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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 9 Jun 2014, 00:08

 

Perhaps these could be the guidelines for contributing to a community blog such as this?! 

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Sunbathing and reading ...

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It's so rare I have to be in it. I will read and nod off in the sun. I will add PostIt notes and later type these up onto a laptop. I've been known to hide the screen in a cardboard box to reduce glare.

It works for me. I especially like being told when my brain has reached overload and I can sleep for a bit. And potter around the garden to break it up. Putting out and taking down washing. Pricking out seeds. Giving up on the beans and peas. Putting in some more tomatoes.

Sitting a written exam when it is a wonderful day is not so hot; if you have two exams then you miss it all. Not quite a day at work you should tell the student though.

 

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E-learning is at best clinical, at worst sterile

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 8 Jun 2014, 05:51

'Sterile' is apt; I'd be more forgiving ... 'clinical'.

I'm reaching these conclusions courtesy of a comment and discussion below. Thanks Cathy. 

I am very aware of wonderful of examples of e-learning used in the education of Junior Doctors (search Spaced-ed and QStream below) where understandably we expect them to know, to perfection, the bits and bobs of the human body.

Learn, repeat, test, and achieve higher grades as a result of using the QStream platform. 

'Sterile' is apt in any of the humanities where interpretation negates any kind of 'tick box' approach that might suit the costings of the assessment process but utterly fails the need for considerable discussion and interpretation.

To challenge my beliefs and expectations of learning I am already half way through a more traditional Masters Degree. I am 'reading' for this degree in every sense of the word. As I inch ever closer to a distinction ... three, then two marks off ... I put this down to my curiosity and personal pursuit through references and footnotes that are of interest to me.

I'm being disingenuous here of course. E-learning is fast becoming a mirror to 'learning', its scope suitably vast and varied to accommodate the good, bad and ugly of the genre. In particular, how learning objective are met will indicate the appropriateness of certain approaches; a learning by rote platform such as QStream is of great value ensuring that Junior Doctors know their stuff, but would be the wrong approach to teach philosophy. Often, history is a prime example, course context and prescribed texts are easily complimented with your own further reading. TED-like lectures work as an inspirational starting point. I swear by the game-like affordances of Rosetta Stone. 

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Trying to jog my memory - is 'e-learning' the 'ready meal' of learning?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 7 Jun 2014, 05:42

Fig. 1. Somewhere along Dyke Road yesterday morning I had this thought ...

I had a thought on 'the evil of e-learning' as I drove my daughter to her final A' level exam. She was flicking through some revision notes on cards and intermittently going to her phone to listen to clips of John Donne she was hoping to remember. A bit of e-learning there. I meant to write down the thought but was driving. Six hours later it comes to me again, I write 'e-learning is evil' as the title of one of these posts (I use my student blog as a learning journal and portfolio) and my wife bursts in with some exciting news that I am eager to here and not wanting to be rude I'm sure the thought will wait ... but no, it had gone.

I'm reflecting on this now in the hope that it'll come back to me ... I may have to drive out to my daughter's school simply to see if that jogs my memory. I'd like to think the idea I had was profound, but I've lost it for the moment. I need to get those parts of my brain that were active at the time re-aligned ... 

Four years and seven OU modules and a passing thought about the nature, possibilities and weaknesses of e-learning comes and goes. 

It'll come to me. 

Everything will need to be as it was yesterday. I'm unlikely to have my daughter in the car if I drive out there ... she's done with school smile I guess during the exam she got a text from Glyndebourne to ask if she'd do an afternoon shift which is where her Mum took her in the afternoon - so much for celebrating!

There was something about the moment, reflecting on the end of her secondary education and what she's gained or achieved, the relevance of her circumstances and who she is ... using her iPhone to scroll through podcasts of readings of John Donne ... with sets of handwritten cards. The radio was off; I knew it would have been a distraction. I didn't speak. All the more reason to having given my head the chance to think, where there is a chance there is more activity internally and less competition from external inputs.

