Monthly Archives: January 2008

New IMS LD Editor

A couple of posts back, I mentioned a new generation of LD editors. I was now privileged to preview another new LD authoring environment code-named ReCourse. Here’s a screenshot:


ReCourse is based on the well-known Reload editor, which was (and still is) the reference implementation for IMS LD. One obstacle to wider uptake of Reload was that it’s difficult to use – too difficult for the average educator with low-level technical skills. ReCourse aims to resolve this. In an initial evaluation, it came out clearly on top of Reload in terms of its usability.

The main advantage of ReCourse is its graphical drag-and-drop interface while at the same time providing the full range of features available in IMS LD. In the left frame you can maintain a kind of portfolio of your designs or your learning objects. In future it is said to also allow easy reuse of parts of UoLs within different designs and even share them with others.

It’s well recognised in the literature that it is extremely difficult to break down the complex structure of IMS LD to a simple understandable level of ordinary users. What’s needed is to hide this complexity from the user actions. ReCourse shows clear improvements into this direction, but isn’t there just yet.

Despite the positive first impression and lack of time to explore further, one thing I am still missing in this prototype is the “story telling” aspect. I still perceive the interface too technically structured and not self-explanatory. It is not clear where to start, what to do next, or when you’re done. The “overview” is an overview of IMS LD rather than of your own design. When I say story telling, I mean that you want to open someone else’s design and be able to understand immediately what it is about (like a story line). Not delving into the guts of some database tables and URIs and piece together a puzzle.


The properties panel of objects and roles (picture above) does not invite to add your narrative to it (e.g. ‘here I want students to…’) although this may be squeezed into some field called title, resource, or parameters. The system allows you to annotate elements in the main panel, but these are marginalia rather than the main story. My recommendation to the developers would be to envisage the design as one teacher telling another what they are doing in their class – this story needs to be expressed in the tool in the most economic way.


Learning Web 2.0 and authority

Learning has much to do with accepting authority. Previously, and also in earlier societies the authority was the teacher, elder, or wiseman (or wise woman). Now, it is the established education system and the institutions that come with it. The mass media (ab)use this strategy all the time, digging out some retired general to give the audience his views on something or other. His status and authority raises credibility of what people should accept as true. Of course, people don’t believe everything they see on tv or read in the papers, but how would they know any better?

How do we evaluate the quality of learning on the Web? By accepting authority. This most often comes from real life and brand names. Not only do the most prominent establishments in real education breathe authority, credibility, clout and value, but also other authoritative sources like global companies or government agencies, provide us with ‘trusted’ content and even personal support from which we learn. Evaluation of authority and credibility is a competence that needs to be acquired. For most of us this is tacit knowledge gained through years of experience.

Web 2.0 allows you to choose your authority yourself. In informal learning scenarios, such as self-directed learning communties, establishing authority requires group dynamics. Personal authority within the group will provide guidance to the entire group. The democratisation of authority means everyone can become an authority. Naturally, this also means it is by far more difficult to evaluate the options that you have as a learner.

Social Networking and Education

I’m increasingly critical about the educational value of Social Networking. Especally sites like Xing, Orkut, Bebo, Namyz etc. but also Flickr, MySpace, YouTube. They provide social value and opportunities for collaboration, yes! Learning is a social activity, yes! But somehow that does not necessarily bring the two together. The former type of sites are little more than online address books, the latter allow sharing of indiscriminate micro content. Both aims are fine, but not educational per se.

Additionally, there are rising fears in social networking: impostors, identity theft, privacy issues, unsave content. All this makes learning in such an environment an “unsave” experience. Compare this to a VLE which provides a save environment for learners in “protected” groups. Still, informal self-directed networked learning certainly can take place in open communities, and perhaps more positive examples are the communities of interest forming within the social networking sites.

The questions to ask is: how can you be sure you learn the “right things” in these open networks (i.e. quality of learning)? It is too easy to mislead learning to become indoctrination or propaganda in such sites as there are no quality controls. And, of course, we do not want censorship to govern the Web. So, there may be some dangerous implications, just think about the coverage of WWII and the holocaust out on the Web…

Being critical about something does not mean being negative. There is loads of valuable learning communities and learning content out there. There are serious sites and interactive collaboration that provide a good informal learning environment.

The challenge is: do learners/people on the Net have the skills to distinguish quality of what they would not have a clue about in the first place. Ask yourself this: would you be able to distinguish between battery hen eggs and free-range if it would not say on the product? Why do you accept what it says? As a learned scholar it is easy to assume “everybody knows that this is crap knowledge” and therefore people will automatically find the right learning path sooner or later. How come people still search for Atlantis and chase UFOs. Knowledge and therefore learning isn’t as clearcut as we take for granted from our own individual perspectives (I know what I know). There is knowledge and there is counter-knowledge and the borders are ill defined and sometimes dangerous.

