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The value of the OULive Session

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 18:29

With six OU modules under my belt, five MA ODE and one MBA module and a year working at the OU Business School my personal and inhouse experience of these live tutor moderate sessions convinces me that, for all their foiblee Elluminate before and OU Live now are vital tools - they can give you some of that residential scholol/tutorial feel but CRUCIALLY they are an often well needed injection of 'humanity' if I can put it that way: humour, friendship, sharing and even team building and committment. My very best experiences of the MA ODE have been during and after such sessions - I wonder therefore if I go back through this OU student blog I can identify a 'bounce in my tone' coming out of them. There may be stats that if nothing else coming into and leaving a Live session increases activity and improves motivation - even works in favour of commitment and seeing it through?

Sometimes the appeal of the Elluminate sessions was so great that we'd meet up in Google Hangouts too afterwards to keep it going ... the most memorable, and 'clean, open and honest' in an OU student way, was the 'pyjama party' we had. A laugh and worthy as a 'memory making' experience - and this with people across several time zones. We clearly had amongst us something of a hyper-gregarious 'party girl' (not a sexist term I trust, would 'party person' be better? Anyway, it isn't gender specific, more the outgoing, gregarious, organising, doing person).

So yes, a crucial ingredient that personally I feel should be right at the start of any module. Hear a person laugh or sneeze, get a sense of who we all are and buy into that natural inclination amongst us to want to learn together, help each other out and feel we belong to a thing.

To add to my experience of this I will keep signing up to things so it is about time I wrote this up ... doing a traditional, on campus MA is an extraordinary contrast. I really feel that it had might as well be the 1960s: long reading lists, back to back lectures (I fall asleep in the afternoon) and picking an essay title every couple of months for assessment ... but you chat over coffee and share a sandwich in the canteen and slowly form a bond, even if it's as if we are fellow galley slaves and to graduate will require two years of rowing! And come to think of it, one of the impromptu 'hang outs' we did in an MA ODE module included food and drink ...

What I miss was getting to know six or seven people as people - not the 2dimensional 'Gravatar' and biog, but, as it can slip out, a person doing 'person' things even as simple as ducking out to answer the door or put on the kettle. Though odd if you think of them as a formal learning gathering where in one case a fellow student always brought a plate of food to the session and the other tended to be in bed - once, LOL, with her grumbling husband at her side trying to read a book! People eh!?

This is the point, to a degree, the door just open a chink, you see a little bit into the lives of your fellow students.

And do we learn something? I don't remember, but is the learning the LEAST important reason for doing these things?

Fascinating, but possibly a couple of years since I did one.


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Xerte follow up - software that promises a good deal but doesn't always deliver

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 27 Nov 2012, 07:26

My background is corporate communications where our projects are produced by a team - in advertising an art director works with a copywriter, in web design we added a programmer and for e-learning we added a learning designer and subject matter expert - in education the teacher or tutor is this subject matter expert and at the most senior level is expected to do it all themselves.

I don't get this at all - we know that people have different strengths and weaknesses. There is a particular divide betgween those who can write and those who can visualise, between the author and illustrator, the copywriter and art director.

The result from too many teachers and tutors is either little online presence or a blog, sometimes a power point presentation.

I find resistance and unwillingness repeatedly and have sympathy because they should not be expected to do much other than be brilliant exponents of their subject.

They are rarely good at visuslisation or narrative, have had no training on use of slides so pack 'em full of words or irrelevant clip art and by habit write blog posts that are too long, too dense and too late. They hate to let go of their idea - it is theirs and no one else may touch or influence their brilliant conceptions.

I've given Xerte a go.

I have many users in mind for the content that only it can deliver - but in my case I know when I am stumped and if it feels like I'm having to conjugate verbs in Latin I'll go and find someone who can make it sing.

On my list of tools that promise a lot but fail, Xerte may escape this category for now, I inlcude Elluminate, Compendium, MyStuff and Cloudworks and Social Learn. They all have something in common.

I'll give Xerte another go as I see what I can deliver in terms of access. But as an e-learning platform it is slide show.

Clive Shepherd

On the pros and cons of being both the subject matter expert and the learning designer




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Our memory of how to do things is often tied to the situation in which it was learnt.

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What does this mean for distance learning?

Is this why the odd residential school becomes such a focus and a vital memory? On the MAODE modules there are no tutor groups, nor any residential schools.

Does this make the Tutor Group Forum and the Elluminate sessions all the more important to get right?

The tutorial system of the Oxbridge Colleges does two things: it ties the learning to the personality of a tutor and it socialises learning within a small tutor group from (usually) a single college where the annual cohort may be as low as 30 and generally not far over 100.

How can this be replicated online?

The tutor relationship matters. Better and immediate tools engender the possibility of a closer relationship but the OU isn't geared up for it.

Are Associate Lecturers chosen for the e-moderating skills?


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Online vs face to face

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 7 Mar 2012, 17:41

I try to concentrate during a face to face tutorial but as a MAODE student who isn't supposed to ever meet anyone I constantly feel that doing this elective offers some vital insights and contrasts.