Was that it?

E-learning externalising the knowledge and spoon feeding someone else's interpretation of the answer? E-learning as the 'ready meal' of education? That learning the product of a collection of images and impressions? That a tricky quotation my daughter was trying to get to stick, like a PostIt note to the back of her head would forever be associated with the myriad of ways in which she was introduced to the passage, wrote it down, re-wrote it selectively from her A' Level English folder, and was now, in her way, listening to it and reading her handwritten revision card ... and that yes, on quizzing her in the evening over supper she'd referred to the quote as well and was quite chuffed with the whole experience.

This is it.

That e-learning risks stripping out a mass of personalised contexts that make the learning memorable and personal, and even worthwhile. Looking back on my seven modules (so far) with the Open University everything done online (and I have thousands of posts and thousands of screen-grabs and notes on it) on reflection, risks having been very clinical. Not all of it. Not always. But the idea of learning online 'by joining the dots' scares me. What's the use of that?

I'm going to have to go and sit in the car.

If I'm still stuck then when I drive my daughter to work later this morning I may see if any of it comes back to me. There is method to this; I know from years of clawing back dreams, those most wispy of experiences, that the closer you recreate the very moment of thought, the more likely enough parts of your brain will fire up to bring it back ... or, in the neurological sense, to recreate an approximation of the thought. 

We did speak. Something about exams. The stress, value and differentiation in grading of them. She spoke about Lear, I spoke about Hamlet. In the back of my mind I was reflecting on the benefit or otherwise of our children having their parents both together and at home. We've not been sticklers for revision, rather enablers, helping them see the value and need to get on top of their subject, and to help them or allow them to vary the pace by still seeing friends, getting out, some footie or the gym ... I wonder though if streaming TV series and movies back to back will be my son's undoing; yet I recall I would often have had the radio on as my companion to revision. We'll see. I know that what works is the ability to focus; if you want it to the brain will tune out the distractions.

E-learning is massive and complex. It's neither a panacea, nor an absolute. Can it be too clinical though? The context in which we learn, engaging all the senses, has a profound impact on how and if we form a memory and can then keep it.

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Future Learn

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Fig. 1. The above is a screen-grab. This is the link to Talk the Talk

These are an important step in expanding the appeal of e-learning - quality, free, online courses that serve multiple purposes: free learning, PR for the institution, feeding hungry minds ...

They typically require only two to four hours of your time a week - unlike the formal distance-learning degree programmes that require 16 - 22. Typically a very short video, some reading, some questions and research makes up each 'activity'. They are a taster of what these universities offer undergraduates, graduates and distance learners.

I've done two already (Web Sciences with the University of Southampton, Hamlet with the University of Birmingham), and a third of a similar ilk (First Steps into Teaching in Higher Education) offered independently by Oxford Brookes.

Explaining them to someone I described these as the 'new hard back', that sumptuous coffee-table book. You browse, you enjoy ... and then you engage. They are inspirational more than hardcore - though they do test your thinking with assessment too. Like one of these coffee-table books there's a bit of showing off too. And they're free. A great way to test the water in relation to self-directed learning online.

 

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The worst of both worlds rather than the best

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 5 Jun 2014, 06:09

 

 

Fig .1. The Dynamics of Doctrine: The Changes in German Tactical Doctrine During the First World War. Timothy Lupfer (1981) Combat Studies Institute

Sometimes the technology lets you down. Here, having tracked down an obscure book I discover that it is only available in 'digital form' - though it isn't. Rather it is a series of 80 photographs, not even scans and these are presented in landscape form too small to read without expanding the page.

On an iPad the pages flips to horizontal unless you lock the screen. To read the text I have to enlarge each photograph one at a time. I cannot highlight, or annotate. I cannot search. I cannot link instantly to any reference or footnote. 

