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Month: February 2013

POT Cert Week 16: preparing for functionality and fun in online learning

This week’s reading in Ko and Rossen’s Teaching Online: A Practical Guide brings the POT Cert course to Chapter 10, which is entitled “Preparing Students for Online Learning”. Here, I think they might wisely add “and Preparing for Students in the Online Learning Environment”, as ascertaining student readiness seems like only half of the equation to me. Equally, the tutor needs to sufficiently prepare the online learning environment for the students. For me, this means both in terms of functionality and in terms of fun.

 Fun online learning
Fun online learning

Often, it seems that instructors spend too much time and energy answering queries and providing technical support for matters that could reasonably have been identified beforehand. Yet, at the same time, the students themselves might not only be ill-prepared in terms of the specifications of their technology and technological know-how, but they might also be generally unaware of what’s expected of them in an online environment. Therefore, in order to avoid the situation where a student cannot operationalise the required plug-in or is troubled to learn that collaboration with their peers is an expected part of the course, it seems prudent to concomitantly prepare  both an orientation programme for the students and to think through any potential technical difficulties that may arise in order to get yourself ready for them. With regards to this, Ko and Rossen outline the elements to be included in an orientation programme (p. 293):

Elements of a Student Orientation Programme

  1. General introduction, including expectations for online students
  2. Requirements for computer equipment and software
  3. Computer skills required
  4. Introduction to the course management software or other programs that will be used to teach the class
  5. A first assignment that requires students to demonstrate some familiarity with the software being used. E.g: fill in the template of a basic web page or blog with some biographical data and an optional photograph.

Such orientation, say Ko and Rossen, “will complement the work you put into designing your course and syllabus” (p.290).

At this point, they also emphasise the early establishment of teacher presence, “you must establish a presence and rapport in your classroom that are evident to students as soon as they walk through the online classroom door” (p. 299). This remark seemed to leap off the page screen. Just try stopping me, was my natural reaction, and at this point I began to get all excited about the prospect of welcoming learners in to my online classroom. I think I’m congenitally disposed as it were to welcoming folks the minute they walk through the door. I was brought up in a traditional pub; it’s just what you do. Hence, for me teaching online would be akin to hosting a fun learning event, and I hope that I can not only convey this zest at the start of the course but to have successfully delivered it by the end. In which case then, I had better make a good job of preparing learners for the experience and of anticipating any technical glitches before they arise.

Taking Ko and Rossen’s advice, and adhering to this week’s POT Cert brief, I have started to make an FAQ file of potential sticking points within the course. Here is an outline so far:

  • Browser requirements
  • Internet speed requirement for watching videos
  • Computer requirements for participating in optional synchronous communication such as Google Hangouts etc.
  • Instructions and links for downloading necessary software plug-ins
  • An introduction to blogging and the specific class blogging platform, plus the features of the platform required for participation in the class
  • An introduction to social networking and the specific social networking applications required for participation in the class
  • An introduction to collaborative writing and the specific collaborative writing platform(s) required for participation in the class

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eLearning and Digital Cultures: untangling human values from the dispensations of technology #edcmooc

This blog post forms my response to the #EDCMOOC topic that asks “what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does this mean for education?”; well the first part anyway as the question is considered from two perspectives, humanist and post humanist, and I have yet to fully digest the resources presented that give the post humanist perspective. As such, I’ll briefly consider the term “humanism” and then review the article by Lowell Monke (2004) The Human Touch, which is offered as a response to the apparent threat that technology poses to essential ways in which we learn and exist as “human”, before considering the views of Jaron Lanier on the subject.

It's human nature - sharing.
Sharing – it’s human nature.

Humanism gives reference to the existence of “human nature”. Often aligned with secularism, it’s concerned with beliefs and ideas pertaining to the meaning and purpose of life and emphasizes the value and agency of human beings. Undoubtedly, much of our educational philosophies and approaches today are underpinned by humanist thinking.