Face to face is very like the online equivalent ( or should that be the other way around? ) the 2 hours 30 I have spent today could have been an Elluminate Session, with breakout rooms combined with lots said in the Tutor Group Forum.

The advantage online, certainly with the forums, is to have everyone's thoughts and ideas as notes.

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The penny dropped

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 5 May 2014, 06:49

Between formal and informal learning design styles

Highly prescriptive vs call up the information you need as you go along. So defined instructions vs figuring it out for themselves. Perhaps using tools to guide and inform. We were given the simplest of tasks, teaching students how to cross a busy road in safety.

I made a point about any group requiring leadership or a champion.

I made a point on Randy Pausch whose 3D lecture series included mixing up student groups who then had to vote on each other's levels of collaboration in the group.

There was a discussion on informal peer assessment that I didn't entirely follow, certainly my notes are somewhat cryptic. Hopefully the session was recorded so I can listen back.

It is the unexpected insights in a synchronous session that prove valuable, especially the asides in the break-out room.

Assemble the books and papers you plan to refer to ahead of writing.

This is a new one to me. I prefer to write what I want and deal with the referencing after rather than fitting the assignment to the books and papers.

Perhaps a combination of the two is required.

The learning plan you produce may not be followed closely given the myriad of ways people respond. Many are drawn in by the assessment but not all.

Can such divergent styles be accommodated?

As the Elluminate discussion progressed, four students, one tutor moderator, I did a doodle.


Having shared the idea I then corrected it.

From Wenger (1998:233) 

'There is an inherent uncertainty between design and its realization in practice, since practice is not the result of design but rather a response to it'.

Phenomonology explains why people may still be adrift of the desired response.

The notes reads 'design as well as we can ... 'the students share the outcome. We set the learning, that is then displaced to or set in the context of each learner. We might have a learning objective, but students can and diverge from this'. (A good thing if you want diversity and originality)

As a learning designer you have to anticipate a variety of behaviours and plan for not too many being wildly divergent. This can be achieved by understanding the students.

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H800 WK21-22 Activity 2d VLE vs. PLE who wins?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 3 Nov 2012, 20:59

H800 WK21-22 Activity 2d VLE vs. PLE who wins?

  • John Petit
  • Martin Weller
  • Niall Sclater

Stephen Downes – Students own education

· How much do they actually differ in their views?

· What is my perspective?

· Freedom is lack of choice

· Parameters work

· Creativity is mistakes

· Have rules, the mischievous or skilled will break them anyway

· The end result counts.

a) This isn’t a debate. Neither takes sides and the chair interjects his own thoughts. A debate, whether at school, university or in a club, or in a court of law or the House of Commons, is purposely adversarial, people take sides, even take a stance on a point of view they may not wholly support, in order to winkle out answers that may stand somewhere between the two combatants.

b) During the MAODE this might be the second such offering as a ‘debate,’ the last being as weak. What is more I have attended a Faculty debate which shilly-shallied around the issues with at times from an audience’s point of view it being hard to know whose side the speakers were on?

c) As well as deploring the lack of rigour regarding what should or should not be defined as a debate, the vacuous nature of the conversations means that you don’t gain one single new piece of evidence either way. Generalities are not arguments, neither side attempts to offer a knock-out blow, indeed Martin Weller seems keen to speak for both sides of the argument throughout.

When Martin Weller implies that a VLE constrains because ‘There are so many fantastic tools out there that are free and robust and easy to use.’ I would like a) example b) research based evidence regarding such tools, which do offer some compelling arguments, these commercial and branded products have to offer something refreshing and valuable.

Unlike some university offering they are therefore not only effective, but vitally, they are fun, tactile, smartly constructed, well-funded, give cache to the user, are easy to share, champion and become evangelical about, explored, exploited and developed further. Here I compare Compendium with the delight of bubbl.us.

Here I compare blogging in the confines of the abandoned cold-frame that is the Victorian OU student blogging platform compared to the Las Vegas experience of WordPress.

I can even compare how WordPress performs externally compared to the shackled version provided by the OU. On the one hand there is a desire to treat students like sheep; there is even a suggestion in this chatty-thing between Niall Sclater and Martin Weller than OU undergraduates ought to offer the most basic environment in which to operate. Access is an important point, but you don’t develop players in an orchestra by shutting everyone in a hall and giving them a kazoo. And if that Kazoo requires instructions then it deserves being ignored. Having lived with it for a year the OU e-portfolio My Stuff might best be described as some kind of organ-grinder with the functionality and fun-factor of Microsoft DOS circa 1991.

Martin Weller makes the point about tools that might be used this before, during and after their university experience. There is a set of ICT tools covering word-processing, databases, number manipulation, calendars and communications that are a vital suite of skills; skills that some might already have, or partially have … or not have at all. The problem is in the accommodation of this widely differing skill set.

