Monthly Archives: May 2008

What is informal learning?

Just read an article where it says:

“It is well understood that a vast amount of informal learning takes place daily, e.g. via web searches and online resources such as wikipedia.”

It strikes me again and again how loosly the word learning is used especially in the context of informal learning. It appears that life is learning and learning is life – according to some. In Educational Science, learning has never been fully understood, in spite of thousands of years of research. Here, it seems, we now have the answer: everything is learning!

Consulting a search engine or wikipedia for an answer is about as much learning as it is to receive your shopping bill in the supermarket. It just tells you that the sum of the items is 36.97. Finding an answer to a query using convenient technology is a process we are conditioned to do, not a learning process. Learning requires immersing yourself in the subject domain.

Nope, a Google search is NOT learning!

I wish I had…

… a blog that focussed on pharmaceuticals, porn, or life insurances! Then, I could just get rid of Akismet and allow all Comments to go unapproved public. Wow, ever thought of how my impact meter in Technorati would rise? How popular would I suddenly be?

Instead, I write about education and sift through piles of garbage on a daily basis.

Free, cool, and green: webconferencing

Came across this superb free webconferencing tool: Vyew. I have long been looking for a user-friendly affordable tool where you can do stuff with a group. Especially for our regular TENCompetence online seminars, I have been looking at Breeze, Flashmeeting, and Elluminate (see other recent posts). Vyew, however, has impressed me most – with one glitch: I could not get it to work with my webcam and mic despite repeatedly confirming that I allow the app to use the camera/mic. My suspicion is that Skype and/or MSM has occupied the stream and that it would need a tool like splitcam to get it to share with Vyew. Any help would be appreciated especially as I cannot expect users to go through long and complicated set-up procedures.

Other than that, Vyew provides all the tools you ever wanted for online synchronous collaboration: hand raising, moderator/collaborator/reviewer/viewer settings, desktop share, drawing tool, import and showing of PowerPoint or other files (which you can annotate directly), polls and quizzes, text chat, synchronous or unsynchronous mode.

Collaborative spaces are organised into books and can be shared publically or with invited guests. The free version comes with an unnoticable ad-banner, but this is no deterrent. According to the documentation up to 5 people can have a simultaneous camera presence. All-in-all a pleasant easy interface – excellent to use in distributed seminars.

The best ever Firefox plugin

If you have been sceptical about Firefox in the past, you need to try this plugin: Cooliris Piclens. At the very least it will transform your image and video viewing experience on the Web. It works with the main photo and video sites such as Google Images, Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook, YouTube and makes viewing a delightful and easy to use experience.

Here are some screenshots:

It’s simple and intuitive to use. A little play button appears when you hover over a picture in a supported site. Click on it and off you go to a 3D viewing experience. Rarely have I had such a Wow feeling lately!

Of course a further improvement would be to have it work on other embedded images and galleries too. Another downside is that it does not (yet) work with FF3.

Flashmeeting vs Breeze

Professional webconferencing tools like Breeze are very powerful but expensive. As opposed to point to point videoconferencing like MSN Messenger or Skype, these platforms offer continuous presence for multiple users. In this way you can set up meetings of some scale with distributed participants.

The trouble with multi-player environments is that you can only really test them when you have a number of people connected. Breeze is a wonderful platform with lots of tools and configurability. It works well for our TenCompetence meetings where we can simultaneously co-edit meeting notes. However, as with all powerful tools, with the complexity comes challenge, and to get accustomed to use the available tools, and to use them effectively, takes time and effort.

This is where Flashmeeting definitely has its strong point – simplicity! It has a very basic interface showing a stage and a “speak” button. Other users’ video is updated periodically but not streamed continuously so as to also work on low bandwidths. Audio is a monodirectional broadcast which to my surprise works superbly well in a larger team. At first, of course, users must get used to use the intercom button when speaking and must remember to release it after they finished so others can react.

Despite my first scepticism of token-ring communication, practical experience in serious meetings taught me differently. Especially, with 11 participants it was quite useful not to have everyone’s cough or remote door-bangings coming across the wire. There were no pregnant pauses where no-one wanted to take the floor, and there were no criss-cross discussion threads. The hand-raising feature indicated who was next in line for talking. Although Flashmeeting does not support Powerpoint, its feature of recording the meeting and reviewing the session afterwards, enormously helps minute writing and memory. Best of all: IT’S FREE TO USE!

Technology and pedagogy – a sceptical review

Does technology improve learning? Many learning technologists would argue – of course it does! However, observations I have taken over many years show that new learning technologies and standards are mainly developed to replace teachers, not to aid and support them.

On the ground very little if anything has changed in terms of improvements to learning. What has changed is usually attributed to the influences of technological development, but it remains arguable whether such changes would not have occurred anyway, as there have always been certain fancies and trends in teaching and learning just like there have been musical and other aesthetic trends. Would constructivist teaching or collaborative learning not have happened without technology – we sure cannot say.

What I see happening is developments that resemble the old AI movement – technology that does what humans do better, e.g. automated learner support. We are free to assume that this will free up teachers to concentrate on “other things” – but will have to wait for the proof, as the “other thing” could be maintaining the technology!

Perhaps learning technology makes things more scalable so more people can enjoy to learn. Without the usual futuristic gloss we have to ask about effective quality of the scaled up learning provision. Remember that humans do vary in their learning disposition. Can machines bring the best talents out in each of them?

Every tool comes with an inherent pedagogic strategy and its own constraints. When are we finally living the credo to be academically not technically driven?