Collaaj

I am in the process of writing a paper about Screencasting Software (SCS) and at the same time I am playing about with different software, probably as a procrastination method, but also because I want to see what is on offer.

This was made using the free version of Collaaj which allows a 2 minute recording to be uploaded. This video took up about 12 MB so theoretically one could store around a hundred 2 minute videos (actually less, but lets not quibble).

It would also be good to play around with the kind of mouse used. This would need to be done in windows (or whatever OS) settings. It is possible to download and install custom mouse pointers (see deviantart.com, search for mouse cursors, go to personalise etc etc).

 

Reflecting on our group project

Averting disaster

These screenshots represent the first page of our prototype website viewed on my mobile phone.
The objective was to work in a group to produce a resource enabling people to learn about local history (of some location) using mobiles and social networking.

I think, rather remarkably, we succeeded in doing exactly this and we haven’t even yet fallen out.

Having read ahead through the materials I knew this task was coming up and it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I was absolutely dreading it. My earlier experience, during Block 1 of H808, of feeling responsible for sending the group off down completely the wrong track was not yet a distant memory and I was quite determined not to do that again! But I also made the decision not to allow that to stop me from just getting on and doing my best to ensure that we all succeeded.
I was quite happy when I was assigned to the local history project, because it was similar to a project that I had started to work on several years ago and I felt that that work might be useful to this. In the end it really wasn’t helpful except as a talking point and a reference for myself when it came to creating a template for teachers to use to set up their own activity. However it also quickly became apparent that almost everyone else wanted to be doing something else which created a slight air of negativity that needed dissipating. It was interesting that quite a few people saw little to no purpose for their own learning to be doing this project, needing it instead to be something tangible that they would be able to use in their own environments in order for it to have meaning. This is something that we struggled with throughout the project.
I additionally chose this project because it played to my strengths; I understand mobile technology, I understand web development and I understand how to mash everything together using social networking. My personal challenge was to step back and allow others to demonstrate their own strengths, for example with organising the site or getting to grips with appropriate theory and working through the module required design challenge it. My contribution to working through the module requirements was to create a Gantt chart for us and continue to encourage everyone to use it. I think most people did end up using it and venture that when people didn’t was when they became unsure about what they should be doing. I also decided to toughen up a bit and if other people were struggling with aspects of the project to resist imagining it was my responsibility to untangle them. That was also the reason I didn’t want the team leader role even though I took on several aspects of it and shared other aspects particularly with Lawrence.
It was interesting to see people shine though and everyone did at one point or another. Our meetings were generally amiable and only occasionally did anyone (including me) succeed in taking us off track. My weakness in meetings was that I had such a clear idea of how the project was going to pan out, not specifically our vision, but the practical side of it, that I was continuously pushing towards that outcome and sometimes not taking into account or enough heed of a suggestion that might take us too far off that track. But at the same time, there was often an unhappy equilibrium between just getting on and doing things, without asking others for permission, and trying to seek consensus.
Following the process outlined by the module had its issues but overall it provided a means to an end. It was interesting, if sometimes a little frustrating, to see a learning design theory in practice. Once we allowed ourselves the liberty of assigning different tasks to different people (at the point when we split up the theoretical and case study research), the whole project became a lot smoother. Before that there was a constant concern that one or two people might not be getting something done and might be holding up the group.
I would be sad if now I were to read that some people were unhappy with their own contribution or unhappy with anyone else because I sincerely believe that everyone in the group contributed critical aspects to the overall process and the product, because whether or not they achieved their personal goal, as a group, we achieved our collective one.

Just one open education technology

One technology that I believe is increasingly useful in open education is Google hangouts.
Hangouts provide free video conferencing though it only allows 10 video participants, each of whom is required to install the chat plugin from Google; the chat/text hangout allows 100 participants. The video hangout, however, can be streamed to YouTube and chat enabled there too which can therefore enlarge the scope for greater numbers.
It is possible to share documents and screens, so it can be a good environment for working on collaborative projects at a distance as well as hosting discussions, viewing demos etc. Google ran their own education conference season and it provides an interesting example of what might be possible in the future: https://sites.google.com/site/eduonair/home.

It is important for open education because it is free and yet, with minimum technical requirements, can enable anyone to create a learning experience.

Exploring rhizomatic learning

Answering some questions

Firstly, my understanding of rhizomatic learning is that it is based on the idea that learning creates itself, it is similar to a tree root structure that has no imposed structure, but where the roots grow where they can and where they will be strongest.