JV Exposure to new, or similar, experience of better as well as weaker programmes/tools, fashion, peer group, nature of the subject they are studying, their ambitions, who they are, how much time they have, their kit, connection and inclinations, let alone the context of where they are going online.

In this respect Martin Weller is right to say that ‘some kind of default learning environment’ is required first of all.

Caveat: You are going to need people to use the same kind of things in order to be able to communicate.

· University blog vs. their own bog.

· University e-portfolio vs. their own portfolio.

· Elluminate vs. Skype.

· Mac vs. PC,

· Tablet vs. laptop.

· Desktop vs. smartphone.

· Paper vs. e-Reader.

· University Forum vs. Linked in or others.

· Twitter vs. Yammer.

Swimming analogy: training pool, leisure pool, main pool, diving pool, Jacuzzi.

Niall Sclater makes a point about a student using an external blog that doesn’t have a screen reader. Do browsers not offer this as a default now? Whilst I doubt the quality of translation I’ve been having fun putting everything I normally look at into French or loading content onto an e-reader and having it read to me on long car journeys. The beauty of Web 2.0 and Open Learn is that developers love to solve problems then share their work. Open Learn allows these fixers to crack on at a pace that no institution can match.

Perhaps issues regarding passwords is one such problem which is no longer a problem with management systems. Saving passwords etc.: Other problems we have all see rise and fall might include spam. The next problem will be to filter out spam in the form of ‘Twitter Twaddle’ the overwhelming flack of pre-written RSS grabbed institutional and corporate messages that should without exception be ‘flagged’ by readers as spam until it stops. I never had a conversation with a piece of direct mail shoved at me through my letter box, or spam come to that matter. Here largely the walled, university environment in which to study, is protected from the swelling noise of distraction on the outside,

Niall Sclater talks about the Wiki on OU VLE, in Moodle ‘comprises what we consider is the most useful functionality for students. The OU ‘cut out a lot of the bells and whistles you find in MediaWiki’. New to wikis I enjoyed being eased into their use, but like a keen skier, or swimmer, having found my ‘legs’ I wanted incremental progressions. Being compelled to stay in the training pool, or on the nursery slopes, to return to by Kazoo metaphor, is like having Grade 5 flute, but having to play with six novice recorder players in Kindergarten. We move on and therefore what is offered should move with us.

Universities fail abysmally to sell their products to their captive audiences.

Commercial products are sold, invitingly to everyone who comes within earshot. There is a commercial naivety and intellectual arrogance sometimes over stuff created that must be great, because it is the invention of brilliant minds … and that its brilliance will be self-evident even if it sits their within its highly branded overcoat waiting for some time to take an interest and take it out for a test drive. Creators of these tools forget that a quick search using some of the terms related to the affordances of the product being offered will invariably produce something more appealing from the likes of Google, Adobe, Apple or Microsoft.

Nail Sclater points out that some students can be confused by too much functionality. I agree. If there is a product that has far too much functionality, it is Elluminate. And even for a library search, it ought to be as simple as the real thing … you go to a counter and ask for a title. Google gets it right. Keep it simple. Others are at last following suit. Or is the Google God now omnipresent?

Martin Weller stumbles when he says that Nail ‘hits on two arguments against decentralised PLEs by

a) Giving three arguments

a. Authentication

b. Integration

c. Robustness

b) He is meant to be in favour of PLEs.

i.e. academics are incapable of debate because they are, to use of Martin Weller’s favourite terms ‘contextualised’ to sit on the fence. A debate should be a contest, a bullfight ideally with a clear winner, the other party a convincing looser.

You wouldn’t let a soldier chose his weapons then enter the fray. There has to be a modicum of formal training across a variety of tools, and in a controlled, stepped fashion in order to bring people along, communally, for retention and to engender collaboration and participation and all that benefits that come from that.

Who at a time of change is going to declare their role, or department redundant? Brought into a new role, Social Media Manager, I feel I will have succeed in 12 months if I have handed over the keys to others, spread some of the glory about. That’s how I see it, a little bit of everybody’s lives. You can wordprocess, you can do some aspect of Social Media. There are other functions though that long ago were circumvented by clever software. Web 2.0 deplores the gatekeeper. It wants to put everything ‘out there,’ enabling everyone and anyone to make of it what they need and please.

Personally I’ve been loading content, text and images, in diaryland since Sept 1999 and have never had an issue with access, yet I have repeatedly found my OU e-portfolio failed, or that while composing a response in a forum the system fell-down and I lost what I was doing.

Nial Sclater argues in favour of VLEs to ensure usability, access, extension to students, common ground on terms of tools, opportunity and form an assessment point of view, use of content too.

While Martin Weller wants to ‘Support’ – an argument for VLEs. (I’ve now made the point several times that Martin Weller seemed unsure of which side he was on, and by personality and from experience, will never take a side in any case).

We DO want people going away being able to use package X. Do we turn out Roy Castle types who can play loads of instruments not very well, or a virtuoso performer who can at least play the cello well?

