Tag Archive | learning

Ultimate tools for Lecturers

I’ve showed this to my colleagues:

Just imagine giving every Lecturer one of these

It’s a briefcase containing the following:

  • MacBook Pro
  • Video Camera
  • iPhone
  • Digital camera
  • iPhone Dock

It also has:

Integrated charger!

A one socket charging solution that means with one cable you can charge all of the devices inside! Very impressive kit!

So we got to thinking what would we change? This is what we came up with:

  • Laptop
  • Pico Projector & projection screen
  • Video Camera
  • Digital camera
  • Digital recorder

What would you put in your E-Learning Briefcase?

Too many layers

Continuing on from my previous post about the iPad  (and its shortfalls), I’ve been thinking about it from another perspective i.e. an educational one (suprising eh?).

The latest buzz in education for the last couple of years has been netbooks moreso than mobile phones , which in the majority of cases are still too clunky and lack sufficient screen estate to make them useful for lessons. However if we look to institutions like ACU (who’s connected program was the first to give students iPhones and iPod touches for educational benefit both in and out of class), we can see that that a device such as an iPhone lends itself well to aiding teaching and learning.

Why does the iPhone  succeed where other mobile learning projects have failed? Because its intuitive This is so often overlooked when it comes to e-learning tools,  first impressions count, if users (and I’m containing teachers and students within this term) can’t make something work, they’ll drop it and move on.

I’ve tested this myself, give the iPhone to someone who hasn’t used it before and they will know how to use it, as the majority of the controls make sense.

So why has education been so interested in netbooks? They’re certainly attractive:

  • Small form factor
  • cheap
  • sufficient performance for web and document writing tasks

I am a netbook owner ( for just under two years now), its  far better than the Toshiba Satellite A50 it replaced. That is not to say its not without flaws.  It’s battery doesn’t last long enough and the screen resolution is annoying, seriously who thought 1024 x 600 would be a good idea? I wouldn’t even classify myself as a power user, all I do on mine is surf the net and download stuff and yet it’s grunt is rarely sufficient for even that, if you are surfing a website/forum with many images or embedded videos you soon start to experience slow down.

But you can see the benefits, a £200 netbook that can act as an resource locator for lessons is far better than investing £400 in a laptop to do the same thing.

So if we agree that netbooks are great in concept, but flawed in execution why are we giving them to our students? Surely we want to give our students the devices that will enable them to excel?

Because there wasn’t anything better at the time

But I don’t think that this is the case, I now spend probably equal amounts of time at home surfing the net on my iPhone as I do my netbook (that in itself is a major milestone that a mobile device can even compete) and for pure passive information gathering, something like an iPhone is hard to beat.

The main reason I feel the netbooks suffer is that the os (be it Linux or Windows) offers too much functionality. For a device sold and marketed on the principle of giving you quick and easy access to the internet on the go,  netbooks don’t really achieve that with any great level of success. A Windows XP install will probably take 1-2gb at a minimum and I would happily say that you could probably do without a lot of it. All that functionality bogs the machine down and makes it harder to achieve its core goal surfing the internet. So it stands to reason that the iPad will probably overtake my netbook as my surfing device of choice because it will do exactly what I need of it, with no bloat, no fuss and no mess.

That’s not to say its perfect (far from it), for students the lack of flash (and thus removing access to the range of e-learning tools & services based on it) and the ability to easily create and store documents (unless file structures etc.. are revealed later on) are thorny issues but I can see that young students will be able to interface better with an interface with a touch screen than a mouse (point and click vs touch).

Regardless of your thoughts on the iPad I think it’s perfect for education as its cheap (relatively), secure, quick to boot and has a decent battery life. It’s ease of use (going on the iPhone interface) means that teachers will spend less time training students  on how to use the device and more time using it to support and enhance learning and that’s got to be a good thing right?

Running to Stand still

I visited Hastings College last Friday to meet with Apple Distinguished Educator Steven Molyneux to view his latest e-learning project.

Hastings is in the middle of  a sea change, a paradim shift if you will, a transition between two implacciable foes.

I’m talking of course about Apple and Microsoft.

With Steves guidence, Hastings are replacing all teaching and learning PC’s with Mac Mini’s, whilst keeping the administrative staff running on Windows.

So far so average, but this is where it gets interesting:

They are removing their VLE.

A FE/HE institution with no virtual learning enviroment, how will people work?! Perhaps its not as insane as it seems,  a poorly implemented VLE is nothing more than a content repository,  almost a digital library of sorts that people dip into when they need to find something.