It had better be worth the effort to extract the information that interests me (it will, there is very little on German tactics on the Western Front while there is a mountain on what the British were doing). 

The effort to read this book will, whether I like it or not, make what I read more likely to stick - the effort is more likely to result in stuff going into the deeper recesses of my memory rather than floating on the surface. 

Usually books that have had this done to them are printed out, on demand, and couriered; I have a few. Again, with mixed results, some brilliant and book like, one I have like a bad photocopy on glossy paper.

The error was during the inputting. Some student operative faced with a stack of books to put through the digitising system didn't line this up. Or, perhaps, this has been copied from a microfiche? That would explain why it scrolls from left to right.

Read on.

 

 

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What do you learn from a TV series like 'Breaking Bad'?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 5 Jun 2014, 09:14

I cracked some ten days ago; unwell, not so unwell I couldn't flop about the house, bored and managing to read, but my brain too lacklustre to take notes or think. So I tried this.

The pilot episode was magic - like the second act of Macbeth. It all happens and you're left eager for more. 36 episodes later and it goes through a slow patch, but now I'm on the home run and can see the premise of it all. This happened to coincide with a sessions I attended on writing fiction in which I learned that 'character is plot' - in this case character is also premise and story arc. So, not on a creative writing course but there's a load to learn about writing fiction here.

$3m an episode!? Shot on 35mm film. $200m for all six series?!! 

It shows. The production values are those of a movie.

The Open University has equivalent production values; you get into bed with the BBC on 'The Frozen Planet' or some such and spin off Open Learn tasters and various modules. But as a learning platform does video teach? Rather does it inspire and motivate?

Drama is about how you are made to feel, not how you come to think?

Advertising persuades, it has to. Why are 'educational videos' more like TV commercials then?

Donkeys years ago we made 'advertorials' - extended, persuasive, corporate, sponsored learning content put out on video, then distributed by satellite and eventually put on internal networks. I have to wonder if a leaflet would not have worked better and achieved as much for less, but as it was pointed out, no one read the leaflets, at least a training manager knew his workforce had watched 'the video' because they had the attendance sheets.

Were they given a test afterwards though?

That's the way to turn it into learning. 'After this video, or episode you will be given a test on .... '

 

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What to do about odd socks

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:56

All my schemes and ideas to tackle odd socks have failed: days of the week, patterns, colours, all black (they fade and stretch in individual ways only known to a sock) ...

The answer of course, in summer at least, is not to wear them - I prefer 'deck shoes'.

The other response, something my son adopted years ago, is to wear odd sock and not give a damn. Here the answer is at least to wear odd socks from the same set.

 I then rather wonder if I couldn't have odd trouser legs to match? 

Is it then a case of the problem being in the eye of the perceiver?

That to the colour blind (or blind) there is not problem. The socks are all clean. They are all the same size (odd that in a family of four, but between my wife, daughter and son we do fit the size 6-8 sock).

That one solution to a problem is to ignore it.

 

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Career guidance from the OU - Part 1

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:21

Horticulturalist

I have to wonder if the career advice should not come before you take a degree rather than afterwards. I cannot figure how from the multitude of questions that I answered that it came up with this.

Did IT know that age 13 1/2 I had the entire summer term off school as my leg was so badly broken and that I used this time to work through the Reader 's Digest 'Gardening Year'? My efforts some 40 years on pale: back then I was doing both ground and air propagation of rhododendrons - successfully pulling off the second plant a year or two later. Maybe that was my calling, instead education got in the way and the parental requirement for a 'proper degree'.

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On being an OU bore

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:25

Seven modules later and in four years I believe I have had ONE face to face conversation with a fellow student. A couple of weekends ago I sat with a friend who creates learning content for a national museum: I realise know what a bore I became as over two hours I fear I turned every conversation back onto learning in general and e-learning in particular. 

Finding like-minds online is one thing; having them in front of me is another. 