JP stepping in ‘as my confidence grew I got to know that and my confidence grew across the year as I got to know that and one or two other very limited and well-supported tools’

Nial Sclater’s point that the same tool is required for collaboration and assessment. This applies also to reading the materials provided and doing the activities so that these are the points of reference for assessments (as currently practised). How can a Tutor mark an assessment that is based on vegetables from a walled Victorian kitchen garden, when the student offers flowers grown from seed in a tub? To return to my sporting analogy, how might I judge a person’s ability to swim after 12 weeks if they’ve been learning how to sail?

Parameters have a purpose.

The greatest resistance to a writer is having no sense of purpose, no goals, no parameters, no set pieces, no one to be on their case. A free for all, perhaps as the new London Business and Finance School is finding, is that just giving students the lot and telling them to get on with it is not conducive to a viable learning experience. (Nor do I think it’ll deliver someone is able to work with others).

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Technology Acceptance Model and the Four Pleasures of Patrick Jordan

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 27 Aug 2011, 14:48

Fleshing out a visual strategy for social media for the OU Faculty of Business and Law in part from reading 'Inbound Marketing' (2011) David Merman Scott.

Putting Drupal into practice, laying the foundation for three wordpress blogs, hurting my head by watching Twitter feeds on TweetDeck, enjoying getting Linkedin.

Impressed (I'm very impressionable) by paper on the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis, 1989) and how it has been developed since.

I like the idea of Patrick Jordan's (2001) four pleasures related to technology adoption: physio-pleasure, socio-pleasure, psycho-pleasure and ide0pleasure; though I do NOT like the pseudo-science of the terminology.

From this I set:

I wish the OU student e-portfolio was a pleasure; I'm yet to find an e-portfolio that is so instead use a locked wordpress blog for the same functions.


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H800 62 The Masters in Open and Distance Education in eight neat pages

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 13 May 2011, 18:43

Interested in e-learning? I am. This says it all to date. Read and share.

Did serendipty bring me to this?

I thought I'd linked to it in the reading. 'An evaluation of students' perceptions and engagement with e-learning components in a campus based university'. (2011) Afam Ituma

This is the OU MAODE in 8 pages.




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Best laid plans ...

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You hope to join an Elluminate session at 8.00pm only to learn at this precise time you are meeting your daughter at the Station. You think you plan for everything, but the Daddy Taxi is on 24 hour call sad
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H800: 27 On Elluminate (must we?)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 1 Mar 2011, 16:50

The settings have the moderator in low resolution Black and White, more like an ultrasound scan. The sound quality was just as bad, not quite womb music, but certainly underwater. A few tweaks and I had a higher resolution colour image of the moderator, though the sound, the only thing that matters, remained broken, distorted and unreliable.

We introduce ourselves. 30 words or ten seconds was enough. I wonder at its relevance. If meeting for business we’d dispense with this small talk, pull out an agenda and get on with it.

Asked to make a comment in a recent Elluminate session I had pre-empted the prompt and written something down, only to lose the point when clicked on the mic. Actually, winging it, as I know from hundreds of interviews ALWAYS produces a better response, than the response that someone has written down in advance. I made an off the cuff comment that H807 was more reading, whereas this just fit in.

I cannot help but think that Skype and a basic Google Docs of Sync.in document work better.

At least this time my mic continued to function, though even here, I could not tell, could not hear, that I was ‘on mic’ once I’d clicked it open. This from someone who has been a sound engineer, who wants a live feed to my headphones so I can hear what others are going to hear …or what is being recorded. Should sessions such as this be necessary? Software should be so intuitive, obvious and like things we’re familiar with that this kind of walk and talk through is unnecessary. Someone hasn’t adhered to the advice ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid.’

The tutor likened the reading the tasks otherwise like waves on the beach … and another and another.

I am sympathetic to anyone with a demanding day job.

When I started the MA in 2001 I was working fulltime and doing a second post-graduate course. I never had a quiet moment. I did the reading on planes and trains and very early in the morning. I came home to a five and three year old. There was no expectation to be around, to say much in the crude threaded discussions or give the technology a go. It was books in a box with a regular essay/assignment and far easier to juggle with no sense that you were missing out, or not contributing if you made an appearance once every ten days.

Concentrate on the core reading and contribute to forums … it’ll count.

The point is made that id can be difficult to contribute if your thoughts had already been articulated. My experience is that a forum thread goes through three distinct phases: each person responds in turn to the question/questions, then once many/most have done this, you comment, contribute and elaborate … and at some stage you decide that you’ve had enough, said enough and can move on … maybe dipping back in as others come forward and either assert the same things, or pick you up on a matter or say something completely new. Often the later arrivals are better able to ‘see the woods from the trees,’ and can summarise, or make a succinct point that says in a few lines what others have deliberated over for hundreds of lines.

I make a note to myself that these forums are ‘A tool FOR thinking … not that you have to get it written down’. People need to write what they think as they think it.