They’re replacing it with OS X Server which comes bundled with: Podcast creator, wiki server and combined with the ilife suite makes quite a compelling learning solution….

After a reasonably speedy journey driving in the beast with my collegue Jim accompanied by playing Mettalicas Death Magnetic at ear bleeding volume, we arrived at Hastings College.

I should preface this next comment with the statement that Hastings is in the process of building a new Campus with upto date facilities and on looking at the current one,  I can safely say that the new build can’t be finished quickly enough (old school doesn’t even come close, think of the worst ‘building of the future’ 60’/70’s constuction and you would be getting close).

We met Steve and headed straight to a hair & beauty class that had been using iPod Touch’s as a learning aid to support activities both in and out of contact ours. Students would access course content by viewing the wiki and streaming video/audio/text where appropriate.

Except some students couldn’t get the videos to work, others didn’t bother to use the devices except in class and others either didn’t have internet at home, or if they did failed to have WiFi.

And even if they did overcome the access issue, it still left a bad taste in my mouth as we’re just replicating the same solutions over and over again.

The iPod being utilised as nothing more than a passive viewing medium, almost as if it were a laptop rather than a mobile device,  the iPod is a device born of web 2.0 it is an amazing collaboration and communication tool like no other before (in terms of accessibility, speed and ease of set up).

Why do we in education always seek to reinvent the wheel? Got a homework diary? Have a digital diary! Got a portfolio? How about an ePortfolio! In class poll? Have an online poll!!

The list goes on,  but its always the same things, when will we stop replicating and start to really innovate.

Writing in a Digital world

In the world of today is still important to write?

When I say write I mean the actual process of drawing the typography that represents our language on paper, not the ability to construct meaningful sentences.

Heresy I know but hear me out, how often do you actually write these days? My sum total of writing is in this order:

  • Shopping lists,
  • Random development notes scribbled in a notebook,
  • Birthday Cards

And that’s about it; the rest I do on a computer and print out or email: Letters, forms etc. All are word processed and printed out, I rarely actually write anything of length using a pen.

Perhaps I have a skewed perspective as I’m Dyslexic which means my writing is pretty scrappy if I don’t really concentrate on it; this means that If I can, I type.

I doubted that I was alone in my abandonment of the written word, so I tweeted:

Is handwriting important in a digital world? SeecTom

and got the following response:

Lizthebiz@SeecTom I hope not… my handwriting is positively dire but I can type 63 words per minute!

@Lizthebiz Do you type because handwriting was poor or did your handwriting suffer as a result of you typing?

Lizthebiz@SeecTom Chicken or egg… I’ve never been any good at writing but learned to type at 14yrs old. Now I avoid writing so I don’t practice it

So there were people out there with a similar outlook to writing, in fact you could argue that the concept of the written word is actually holding us back. Just because I can’t spell a word or fail to use the correct grammar does not mean that my sentence has any less importance. Once written a word cannot be changed, which is a lovely dramatic statement but hardly helpful to someone with a learning difficulty.

What I mean by this is that why should we engage with a medium that more often than not makes it harder to communicate by not offering tools to support and aid the user?

I remember writing essays on paper during school before computers were wide spread and I’ve lost count of the number of times I had to start it again because of making too many mistakes (thus making the content harder to read) .

Word processing makes it easier for both the writer and the reader, the written word is just a barrier that only hinders and is just as much a tool of separation as when it was the tool of the religious and intelligentsia.

A word processor aids formatting, spelling & grammar, ensures that the writer is able to make adjustments and corrections without having to start again.

It is the single most important e-learning tool of our time.

In writing this article I made over 27 spelling and probably quite a few grammatical errors.

Perpetual motion

E-Learning for me does not just mean developing applications and websites, no it also means creating a system or dare I use that cliched word solutions to allow teachers to get more out of a session than what they put in.

Over the last year or so I together with Impact have been developing a system that will enable our catering staff to record teaching & training sessions.

First a little information, we’ve got two kitchens on site Ora & Skills; Ora is a kitchen where students cook lunch and dinner for staff and members of the public, Skills is a demonstration kitchen where students learn new techniques. Each kitchen has two PTZ (pan tilt zoom) cameras, three ip56 rated televisions, a touch panel and a control lanyard each. The system is quick to boot up, easy to log in and simple to use to ensure that there is minimum disruption to any session. Once the Chef has logged on he can use the lanyard to command the entire system from anywhere in the kitchens, without having to interact with the touch panel. As soon as the videos are recorded they are transferred to our servers and (pending approval) are viewable by all staff and students. So we’ve created a system that records chefs, this in itself is nothing new, we’ve had the ability to use video cameras in class for years; where’s the benefit to the learners and most of all the teachers?