In his article, Monke observes that, despite persistent claims, educational transformation fashioned by a variety of technologies has, thus far, largely failed to materialise. He believes the reason for this can be attributed to an “uncritical faith” in technology that fails to acknowledge the interaction between dispensations inherent in technology and human values.

Although technology can provide information and simulations of experience, Monke just sees it as the decontextualized consumption and manipulation of abstract symbols on a two-dimensional screen, which, in his view, is no real substitute for the first hand, concrete experience a person must have with nature, everyday objects, people and with their community so that they’re able to make meaning out of experience. Similarly, the Quantum Physicist, Amit Goswami, in a video that I watched recently, also testifies that “people are interested in processing meaning and values” (26.00 min).

Monke claims that the values embedded in computer simulated experiences are distinct from the values inherent in real, concrete experiences. Here, he cites the example of a computer game called “Oregan Trail” that teaches children about the exploration of the American frontier, and whose implicit message, according to Monke, is one of resourcefulness; resourcefulness that’s based on the rational and calculated decisions of the Pioneers regarding the appropriation of goods and commodities, rather than any resourcefulness derived from the Pioneers’ determination, courage, ingenuity and faith in the face of adversity. As a consequence, “the resilient souls of the pioneers are absent” from the computer game because such technological simulations are unable to do truck with these deep human qualities.

The description of the “Oregan Trail” computer game put me in mind of the “dinosaur” sequence that we saw in the video in Week 2 by Corning Glass; the experience with nature is mediated and augmented by technology, and accordingly demonstrates “the ambiguity of technology” with its ability to promote certain qualities and relegate others. It also put me in mind of Angela Towndrow’s blogpost, which beautifully makes the same point.

Monke goes on to relate how straightforward it is, in his experience, to teach computer skills to students who have little or no prior experience of computers, but instead have rich life experiences gained through traditional play on which they might build their computer skills.

“Ironically, it was the students who had curtailed their time climbing the trees, rolling the dough, and conversing with friends and adults in order to become computer “wizards” who typically had the most trouble finding creative things to do with the computer”.

Kids climbing trees
Climbing trees – hands on learning of deep human qualities.

“Certainly, many of these highly skilled young people (almost exclusively young men) find opportunities to work on computer and software design at prestigious universities and corporations”.

In his New York Times article, virtual reality pioneer turned digi-tech critic, Jaron Lanier, seems to echo similar sentiments when he asks, “how do we use the technologies of computation, statistics and networking to shed light — without killing the magic? […because] it goes to the heart of what we are after as humans”. The magic Lanier alludes to are aspects quintessential to human nature and being human. Lanier recognises that many technological design decisions today are being made by the individuals that Monke describes above, geeks of Silicon Valley, and ultimately that their decisions can either lock in or lock out elements that speak to human values.

Take music as a case in point, which incidentally is something Sharon Flynn picked up on in her reflective post, and the digitizing programme known as MIDI (short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Here, Lanier explains that MIDI

 “was conceived from a keyboard player’s point of view…digital patterns that represented keyboard events like ‘key-down’ and ‘key-up.’ That meant it could not describe the curvy, transient expressions a singer or a saxophone note could produce. It could only describe the tile mosaic world of the keyboardist, not the watercolor world of the violin” (p.7).

Jaron Lanier
Jaron Lanier – music making, the human way.

Software development, it transpires, is particularly prone to the phenomena known as “lock-in”, and often an extremely rigid form of “lock-in” at that. “Lock-in” happens when software is designed to work along with other, already established, software programs and when design decisions in the original program become increasingly difficult to modify due to the fact that more and more software programs have become dependent upon the original.

Software attempts to express many ideas, from the nature of a musical note to the nature of personhood itself. However, digital designs not only have the tendency to promote or relegate certain qualities, but they’re inherently predisposed almost to lock certain qualities in and to lock certain qualities out.