I am not convinced largely because I believe that this is an approach that already exists, this is simply a label to describe something that does not have a central proponent. For example how people build open source software, they have skills that they bring to the project, which may have originally been thought up by an individual or a small group, but they will frequently have to learn more in order to be able to produce something that works.
I would be unlikely to use this approach but it would, maybe obviously, depends on the circumstances. It is an approach that might lend itself more obviously to some things (like creative projects) rather than a specific subject with outcomes.
What happens to “outcomes” and “objectives”? Assessment would have to be very different and having looked, briefly, at Dave Cormier’s class (http://ed366.com/) it seems that this approach may be suited to those who want to experiment with the ideas of learning itself. I don’t know, I was put off by not being able to find a description or structure, I was unable to understand why I would invest any time in this.

One of the issues that might arise from this approach might be our natural need to be right or wrong, to be praised, to feel successful. The success needs to come from the learning itself and that might not be enough.

Trying to choose and evaluate a specific technology – as a group!

The learning outcome for this week 4 of H817 was to be able to evaluate a learning innovation. It is now Thursday evening and I have learnt a lot but nothing to do with the intended outcome. However,I do want to get something out of this frustrating experience and the thing that occurs to me is that I would like to break down the activity and try to understand why this went so terribly wrong.
First of all, my own contribution was made too early, was completely wrong and I’m afraid it sent the whole group off into different directions, each equally confusing. I tried to step back through the error and get us back on track but that didn’t work out. And this was the first lesson learnt about collaborative work and is associated to using a forum without editing capability:

Students need to be able to correct their own mistakes

The forum is organised as FIFO (first in first out), by default, this means that anyone starting to read will read from the top down. If they get at all distracted by, for example a link along the way, it is likely they won’t make it to the bottom, even if that is where the correction is. But also that correction might not be placed next to the message that contains the erroneous information.
To be fair, this is particularly a Moodle issue; the majority of other forum systems I have used have allowed the poster to correct and amend their own messages at any time. Moodle is set up on a university wide basis, so even if this module (or any other encouraging student collaboration) wanted something different, it is likely to be quite tricky to change.
But on a broader question, is a forum therefore a useful environment for collaborative work? I have found forums useful as a tutor in order to collaborate with other tutors, but this is because a problem or issue is worked on in one thread only. And this leads to the second lesson:

Breakdown the activity

Various of us tried to break this multi-step activity down; I did, but skipped a step and going backwards didn’t work. Others tried but instead of taking the original activity and starting from the top these attempts were also repeating the whole activity.
What might have worked would have been to break down the steps into different threads from the outset, perhaps drip-feeding them one by one as they became populated with material. The threads could have been something like:
  1. Context & Goal: As a group, you need to decide on the context and the goal you want the technology to support.
  2. Shortlist: suggest items for the management team’s technology shortlist.
  3. Choose a technology: Each (see following lesson for discussion about terminology used in describing an activity) member of the group should choose a technology from the shortlist from point (2) and post the reasons for their choice (to the tutor group forum) here.
    1. At the end of the thread, nominate a group member to collate the suggestions from point (3) in doodle.com.
  4. Reviews: Review all the suggested technologies and why they are being suggested.
  5. Voting: (post the link to the Doodle vote here) Then each member of the group should vote for their preferred technology in doodle.com.
One of the barriers to progression seemed to me to be the way that we also had to wait for contributions from students we didn’t know whether they were lurking, on holiday, just reading everything, too busy, working, lost, looking after family….. and so to the third lesson:

Avoid wording that slows down the process

In point 3 the module team used the word “each”. This assumes that every member of every tutor group is going to a) be active b) take part in a timely manner. It set up the activity for failure from the outset and when I realised what it was requiring I simply dropped out of the discussion. But I also felt that we were being asked to do things in an unnatural order which leads me to the fourth lesson:

Collaborative work needs careful design

If this activity had been designed in a way where one thing flowed naturally on to the next, we might have found it easier to manage and been successful:
  1. Context & Goal: As a group, you need to decide on the context and the goal you want the technology to support.
  2. Shortlist: suggest items for the management team’s technology shortlist.
    1. Include a review
    2. Include a reason for your suggestion linked to the context and goal from point 1.
  1. Voting: 
    1. Nominate a group member to collate the suggestions from point (2) in doodle.com.
    2. (post the link to the Doodle vote here) Then each member of the group should vote for their preferred technology in doodle.com.

As I said, I have stopped working on this activity altogether, apart from the fact that the final selection the group has actually managed to make is one that I have already looked at in detail so feel no need to continue with it, I also have simply run out of time this week. The idea of collaborating on the 2nd part of the week’s activities, to produce a report, fills me with horror and so I will cut my losses and move on.

I feel as though I am letting my fellow students down, that I am letting my tutor down but I don’t feel that I am letting myself down.