The best outcome for all is that we generate a learning community. We are participants, so look to the readings of others. For example, thinks the same thing as me … so agree, to create a learning discussion, you are responding, someone can grow from where you are responding.

It doesn’t need to be like Chinese whispers: at most people post their thoughts to a task as if they would submit an essay, albeit a very short one.

THEN they look at comments and may respond to one. Would it be that each of us HAD to comment on EVERY thread submitted by others! If only six people are involved on round one you get SIX postings, on round two you get 25 postings … (you don’t comment further on your own initial thoughts – even if you want to) then if everyone responds to these Five that makes 125. We haven’t set a word limit, but in my experience this many postings would already come to some 12500 words. Must everyone comment? For the sake of it? For the marks they may need to assemble at some later stage?

Early contributors, or the most frequent visitors may set a tone, that could facilitate what I’d term ‘loose talk,’ I often wonder what the OU Guidelines are for tutors, but can probably guess that the hours they are paid are extremely limiting.

The tutor makes the point that it is ‘nice when you post something and someone responds.’

My tip to those who enjoy this kind of reward is that the more you respond and comment on others … the more likely you are to receive reciprocal comments, that it is not WHAT you have to say, or how often you say it, or where you say it … but that you are participating at all. i.e. the more you put in,. the more you get back

I like the analogy the US E-learning Prof Marc Wagner calls a ‘pot lunch’, in that you ‘bring something to the table,’ but also consume the produce of others … and comment on the whole thing.

The essence of this course, our Tutor explains, is that we are trying to establish the relationship of technology to the learning: on the one hand this is how we THINK learners learn (the academic community) whilst this is how we learn, this is how teaching should be designed. How can technology enhance distance learning?

My own take on this, from corporate learning and development is very different … that the distribution mechanism might have been a VHS cassette in the post, a satellite uplink or an interactive CD-rom, but the mere ‘book like’ or manual like distribution of content was never our purpose. That engagement was always deemed necessary as candidates would have to prove they knew what they had been taught in an assessment.

The point I made, when asked, regarding the reading, was to do some of the reading, even be guided by the choices made by others, then look to their unique thoughts, the inputs from others whether they started last week, or a year ago.

I liken panic over a TMA as preparing for the first night of a show, of getting up on stage, going onto the pitch … that this forces you to bring your thinking together, indeed the deadlines and parameters literally funnel your thinking.

I reflect on my grandfather who left school at 14. Interviewing him at length before he died there is no doubt that as the ‘office boy’ those around him formally/informally taught him so much ‘in situ,’ from taking a stock sheet, to learning shorthand … then, the height of technology, being given a typewriter to figure out. (This is 1910 by the way)

When a separate conversation starts the tutor wonders about who is talking, some listening, some writing notes … with the moderating trying to hold it all together. I’d unplugged the headphones and was listening from the kitchen while I made a coffee.

‘Like sitting in a meeting wearing a blindfold‘

I put it and another agreed that it is like closing your eyes and concentrating … I’ve been using videoconferencing since the 1980s. This is how North Sea Oil rigs kept in touch. There was never any question that you wouldn’t see everyone in vision. 25 years later Elluminate looks retro.

I like the point one person made that such sessions are ‘Good for class moral’.

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H800: 25 Where does virtual learning begin?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 28 Feb 2011, 06:27

And if real learning occurs, is it no longer 'virtual?'

Where does reality end?

What part of your subconscious is real?

It happens after all, if yo think it or dream it. We distinguish between learning and e-learning; should we ? Did we distinguish a different reality after the train, after the telephone, after television or a man on the moon?

I am often online, I speak to people through Skype and Elluminate.

Yesterday I likened an Elluminate 'tutorial' with seven or eight fellow students as wearing a blindfold in a meeting; yo have to be alert to the presence of others, be sensitive to their interest (or lack of), their hand going up, or not. You are dependent on your only sighted person present - the tutor or moderator.

Over the last month I have been interviewed for a job on Skype. Producers have discussed my work on Skype.

I have been set task to show what I can do, somehow my body of work, the videos and scripts not real enough. Can I still fill a blank sheet of paper with pertinent and persuasive ideas; that's what they want to know.

My blend of learning uses the conscious and subconscious.

I consciously go to bed with a book, now on Kindle, currently reading through my extensive highlights and notes on two books: Education Psychology (Vygotsky 1926) and 'Rethinking Pedagogy for the Digital age (Helen Beetham & Rhona Sharpe eds. 2007). As I drift away I may close the Kindle, may slip it safely to one side .. may not. I matters not a jot. I'tll look after itself.

No wonder I find myself dwelling on all matter of things.

Earlier I woke thinking about one of these job interviews: it may be to work on contrast, it may be to work freelance, there are even a couple of full-time posts. All want to know what I have done recently. What they really need to know is what can I do for them next week or month. Or now.

As I return to consciousness I reflect on the interview that was on my mind, only to realise that it is highly unlikely that my future boss Is Johnny Depp. I've been duped by my own mind. No worries. The thoughts relate to the real opportunities, not this peculiar mash-up in a virtual world.

