Monthly Archives: May 2007

Freeware: the forgotten little helpers

I was discussing, once again, grand e-learning architectures and services from institutional to Web 2.0. Integration of proprietary remote tools like PBwiki, LinkedIn, Google Notes, with institutional VLEs, Student Record Systems, etc. Open Source and sharing naturally being today’s flavour. Yes, there is a lot out there, open source platforms, open educational resources and let us not forget freely provided advice and support by generous people who value communities or who simply find giving more rewarding than just taking.

Talking in grand schemes is great, but it makes you blind for the things right in front of you. When I look at my daily activities maintening my computer and helping to produce learning materials, I value the really small and easy freeware applications. Be it antivirus, anti-spyware, chat or messaging client, trash cleaner, synchroniser, back-up and restore tool, these little helpers sit everywhere. They help me when authoring or preparing materials for publication – there’s the invaluable screen capture tool, image organiser, video grabber and converter, ripper and burner, screen recorder, audio or image editor and many more. There is such a large number of them out there that everyone is likely to find the tool they fancy.

So, let’s not forget them and praise their generous creators for sharing them with us – you make my daily work a whole lot easier!


Is the PLE supermarket education?

Imagine a world where education is organised like a supermarket. Lots of choice, learning units of all subjects ready to be picked off the shelf and put into your e-portfolio trolley. Now imagine you’re on low income. There is still some choice, but the good brands are beyond your reach. And in fact, you perhaps have no idea what to buy anyway – so reach for the easy and cheap.

With your e-portfolio trolley filled you reach the qualifications check-out. There is currently no benchmarking in supermarkets, but how would that be if they sent you back and said the junk food you selected does not match their expectations – do another round through the aisles…

How about learning/shopping support? Can you and are you happy to pay for a shopping advisor who helps you pass the check-out with your healthy diet? Is this what independent Web 2.0 learning is about – or is it a new business model for supermarkets?


As I believe this will be the Web 2.0 innovation of the year, I decided to get into OpenID. I’ve long been fed up with registering and memorizing new usernames and passwords for all those social websites that sprung up lately. I noticed a sharp rise recently in sites supporting OpenID and I think we’re only at the beginning of this development.

Where do you start, though? I googled OpenID, but what I got was mostly relating to how to embedd OpenID in your site or weblog. Had to browse around to find indications of how to get an ID for myself. What puzzled me was that the providers offering OpenIDs are .com and I instinctively developed scepticism whether to trust my identity to someone who might eventually charge me or otherwise exploit this.

To my limited knowledge, there has not been much user promotion that would allow evaluation of proper versus phishing sites. However, I overcame my inhibitions and registered with myopenid. So now a proud owner of an OpenID I went on a stroll around my subscribed webservices and it worked! Although in I had to rebuild my profile and register as a new user, but now it’s sorted and I look forward to an easier life online.

OpenLearn the new hope for OCW

My university has had an Open Course Ware (OCW) vision for a few years now. However, when the first enthusiastic efforts evaporated the harsh realities of local economies came to light. Despite good intentions and adherence to the philosophy of open content sharing, the initiative stagnated: The first realisation was that it costs a lot of money to give away your stuff for free – the second was that the efforts did not improve the quality of our learning materials, because we do not have the required editorial processes.

Two distinguished guests from the Open University, Jim Ellis from Learning and Teaching Solutions and Andreia dos Santos from OpenLearn, gave presentations and demo sessions today and with this came hope again! OpenLearn does not only provide a splendid and growing resource of freely available learning content produced by the OU where one can feel their full experience of distance and autonomous learning – it also has another face called LabSpace. The latter is of great interest to us as this is for community efforts on shared external OERs (open educational resources).

I can see a potential business model and continuation strategy for OpenLearn by selling not their publications but their processes to other institutions like ours, where it is not a viable option to establish expert start-to-finish editorial and publishing workflows covering everything from copyright clearance to accessibility, spell checking, design & formatting, readability, visual aid production, standards compliance, and even peer reviews. The OU could act much like a publishing house. The finished materials would still be available freely as open content to end users.

It could be an additional incentive for our staff to have their courses published with a large renowned university like the OU, making their materials available through the OpenLearn LabSpace as open content world wide. The reward to the institution would be higher quality materials, global visibility and feedback from a world-wide audience.

Learning the Web 2.0 style

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I met up with a couple of Web 2.0 e-learning experts at a workshop in Athens to discuss the impact of new applications and the PLE on education.

An interesting topic was the drivers for personal Web 2.0 learning. The group concluded that there were two main motivations for self-initiated learning:

    problem oriented learning: I have a question/problem I want to solve – requires active involvement such as searching, asking questions in newsgroups or fora, etc.
    learning by discovery: lurking, blog browsing, Google alerts, etc.

My guess would be that more pragmatic personalities hope to find quick answers through the first mode, whereas the second mode is suitable for people who like myself want to stay on top of things, keep in touch with new developments.

What I have difficulties with is, is this learning? Especially the mode one approach can in most cases be described as an ad-hoc activity – or ‘event-driven learning’. Finding an instant answer can satisfy an immediate need for information but what seems to be largely lacking is the encoding and semantic connection to other things I’ve learnt. So no deep learning but shallow. Does this approach then support the development of thinking skills and make the learning analytic, critical, creative, connected, or transferable? Or are the latter skills a necessary precondition to enabling the former?

Your opinions are welcome…

e-Learning to learn – learning to e-learn

I’m often asked what makes effective e-learning. In the discussions I have with staff and managers, the answer that’s expected is that you require certain tools and an intuitive teacher using these tools in a way that miraculously leads to learning. Has this ever worked for the traditional media: blackboard, VCR, OHP?

In this stereotypical scenario the technophiles cry out for more tools and get hyped away by the latest Web 2.0 tools, whereas the pedagogiphiles (whoo, I hope I got that one right…!) moan about the lack of learning designs and lesson plans possible with online tools.

I would like to take reflection to another level and ask what does it take to learn how to e-learn? What competences are required to successfully benefit from online learning offers, especially in a more independent learning scenario.

In today’s pedagogy, learning in the online world is typically defined as a “project”. Although I dislike this vision that’s crept in from computing and business into education, it bears certain characteristics that are identifiable and easy to grasp, most notably: it has a start and an end point. It requires a large amount of time-management skills and it is transparent. Quite contrary to the vision of flexibility gains through technology-enabled learning or the life-long learning agenda, the successful online offers are indeed very tightly managed.

Note that I am not critically questioning the underlying model of project-learning. But let us ask whether, if we could preload these project management skills into learners, would they get more out of online learning?