Lets say we have 20 students in the kitchens watching the chef joint a chicken. The chef proceeds to joint the chicken, students watch and then try it themselves, prior to this system that’s where the lesson stops. What happens if a student has a question, or wants to see it again? The chef has to grab another chicken. Not so with our new system, the chef can instantly play back the recording on any number of screens around the kitchen, enabling them to both demonstrate and instruct which better serves the students needs.

More importantly, what happens if the student has a question outside of the kitchen, or outside of College hours? In combination with our VLE our students can access all the videos from home, bookmark relevant sections and review training sessions whenever or whereever they like.

So we’ve seen how it can benefit students, but how can it help teachers get more out of sessions then they put in?

Over time, Teachers can record training videos of sessions & techniques to create a bank of personalised learning resources that they can access in and out of the kitchens to enhance course content and delivery. We’ve given them the ownership over their own content, no longer do they have to search through youtube videos from tv shows for the 10 second clip required. The chefs can simply navigate to the content they themselves have created and students can see their peers using the same techniques instead of random people from the internet, students are more likely to be engaged with content if its relevant to them and teaching staff work better with students who are engaged with the content.

By creating and using these personalised resources in class, the lecturer can literally be in two places at once, as they can be onscreen demonstrating techniques whilst being able to walk round the kitchens and supervise students replication of the demonstrated technique and support/guide students where necessary instead of just being stuck at the front of the class.

With this system staff can get more in than they get out (and its a lot faster than human cloning).

An improv demonstration of the kitchen recording system

An Introduction

Hello, I’m Thomas Curtis and this is a little about me and a mini blog post combined.

I’m an e-learning developer at South East Essex College a FE/HE institution located in Essex, United Kingdom I’ve worked at a range of Colleges and Academies, all of which pursue e-learning & ICT as a medium to enhance and support the learner experience.

My education was interesting to say the least, I barely graduated from School as I had become disaffected with the learning experience, the traditional teaching methods used at that time and struggled with both the learning difficulties of Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. It was not until I went to College (ironically it is the same institution that I work for now) that reignited both my passion for learning and computing in general. Through hard work & the support of lecturers I managed to secure both a recognised computing qualification, acceptance on a university degree and without sounding too melodramatic forge a new path for myself.

I also feel having studied at the same College where I initially studied gives me a unique perspective, enabling me to see both sides of the coin so to speak. As e-learning & the Internet itself was just getting started as a learning medium when I studied at the College (99-01), teachers and students were just getting used to the Internet as a resource let alone a method to evolve learning. It was as a result of my personal experiences as a student that I decided that once I had completed my Degree that I would try and return to the education sector to ‘give something back’ for lack of a better cliche, as I had personally benefited from the range of e-learning tools which enabled me to attain a level of education I had initially dismissed as an irrelevance, if not an impossibility.

From the abacus to the mobile phone, technology has always been used with varying degrees of success, at College & University I was introduced to the benefits of word processing, mind mapping, spell checks, font and colour manipulation to improve readability and a whole host of other resources and techniques.

The tools on offer to today’s learner far, far exceed anything I could have dreamed of, case in point; teachers can communicate with Students in an instant, show multiple videos on a interactive whiteboard without having to wheel in a 28 inch CRT, via mobile technology we are providing students with the ability to send/receive course content from anywhere that can connect to the Internet, be that the gym, on holiday or even in bed (now that’s personalised learning)!

Enough about history, I should talk about the present, what I do and where I hope to go from here. In my role as an e-learning professional I develop applications & solutions to support teaching and learning (based primarily on Microsoft ASP.net and related technologies), this can range from simple web forms, event management systems to project managing multimedia recording solutions and full upgrade to lecture theaters. I also Blog about ICT and Twitter with other e-learning colleagues, both inside and out of College about e-learning, what it is and how it can benefit students and teachers.

The future..

I hope to continue blogging and establishing contacts with e-learning providers across the world, one thing that hinders e-learning is standardisation. From playschool, to Junior, to high school to university we all have differing systems, schemas, teaching methods and datasources. We do not teach in English Junior school and then switch to French from College onwards, so why do we do the same when it comes to e-learning? Moodle, BlackBoard, Bespoke software, some training, no training. E-learning is supposed to make things easier for the learner, so why do we change the game at each step? It is this that I hope to change, perhaps open source is the key, perhaps not either way I’m looking forward to finding out.