I have multiple presences in cyberspace with 'faces on' that may be anything from a week to 15 years old. Indeed, I ought to attach an image of the six year old me to a collection of 'earliest memories.'

I have a couple of existences in Second Life too, though I've yet to run with these.

Would I not get more confused over where reality ends?

If it is becoming less easy to distinguish reality from the virtual, how are we supposed to differentiate between learning and e-learning? Is it not the case that both could be going on ... but a student, or the students are doing no learning in either situation? That they are elsewhere? That they are not engaged? Yet hours later, consciously or otherwise, a recollection of a 'lesson' may produce a learning moment, may generate 'stuff' a learning object in that person's consciousness?


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H800: 18 Eating Three Humble pies - on reading, dated reports, participation online (and the use of cliched corporate catch phrases)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 3 Nov 2012, 20:00



Eating humble pie

At various times over the last 12 months I have knocked the MAODE because of the amount of reading required, particularly in H808 ‘Innovations in e-learning’, where it rankled to read reports that felt out of date or books of the last century, and across the modules for the lack of examples of ‘innovations in e-learning,’, as if the MAODE should exploit the students by sending through the online hoops the equivalent of a performance in a Cirque du Soleil show.

I take it back:

I eat humble pie for and offer three reasons:

1. Reading works

2. The earliest investigations on things we now consider common place and highly revealing

3. Bells and whistles may have no tune Reading works, though it is unnecessary to have the books in your hand, or to print of the reports.

I’ve done both, starting the MAODE or ODL as it was called in 2001, I had a box of books delivered to the door (I have many of these still).

Picking it up again in 2010 with H807 ‘Innovations in e-learning’ for want of an e-reader or adequate computer I found myself printing everything off – it unnecessarily fills eight large arch-level files (where if kept for a decade, they may remain).


There is value in printing things off

Whilst some links and too many follow up references from books and reports read in H807 were broken, I have the links and reports I downloaded and printed off in 2001.

One of these, exactly the kind of document I would have rejected in 2010 as dated, was written in 1992.


What is more, this paper addresses something that one would imagine would need a modern perspective to be of interest, the subject is the value of networking – what we’d call online collaboration or participation today.

The earliest investigations reveal the inspiration at a time when there were few options.

One the one hand I can go to the OU Library and type in ‘participation’ and ‘e-learning’ and be invited to read as PDFs a number of reports published in the last few months, on the other, I can go and see some of the earliest efforts to understand the possibilities and overcome the technical issues in order to try and recreate for distance learners what campus based students had all the time – the opportunity to meet and share ideas, the tutor group online, as it were.


See below

Computer Networking for Development of Distance Education Courses (1).

In my teens and helping out on video-based corporate training films I recall some advice from the Training Director of FIH PLC, Ron Ellis. It’s one of those irritating corporate communications acronyms:

‘Keep it Simple, Stupid’

(as it was, though as some now prefer)

‘Keep it short and simple’.

It’s a fascinating story and remarkably for Wikipedia were entries are often anything but, it is short and straightforward.


The points I am making are straight forward too.

1. Reading

2. Research and References

3. Simplicity


An e-reader is simple

The process is enhanced and highly tailored once the content you need to consume is in a device that is slimmer than a slim novella. The affordances of the e-reader mean you can do away with pen and paper (though not a power or USB cable).

My passion for reading, where the 'Content is King', which perhaps unnecessarily brings me back to Wikipedia.

What you read, and the fact that you read, matters more than its being in paper form, whether chained to a shelf in the Duke Humphrey’s Library, Oxford (Bodleian), or bubble-wrapped from Amazon, let alone printed off on reams of 80sgm from WHSmith, holes punched and the thing filed for delayed consumption.


Reading too, I realise, is the purest form of self-directed learning

Vygostky would approve.

You are offered a list of suggested titles and off you go.


Parameters help

It is too easy to read the irrelevant if your only guide is Google and it is just as easy to purchase or download a book that has the title, but whose author could at best be described as ‘popular’.

It may fell archaic and arcane to be presented with a reading list, but I recognise their value, if only as the maelstrom of digital information spins across your eyes you can focus.

It may require effort to skim read the abstracts and contents of 33 books and papers in order to extract three or four to read over a two week period (as required to do in May 2001 on the then ODL), but the method works:you get an overview of the topic, a sense of who the authors and institutions your ‘school’ considers of interest, and then motivated by making some choices yourself, you read.


This in itself is one reason to avoid Wikipedia

if everyone reads the same content, everyone is likely to draw the same conclusions.

In any case, my issue with Wikipedia is three-fold, entries are either too short, or too long and there is no sense of the reader, the audience, for whom they are written; at times it is childish, at others like reading a doctoral thesis.


Or am I missing the point?

it isn’t a book, not a set of encyclopedias, but a library, communal built, an organic thing where those motivated to contribute and who believe they have something to say, do so; though all the corporate PR pap should be firewalled out.