I've noticed something awkward too - a couple of friends with whom I share all sorts through Facebook who I see around town; in the past we'd greet eachother, catchup on personal and family news, even have a coffee - now we grunt, mention something we caught online and move on. As if by knowing so much more about our goings on that small talk is pointless, and more intimate chat now redundant and likely to be repetitive.

Returning to 'like-minds' and the value, even craving to 'let it all out' - this is where there is significant value in the residential school. It matters to have the opportunity to put your enthusiams and problems with a module in words and to see and feel the response from others.

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Amazon makes e-learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:56

Wikipedia gives you an answer, whereas Amazon delivers the book.

Wikipedia spoon feeds a ready-made response, whereas Amazon offers many points of view. These days my book reading has grown hugely as, whether a book or eBook, I use each book like a stepping stone to another. As I read I form a view on the authors most often cited and invariably, as a result, order the next book. It may be out of print, but is available as an eBook or print on demand, it may be 100 years old, or an ex-library book, or come with a dedication. The learning journey I take I feel is my own.

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Is a teacher closer in age to the student going to be more effective than an older teacher?

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Temporarily I suspect, my teenage children, 18 and 16 respectively over the next fortnight, are learning how mutually advantageous it can be to help eachother out - stronger academically our daughter at our son's request is sitting down with him a couple of times a week to go through his GCSE English papers. There's much laughter, rapport and work.

It made me wonder about the age of a teacher in relation to students - the power of peer support from your own generation, young students who have just successfully 'passed through'. And then the value of empathy between younger teachers and lecturers.

Not meaning to sound sexist and agist, at primary school all my teachers were elderly and female - in a boy's school. I do rather think that we would have responded better to younger male teachers. My son at a co-ed school never had a male teacher in five years - there only ever was one male teacher in the entire establishment who retired to be replaced by a young male teacher who left after a year.

I know I will be told that other qualities overide age and gender, but where empathy and rapport matter would not a thorough mix of ages, gender and other qualities work best of all?

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Who is who in e-learning?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 09:36

Martin Weller

Grainne Conole

Chris Pegler

Rhona Sharpe

Vic Lally

Helen Beetham

Tony Hirst

Dianna Laurillard

Agnes Kukulska-Hume

Matin Weller

George Siemens

Rebecca Eynon

Gilly Salmon 

Cammy Bean

Laura Overton

There are many others; do please make some suggestions so that I can complete this list and then add a brief profile. All have a PhD, most are professors ... 

Who are these academics in the photo?

Grainne Conole is on the right, so the other two? smile

 

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Success in learning is solo-learning, not social

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 06:55

At our level, postgraduate and graduate, 'social learning' far from being of benefit to your studies it is a distraction. Yes, fraternise with fellow students, but don't imagine that 'a bit of a chat' or gregariosness will take the place of the time you must spend on your own with your problems and thoughts. 

For all the effort the OU makes to bring us together, or to generate relationships within tutor groups, far more effort should be given to promoting and supporting your solo efforts - helping you to understand that results are the product of your ability to set aside ample time when you can be on your own, undisturbed and without distraction. And then, on how best to use this time.

Mild panic helps rather than hinders.

I'm reading a new book on education - stress is better than being spoon fed, it matters that you worry you don't understand, that the reading list is too long. By trying to overcome such problems, and tight demanding deadlines that take you out of your comfort zone you form lasting memories, youn engage multiple zones of your brains and draw on your own experiences.

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When the penny drops or the fog clears

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 06:57

 To come close to mastering a subject at undergraduate and graduate level takes a couple of years - it should be at the end of this two year period that formal assessments take place. I question the logic of formal assessments before them, other than to trap the unwary into taking modules that may or may not lead to something else, that will probably, for the first couple at least, deliver less than pleasing grades. If I took a couple of modules after the MAODE it would be to wipe-out the first two feeling dissatisfied with low 50s where a couple of mid 70s is where I peaked. 