I wonder, what qualities are we locking in and what qualities are we locking out, in our new digital culture, and where does the balance lie between the human and the technological? In order to better understand the technological dimension, I’m going to have to give serious consideration to the “post human”concept.

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#17 - Sharing!

Climbing trees

TEDxSF 2010 Edge of What we Know - Jaron Lanier ©Suzie Katz #2582


Monke, L. (2004) The Human Touch. Available at:

Lanier, Jaron (2010) You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto. Penguin UK. Kindle Edition.

Lanier, Jaron  (2010) Does the Digital Classroom Enfeeble the Mind? Available at:

Rosenbaum, R. (2013)  What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web? Available at:

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POT Cert Week 15: screencasting and multimedia

Creating Class Elements Part 3: Screencasting and Multimedia

This week, screencasting and multimedia forms the 3rd and final topic within the POT Cert series, ‘creating class elements for online learning’. In this post I’ll consider a number of applications covering presentation software, mind mapping software, polling/survey tools and screen capture. However, before I launch into that, I’d like to look at the question(s) posed by Ko and Rossen, “why would an instructor choose to spend the extra time and effort to create or integrate existing multimedia” (p.278) and under what circumstances is it best not to have the addition of multimedia and Web 2.0 tools?

Multimedia provides another approach to learning.

In answer to the first question, Ko and Rossen offer the following points:

  • To illustrate the mechanics of how things work
  • To clarify or emphasize abstract concepts
  • To provide another approach or perspective to learning
  • To enliven or illustrate unfamiliar material
  • As the basis for an assignment

These are all laudable reasons but, as Ko and Rossen go on to ask, “how much is too much when it comes to the time and effort involved in creating and assembling these multimedia elements?” (p.280). In their response, they address from the outset the matter of institutional support and the tutor’s own priorities, recognising that if the institution doesn’t provide ample incentives or support, then the effort to create these resources really comes down to the question of how much experimentation with these new tools and new forms of expression actually means to the individual tutors themselves. After all, although many tools have become more straight forward and intuitive, they still take time to learn. To ease the process and assist in selecting the right tool, Ko and Rossen signpost Bethany Bovard’s checklist.

It’s remarked that many instructors find the incorporation of multimedia elements and Web 2.0 tools provides “a refreshing and stimulating element to their teaching” (p. 282), such that the enthusiasm of the instructor is communicated to students. I fully concur, and with the corresponding sentiment that this in itself may be valid enough reason to embark on these activities.

This week, relating to screencasting and multimedia applications, we were asked to

  • Take a look at a presentation application called Prezi
  • Create a short poll
  • Use a mind-mapping program to map a concept or unit from a class
  • Create a short screencast that goes over the mind map and embed it in your blog post.

Prezi is usually viewed as an alternative to Microsoft’s PowerPoint presentation software, and as such often draws connotations with  ‘eye candy’. Certainly, Prezi, with its zooming approach and appealing visual design, is marvellous for creating non-linear presentations. However, some people find its zooming feature to be a distraction and although the visual design may be captivating, it might be said that compared to PowerPoint, Prezi falls short in delivering text and content. Personally, I think because I’m used to PowerPoint, consider myself to have a good level of design ability with it and have never had to design a non-linear presentation then I don’t have any reason to use Prezi at the moment. I wonder what other folks think about it.

Using Polldaddy, here’s a quick poll  to see what people think of Prezi as a presentation application.

[polldaddy poll=6759518]

Mind mapping is a quick and effective to illustrate relationships between concepts and ideas. In the past, I’ve used an installation application called Inspiration, but now there are many browser-based collaborative applications. I quite like iMindMap because of its speedy fluidity.

Finally, screencasting software that shows onscreen movements can be used to provide a recorded demonstration or explanation of a topic. I used Screencast-O-Matic to explain a mind map I’d created previously about ‘factors that can influence the integration of technology into education’ (gosh, if this isn’t learning in public. I don’t know what is!!).

[wpvideo E8hyBdEM]

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