Either way, my ambition is for WikiTVia, in which the entire content of Wikipedia is put in front of the camera and shot as chunkable video clips.


Anyone fancy giving it a go?

I digress, which is apt.


If you have a reading list you are less likely to get lost

What is more, you will have something to say in common with your fellow pupils when you’re online.

It matters for a niche conversation to be 'singing from the same hymn' sheet which is NOT the same as singing the same tune.

(Aren’t I the one full of cliché and aphorisms this morning).


Which brings us to point three, and a theme for Week 2 of H800 ‘Technology-enhanced learning: practice and debates.’

A title I have just typed out for the first time and I initially read as ‘Technology-enhanced debates’ which could be the right way to think of it given an initial taste of Elluminate.


It doesn’t work and there seems to be little desire or interest to fix it.

Google take over please.

I’d liken my first Elluminate session to my first attempt (indeed all my attempts) to learn to row.

Think of the Isis, early November morning, eight Balliol Men kicked out of bed by 3rd year student Miss Cressida Dick to cycle down to the boathouse.


We varied in shape and size like the cast of a James Bond movie:

Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, Jaws and Odd-Job, Scaramanger and Ros Klebb, Goldfinger and Dr. No.

Despite our coach Dick's best intentions everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Later that term on in our only race we were promptly ‘bumped’ and were out.

I wonder if the joint experience of Elluminate will find us bumping along discontentedly for the next few months?

My suggestion would to disembark to something simple, that works (as we did in H808)

Elluminate to Skype with Sync.in or Google.docs is the difference between crossing the English Channel on Pedalos, or sharing a compartment on the Eurostar.

Had this been a business meeting I may have said let’s email then pick up the phone and do a conference call that way.

If it had mattered and the journey was a matter of hours I may have said, hold it, let’s meet in a couple of hours.

What matters is achieving the outcome rather than trying to clamber on board a beach-side round-about on which the bells and whistles are falling off.


Reading, referencing and simplicity brings me to a paper we were expected to read in 2001.

Computer Networking for Development of Distance Education Courses (1) Tony Kaye.

Institute of Educational Technology

Downloaded 15/05/2001 http://www.icdl.open.ac.uk/mindewave/kaye.html

(Link broken and my searches thus far have not located a copy of this paper)

It was written in 1992.

(Until this week I baulked at reading anything pre Google, Facebook or Twitter. What, frankly is the point if none of these highly versatile, immediate forms of collaboration and communication online are not covered?)

This report is as relevant to synchronous and asynchronous collaborative online learning in 2011 as the earliest books coaching rowing.

The basic issues remain the same: the problem to solve, the goal and outcomes.


It’s relevance is like starting any conversation about the Internet with Tim Berners-Lee and CEARN.

In the paper, expert discuss the potential for computer support through local and wide-area networks for ‘work groups engaged in collaborative authoring tasks.’

You see, this, to keep it simple, is all we were trying to achieve on Elluminate, a ‘work group engaged in collaborative authoring tasks.’

Today we can hear and see each other, though the voice will do – and despite being so anachronistic, we can, presumable, all type on a QWERTY keyboard.

Courtesy of Cloud computing any other shared tool, from word, to spreadsheets, presentations, art pads and photo manipulation, we could choose to use from a plethora of readily available free choices.

‘it takes as a basic premise the need for a progressive co-evolution of roles, organisational structures, and technologies (Englebart and Lehtman, 1988), if technology is to be successfully used for group work.’

‘A summary of some of the main findings from studies of traditional (i.e. non technology-supported) course team activities is presented’.

This I consider important as it re-roots us in the very process we are trying to recreate online, a meeting between people, like or not-alike minds, with a common theme and goal.

This report was written for and about teams planning and writing distance teaching materials, however, as it points out,

‘many of the issues raised are relevant to other group collaboration and authoring tasks, such as planning and writing reports, research studies and books.’ Kaye (1992:01)

It makes fascinating reading, not least the comprehensive list of items that would have to be co-ordinate to create a distance learning ‘package,’ resplendent with diskette and C90 audio cassettes, 16 hours of TV and a 300 page course Reader.

Have things moved on?

Where’s our TV in MAODE?

I actually believed in 2001 I’d be getting up in the middle of the night to view lectures.

We don’t have lectures in the MAODE, why not?

It should not be a dying form.


The detail of designing, developing and producing a distance education package, though interesting in itself, is not what I’m looking for in this report, so much as how the teams used the then available technology in order to work together collaboratively online.

They had a task to undertake, a goal.

There were clear, agreed stages.


The emphasis on this report (or book chapter as it is sometimes referred to) are the ‘human factors’.