At some point as you study the 'fog will clear', like learning a language, the 'language' of your subject will come into focus. There might be a 'Eureka Moment', when the 'Penny Drops', some text, something someone says that changes everything and you cross a line forever.

For me this requires considerable reading and discussion around the subject - I have to make my own discoveries, to hear it from half a dozen voices first, ideally from different angles, until one voice, or collectively, they come into harmony.

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Two minds like combs pressed together

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 07:00

Working with a fellow student we can share each other's notes, but here I question their worth, that coming from your personal choices and sensibilities that should trigger in you the original reasons why you picked a thing out, they often appear disjointed and illogical to another. Perhaps when you sit down together like pushing a couple of combs together the mesh offers a third interpretation from which you can then work?

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How far will Steve McQueen get?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 29 May 2014, 10:56

Fig.1. The Great Escape

Taking garden cuttings to the dump I found this character, and others, escaping from the heap. For those who know their snails what will be the consequences of his escape? I don't suppose he'll make it back to the garden he came from ... half a mile at least into Lewes. Why would a snail want to return to the garden of their birth?

Just wondering.

I feel there's a story here.

Is this Steve McQueen? or Stevie McQueen?

And who's that following behind?

 

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H818 - 69 - again

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 07:03

That's two 69s in the same week - from the OU this is so far from a distinction of 84+ not to warrant consideration, whereas from the University of Birmingham 69 is one mark short of their hurdle of 70 to call it a distinction (my previous effort for them got me to 67).

Was I ever cut out for writing about about education? Is it too 'wishy-washy' for me?

By comparison I find far higher scores achievable in subjects such as History, Geography and even Art. I like the essay/assignment where you pick ONE question from twelve or more and get on with it, whereas repeatedly with the OU I find I am not picking one question, but having to answer 60 questions each with a sentence or word, and then somehow hold this together in a compelling narrative. At least that is how the MAODE has panned out, and H818 in particular. 

Art is a performance, once you can demonstrate the required skill levels the 'grade' is subjective. 

The exception to this was the research into e-learning module where a 93 in an TMA had my tutor saying 'you are made for this kind of thing'. I should have been a barrister, that's what. 

 

 

 

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Less 'e' means more learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 28 May 2014, 15:44

Fig.1. My Personal Learning Environment

For someone who completed the Master of Arts Open and Distance Education over a year ago and has done further MAODE modules here and other MA modules elsewhere it surprises even me to recognise I learn, and probably do, more when I am NOT in front of the computer (iPad, laptop or desktop).

These days I have no choice but to read books and when I do this is how I set about them:

Read and attach PostIts

Write up, selectively, into a notebook the bits that I've picked out (there is a further filtering process here)

Then type these notes up into a Google Doc (typically into a table).

I have become meticulous about citing as I go along as to want to use a quote or idea and not know where it came from can take a considerable time to recover.

An eBook isn't only on the Kindle (now Paperwhite), but also on the iPad and sometimes even on the laptop or desktop. I read in tight columns with few words, fast - like a TV autocue. As I go along I highlight. Sometimes bookmark something important or big. And from time to time add a note. On other screens the highlights can be colour sorted, so I may theme these as highlights for an essay, for their narrative value, or simply their quirkiness (so I can blog about it).

Interaction with the content in any and many ways is key. Having a presentation to give or essay to write is crucial, otherwise you can read a book and highlight/bookmark far too much of the thing.

Invariably I follow up references. I may loop off to read parts of these references immediately, which may be a paragraph in another book, sometimes a book I can find free online, sometimes an eBook for £2 or so ... occasionally a hefty tome that gives me pause for thought. I have a student library card so can get down to the University of Sussex in 30 minutes. Here I've just read a few chapters from a biography on Plumer as I'm preparing something on aspects of Third Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele. My self-directed reading list my have expanded to some dozen texts by now: divisional histories, several biographies on Haig, several books on military history with specialist books on the machine gun corps and gas. My notes are always created in Google Docs and in this case the folder shared with a fellow student who has added his own notes too. The learning process is akin to making a sculpture out of papier mache - I keep attaching little pieces and am starting to get a clear idea of the thing. 