End of Web 2.0 – the writing's on the wall

Will 2008 be the year that the Web 2.0 bubble finally bursts? As more and more Web start-ups try to swim with the tide, by creating “cool” sites with double oo’s (Orgoo, Qoop, Faroo, etc.) or dropping vowels (flickr, locr, streakr, pluggd, etc.) the users grow increasingly tired of too much social networking.

Gary Marshall calls Second Life “a computer game with all the game bits taken out, a pretend place where pretend people with pretend names use pretend money to buy pretend clothes in pretend shops while dodging pretend penises”. The population consist largely of vain “been there – done that” users, ready to move on to the next cool thing. And this is true for many Web 2.0 sites.

So, let’s look back at Web 2.0. What did it give to us and to education in particular? What were the emerging flaws?

The most positive and lasting effect of social connectivity on the Web was in my view blogging. Blogging enriched the information spectrum dramatically. A revolution in Web publishing. It allowed ordinary users with no HTML knowledge to express themselves online to a world-wide audience. This has had excellent implications on online education, enabling learners to keep diaries and share opinions. Blogs also became an integral part of e-portfolios, where learners document and reflect their progress. In the wider context, blogging had an equally revolutionary impact on online journalism with the effect that news publishers had to rebuild their business models almost from scratch.

Increased online collaboration like Google docs and photo sharing are another positive effect which I presume to last for a long time. There is still potential to grow in the area of online applications. Photo editing (e.g. Fotoflexer, Pixenate) or video cutting (VirtualCuttingMachine, YouTube-Remixer, Flektor) are realistic competitors to expensive client software.

Now to the critical flaws of Web 2.0: Social Networking did not deliver on most of its promisses and remains an illusion. Getting to know new people on the Web proved to be a fake experience, because it got increasingly frustrating (and sometimes even dangerous) to communicate with strangers who were not what they pretended to be, or were bougth by some company to sell you stuff you didn’t want. The good intentions by developers to enable open and free communication the likes of “skype me” or being contacted by anyone on MS Messenger, quickly turned into a nuisance and needed to be switched off for good. The odd success story that someone found the partner for life on Facebook I see as equally fake, cause when you are trying to date 57 million people, there’s bound to be someone to match. If you are that desperate why not use the online dating agencies and marriage bureaus, who would probably have an even higher success rate to show off. The downside of intrusiveness and fishing for identities which got even worse with the convenience to upload your entire address book did do social networking more harm than good.

So where’s the benefit of social networking when you’re left with a bunch of “friends” in your contacts list who you’re in touch with by e-mail or blog anyhow? I’ve linked to the same people in about fifteen different social sites. I’ve certainly reached my limit and am not accepting more invitations to new sites. I am also not terribly interested in adding another dozen of dead connections just to show how popular I am. Long term this is a dead end!

Eye-Fi cards now available

I’ve been waiting patiently for some time now to get my hands on the new Eye-Fi cards. Now they are in the shops – at least in the US. WAL-MART and sell them at the rrp of just under $100.

With Eye-Fi there is no need to buy an expensive wireless enabled digital camera. The SD card has built-in WLAN connectivity. Put it in your ordinary cam and you’d be able to upload pics straight from the the camera to the computer or Web.

While this sounded good to me at the time, there are two reasons why this comes too late for me: Eye-Fi comes only in SD format. I own an Olympus camera and, unfortunately, it uses xD rather than SD. My other gadgets use miniSD or microSD. Secondly, my Nokia N95 has built in wireless, so no need for an Eye-Fi card.

A thing that is not clear to me from the sales descriptions is whether the card allows you to switch networks on the move. It only mentions your home WLAN, but this is where the least advantage lies. I don’t mind using the old card reader or cable at home, but it would be handy if I could upload using open WiFi anywhere.

Although, when I first read about it, this promised to revolutionise image sharing – just imagine the possibilities for field trips and other educational activities – I think its impact now will be rather limited.

Windows Live

Just playing around with Windows Live. This post for example I created using Writer. Live Mail seems also a nice tool to get all your e-mails into one place. And, Messenger is still a good tool to keep in touch although I use it much less these days.

I was wondering whether Writer could be a way to entice new users to blogging. Some of the older and less experienced computer users might prefer an application that sits on their machine to a web-based one. In all the hype of Web 2.0 online apps, we shan’t forget there’s still a majority of Web 1.0 users out there.