A wry smile crosses my face as I read about some of the problems that can arise (it sounds familiar):

  • Lack of consensus
  • Differing expectations Nature of roles and tasks ‘differences in the perceived trustworthiness of different colleagues’ [sic]
  • Different working patterns “Varying preferences in use of technology (which in this case include academics who use word-processors and who ‘draft in manuscript prior to word-processing by secretary” [sic]

Then some apt quotes regarding the process from this disparate group of individuals:

‘working by mutual adjustment rather than unitary consensus, bending and battering the system until it more or less fits’ (Martin, 1979)

‘If some course teams work smoothly, some collapse completely; if some deliver the goods on time, some are hopelessly late. Course teams can be likened to families/ Happy families do exist, but others fall apart when rebellious children leave home or when parents separate; most survive, but not without varying elements of antagonism and resentment.’ (Crick, 1980)


There is more

In microcosm it’s just the same on the MAODE.

I come to this conclusion after four or five ‘collaborative’ efforts with fellow students.


We’re human

We work together best of all face-to-face, with a real task, tight deadlines and defined roles, preferably after a meal together, and by way of example, putting on a university play would be an example of this.

Recreating much or any of this online, with a collections of heterogeneous strangers, with highly varied lives not just beyond the ’campus’ but possibly on the other side of the planet, is not unexpectedly therefore primed to fail.

This said, in H808, one collaborative experience I was involved with, between six, with one in New Zealand, was a text book success.



As I put it then, ‘we kept the ball rolling,’ in this case the time zones may have helped (and my own insomnia that suggests I am based in Hong Kong not Lewes, East Sussex).

It also helped to have a Training Manager from the Navy, and a Training Manager (or two) from Medicine.

There was professional discipline that students and academics seem to lack.


Indeed, as academics often say themselves, they don’t have proper jobs.

Isn’t it about time that they behaved like the professional world, indeed, took lessons from corporate communications instead of getting things wrong all the time?


I read this from the 1992 report and wonder if when it comes to the people involved much has changed inside academic institutions.

‘There is evidence to suggest that course team processes can become pathological if the factors listed by Riley(1983) (particularly, it could be argued, the ‘private’ factors) are not properly addressed.’ Kaye, (1992:08).

‘One experienced course team chairman (Drake, 1979) goes so far as to say that …

“the course team is a menace to the academic output and reputation of the Open University,” [sic/ibid]

‘because it provides a framework for protracted (and exciting) academic discussions about possible options for course content and structure, but that when the real deadlines are imminent, many academic are unable to come to define decisions and produce satisfactory material.’


If academics at the OU can’t (or couldn’t) work together what hope to do mature postgraduates have?


Our maturity and NOT being academics probably

‘problems can arise in the relationship between academic staff and radio or television producers’ Nicodemus (1984) points out that the resultant anxieties can cause “ … a lot of flight behaviour which simply delays and dramatises the eventual confrontations.’


I have an idea for a soap-opera set on the campus of the OU; this report provides the material

I'm not going to quote it all, but there is some social science behind it. Hopefully this paper or chapter is traceable.

Brooks (1982) has observed that when complex tasks are shared amongst individuals or small working groups, the extra burdens of coordination and communication often counteract the productivity gains expected from division of labour.


Problems arise from social psychological processes:

for example, pressures to confirm in a group might cause people to behave less effectively than if they were working alone, and diffusion of responsibility and lack of ownership of a group product can lead to group members contributing less effort to a group task tan they would to a personal, individual, project.


However, we are left on a positive note by this report

“ … the cycle of integration-disintegration is, after all, also known to be important in creativity.” (Nicodemus, 1984)

In the case of distributed course teams (eg those working on interdisciplinary, or co-produced courses) where, a priori, a strong case might be made for networked computer support for collaboration, it would seem important to pay even more attention to the underlying dynamics within a team.


Enough, enough, enough … I am only half way through this report.

Let’s skip to a conclusion, which is as pertinent today as it was in 1992.

‘The social, psychological, and institutional factors influencing the processes and outcomes of academic teamwork were stressed in the first part of this chapter (see above, this is as far as I got), because these factors are probably of greater overall importance in determining successes than is the nature of any technology support which might be made available to a course team'. Kaye (1992:17)




Brooks, F 91982) The mythical man-month: Essays on software engineering. Reading. MA.: Addison-Wesley.

Crick, M (1980) ‘Course teams: myth and actuality’, Distance Education engineering, Reading, MA.: Addison-Wesley.

Drake, M. (1979) ‘The curse of the course team’, Teaching at a distance, 16, 50-53.

Kaye, A.R. (1992) ‘Computer Conferencing and Mass Distance Education’, in Waggoner, M (ed) Empowering Networks: Computer Conferencing in Education, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology Publications.

Martin, J. (1979) ‘Out of this world – is this the real OU?” Open Line, 21, 8.

Nicodemus, R (1984) ‘Lessons from a course team’, Teaching at a distance, 25, pp 33-39

Riley, J (1983) The Preparation of Teaching in Higher Education: a study of the preparation of teaching materials at the Open University, PhD Thesis, University of Sussex.


Post script

In the course of writing this I discovered (courtesy of Wikipedia) that Leonardo da Vinci may have coined the phrase, or a version of ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ and also invented the pedalo. The mind boggles, or is Leonardo still alive and contributing ? (his fans certainly are).

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