Monthly Archives: June 2005

UoLs, Templates, Wizards and Taxonomies

The recent UNFOLD meeting in Braga, Portugal concentrated on IMS LD level C (notification), and some of the practical workflow mechanisms surrounding the implementation of LD, especially templates and taxonomies.

Modelling real-life pedagogy in LD is a task too complex for most ordinary teachers. Different approaches have been presented that try to take the pain out of creating UoLs. Templates that can help users in authoring learning activities were one suggestion. I have my doubts about this, mainly arising from templates available in other software packages like Word (fax, letter, report templates) which find very little use. The other objection I have is that templates invariably restrict creativity and reflection. It is the latter that I believe is potentially the biggest benefit we might get out of Learning Design: Lecturers asking themselves why they are teaching in a certain way. Templates almost prohibit this potential benefit and replace it with form filling.

The DialoguePlus project attempts to map existing practice onto a model that supports a wizzard style toolkit. They create a taxonomy for so-called nuggets (another name for UoL). Whatever the approach – and there are several – all of them serve one purpose: a clear, usable, shared vocabulary that (a) practitioners can use without special training, (b) can be used as a classification scheme for archiving UoLs, (c) explains what the UoL is about. Taxonomies are a translation mechanism between IMS LD and real life vocabulary. They also sit at a higher level by describing whole UoLs whereas IMS LD describes parts within.

The most usable approach I have seen so far was the 8LEM (Eight Learning Events Model) developed and used by the Université de Liège, Belgium. This uses a very usable terminology, which would not require a steep learning curve. Their 8 basic notions reflect what the student does: creates, explores, practices, imitates, experiments, receives, debates, and meta-learns. The model builds on this the instructional interaction by the teacher, e.g. student creates – teacher gives feedback; student explores – teacher provides selected resources, guidance or useful links.

It is clear that a human-LD interface is required to provide a sustainable and useable basis for the implementation of IMS LD. This is critical not only for the purpose of authoring but perhaps even more importantly for retrieval and interpretation in reusing UoLs.

Some approaches like DialoguePlus and LearningMapR did not have some fundamental collaborative notions of learning identified, so I suggested to them to include in their models the notions of “defending” and “negotiating” knowledge – which are common themes in higher education learning.


Carayol and the Modern World

A talk by Rene Carayol was perhaps the highlight of the UHI IT conference. In a thrilling and chilling performance he reminded us of the changing world around us, the threats of being unsuccessful, and the ways to view the future – but most of all he left us in no doubt that “the customer is king!”. And: commercial branding is king too.

One revelation he made right at the beginning was that customers have a choice! This has certainly become a truth in higher education in the last decade. But something changed in the decades since the 50s that Carayol did not mention: while the car manufacturers’ of the past built their success by researching customers’ needs and fancies, today they are forcefed with need and greed – this is why branding is king. You don’t want trainers you want Nike!

While I would not dare to argue with Carayol that the customer (or student) is king and needs to be treated as such his stories of success are slightly more unpredictable. Examples of industrial or commercial success in the past have become examples of failure in the present. Who knows – his current examples of success may soon turn out to be the great failures of the future: “sic transit gloria mundi”.

All in all an inspiring talk that gave us all a good nudge.

Personal Identity Technologies and e-Portfolios

In a recent talk at the UHI IT conference, George Roberts from Oxford Brookes raised some highly interesting concerns about personal identity technologies and the ownership of e-portfolios.

e-Portfolios are records of achievement that intend to support life-long learning (cf. the article in the JISC inform newsletter no.6/2004, p.10-11. To have official character it is clear that it is the education and training providers that have sole write access to these portfolios as they provide a certified record of performance of a person.

But what do they record? Should for example failings and underachievement be recorded? More importantly perhaps – who will have read access to the portfolio and who is in control of it? There are some serious privacy issues in this. Of course potential employers would want to know about how their candidates did during their educational development. Or perhaps they want to share with other employers how much professional training someone has had? But do we really want anyone to know how often we had to re-sit the driving test before passing?

Maintenance is another issue since it has not been established who should keep the e-portfolios nor is it clear yet for how long an institution (e.g. school, university) should keep records of their students. Personal identity and life-long learning by definition only ceases with the departure from this world.

In George’s view we need a person-centred not an institution-centred approach, where the data subject has the possibility of controling personal sensitive data rather than the visionary auto-compiled CV that is broadcast to anyone.

Copyright to protect against institutional spam

Is your mailbox suffering from colleagues’ urge to pass on all kinds of unsolicited information? Mostly this is the result of a culture of back covering. By sending you this information – which might be interesting to you – they have a defence at hand by saying “you knew about this – I sent it to you”!

Now there may be a way to reduce this pain. Forwarding a message from someone else without their consent is actually a breach of copyright.

To test this (and the human reactions for a laugh), I have added the following clause to my mail: “This message is protected by copyright law. Printing, forwarding, or reproducing in any format is prohibited without permission by the author”.

I know that this is unworkable in practice, but worth provoking a few people to think. Will I get loads of requests to forward and/or print my e-mail messages? – We shall see.