Is reading still one of the most efficient ways to pass information from one person/source to another? It's quicker than a lecture. Good for many things. Were I studying Law surely reading is everything, whereas Chemistry or Physics you may benefit from and prefer the video/animation, the lecture with charts.

 

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Where to begin

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 28 May 2014, 15:59

With no plans for further e-learning modules the aim now is to go back through four years of blogging in order to consolidate my thinking and experience. I feel like an ant being asked to draw a map.

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Just thinking

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 28 May 2014, 16:00

Learning works if it makes you think; this is why most videos don't work. Watching TV you 'sit back' and turn off. How often does it make you think?

Books require some engagement - the activity is called reading. You think a bit of you takes notes. You think even more if you interpret what you read in a way that makes it your own. This is best achieved if there is a specific goal, typically to research and write a response to a problem addressed in an essay title. In the longer term to sit an exam or to write a longer piece, such as a thesis, or to give a presentation. To read without such application is to row your boat without a rudder. 

If in the past I've said that is it 'time and effort' that leads to learning, then I'd now reduce two words to one. Thinking = time + effort.

What do you think?

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More like a 'House of Cards'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 28 May 2014, 15:56

I use the metaphor of essay writing being like sewing a tapestry but wonder if making a house of cards wouldn't be better? In many respects this is how I now write: notes from copious reading reduced to frames in a presentation, and even notes on Rolledex cards that are in time grouped into a coherent argument and then 'stacked' into shape to form an essay. Looked at in this way an essay is a case of assembling the right parts in a logical order. Looked at this way, on reading through, you can identify a card that is out of place or faulty. It takes great care if the entire edifice is not to fall, or, however reluctantly, you have to dismantle the thing and build it up again from scratch. THIS is where I fail to get the illusive distinction - faced, inevitably with such a house of cards, I am loath to fix that card, wherever it might be, knowing that to reassemble the 'house' will take time and effort and a degree or repeating a task you thought was done.

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Z is for Zimmermann

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 09:03

  • Zone of Proximal Development

  • Andreas Zimmermann

I was struggling here. Even this research, though interesting, is as whacky as Professor Brainstrom. The reality is a smatphone and an earpiece. Indeed theree are museums that offer an iTouch for visits.

Any other ideas for 'Z' ?

Zimmermann, A, & Lorenz, A 2008, 'LISTEN: a user-adaptive audio-augmented museum guide',User Modeling & User-Adapted Interaction, 18, 5, pp. 389-416, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 28 October 2013.

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Y is for YouTube

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 07:39

  • YouTube

  • Michael Young

There are millions of 'user generated' how to ... videos on YouTube that are the perfect shape, size and tone for applied, just in time learning.

I forget how much it is a default source for problem solving around the house from fixing a leaking tap, to the pronunciation of a word. 

Michael Young undertook research to back ideas that led to the creation of the Open University and the National Consumer Association, to support the democratisation of higher education and to keep us from being ripped off. Not e-learning, more a visionary lime Lord Reith who founded institutions that make Britain 'great'.

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X is for Xerte

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 08:18

  • Xerte
  • xMOOC

Xerte is an e-learning creation platform that puts the student with a disability first by having readily available options to create content that is accessible. It is the creation platform in the MA in Open & Distance Education module H810: Accessible E-learning. It's an easy to use blog/PowerPoint webpage building platform with a suite of adjustments built into the frame (see above) that allows for personalization of the experience to suit user needs.

Xerte online tool kits for untechnical people

How to start a Xerte object

Guides to using Xerte and installing it.

At JISC

As for an xMOOC I think 'MOOC' will do, indeed already there is a movement to call them 'OOCs' as the 'massive' thing is a misnomer given the vast fall off in participation in the things.

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