This blog is moving

August 4, 2009

Due to personal software preferences, this blog has been renamed eLearning NewZ and resited to

Thanks for looking in. I hope to continue discussion with you on the new site, which I promise will be more active than this one has been of late.


Screencasting, screen capture and lecture recording tools.

August 3, 2009

A variety of easy to use tools are available to capture lectures and screen content before or during a teaching session. Post-production facilities allow editing prior to distribution. For anyone wondering about the strengths, purposes and points of difference with these software programs, the April 2009 edition of the ALT Newsletter has some useful reviews.

Simon Davis, Learning Technologist, Staff and Departmental Development Unit, University of Leeds, used Camtasia software for real-time lecture capture including audio, video of the lecturer, presentation slides and dynamic content created on a tablet PC during classes. Simon reckons that a real time “screen capture” video is like someone looking over your shoulder while you talk them through something on your computer. His review looks at various ways this can be used to support teaching and learning. His conclusion – ‘a powerful and surprisingly flexible tool for creating rich multimedia learning objects.’ Read more.

Graham McElearney, a Learning Technologist from The University of Sheffield’s Learning and Teaching Services looks at two popular types of screen capture software for audio enhanced presentations and software demonstrations prepared ahead of time. He concludes that both programs offer the ability to rapidly create e-learning resources without having to invest large amounts of time learning new software. Read more.

Kris Roger and Chris Fryer from the London School of Economics review an integrated hardware and server system to automatically capture and process live lecture recordings for web-based delivery. Audio, PC and document camera output, as well as video of lecturers can be output as podcasts, vodcasts or web pages with flash video. Technical descriptions offer rather more than conceptual understanding of the system. Probably more than the average academic needs to know, these will be useful to system administrators and interested others. The verdict on benefits to learning and teaching is positive however, with students believing they might not have passed courses without the recordings, and lecturers even watching their own to try and improve their teaching. Read more.

All these forms of output can be presented or linked through an institutional learning management system. The biggest sticking point seems to be getting lecturers to the point of confidence where they agree to being recorded or to recording and distributing their resources. Experience shows this to be a minor challenge that disappears in time. This all bodes well for the UoA lecture recording pilot that is currently in progress.

Thanks to the UK Association of Learning Technology (ALT) and authors for these timely and useful reviews.

Podagogy from the BUFVC

April 7, 2009

One of the few print publications still welcome on my desk is Viewfinder from the British Universities Film and Video Council. Its an informative source of quality articles, product news and educational innovations. One to take on the ferry, read in the bath or over coffee somewhere – anywhere that spare minutes can still be snatched from a busy schedule.

Two stories stand out in the March 2009 edition. The one on Podagogy, summarized and commented on below, and another about the 7-8 April London (UK) conference on access and disability aspects of learning on screen. The conference program focuses on current and emergent technologies and how they serve or exclude people with disabilities. Hopefully proceedings will be available after the event for those of us dipping toes in what remains largely uncharted water.

Podcasting is not new  – despite my spellchecker needing to be trained to recognize it! The iPod has been around since 2001. Getting on for a decade. There is little room to doubt that it proved to be a disruptive technology in the true sense, in music and mobility terms. But what about educational application? Authors Crispin Dale and John Pymm (University of Wolverhampton) reckon that one of the main disruptive aspects is students generating content for other students, thus shifting the seat of power away from the worn out cliche known as ‘the sage on the stage’.

The study they report focused on performance arts, though the principles derived should not be hard to transfer:

  • flexible approaches to content delivery as part of a blended learning model;
  • personalized learning where students create, show and tell self generated content to peers and others, thus raising confidence and self esteem;
  • encouraging innovative thinking about course content;
  • production of learning materials that appeal to multiple senses;
  • practical ways to promote collaborative learning.

Every technology in education tale has a twist in it. Two main ones encountered in this case are 1) high resource consumption and 2) technical challenges of integration (the authors use the term tessellation – hope I haven’t obscured important meaning by substituting plain old integration) with learning management systems or virtual learning environments, and eportfolios.

With further integration (tessellation?) of iPods, iPhones, GPS, PDAs and other wireless gadgets on the cards, technicolur dreams may soon be within reach of every teacher and student with a $K or so to spare. It may take a while to completely dispel the myth that iPods (the www, TV, Radio, correspondence courses…) are designed to replace lectures. When this does finally happen, the prospects look bright indeed. As Dale and Pymm note in their closing remark, a generation in this context is a very short period of time. I only hope the next generation comes up with more elegant terminology!

Lecture recording showcase

November 4, 2008

Different perspectives on lecture recording technologies came together during CAD’s Teaching and Learning Showcase in late October 2008. It may be common in other places, but the mix of Lecturer, IT, Support and Facilities Management perspectives in one session was an unusual combination in the local context.

Two lecturers (Anthropology and European Languages and Literature) talked about how recording lectures allows them to engage with students at a more meaningful level, and bring research into the classroom by shifting content delivery to a different space. Students can concentrate on lectures because they don’t have to concentrate on getting everything down. Scheduling problems can be addressed, and people who are not physically present can also participate in teaching courses. All this can be achieved with the use of simple tools that either video and audio record the lecturer to synchronize the display material, or with display material and audio only. Sounds good so far!

The institutional marketing position was addressed by one local and one visiting IT person. The guest speaker talked about the University of Otago’s venture into iTunesU, where they rub shoulders with reputable neighbors such as Oxford, Stamford and soon, the University of Auckland. Although a predominant use of iTunesU is focused on marketing, there are great opportunities for teachers and learners in there with everything from short instructional podcasts to lectures from eminent professors, professionals and even former presidents. To check this out, all you need to do is install iTunes software on your Mac or PC, and follow the iTunesU link from the iTunes Store.

Access iTunesU from the iTunes Store

The aim from the University’s point of view is to put content where students, and presumably some staff, already are. The IT perspective shares the lecturer’s view that scheduling problems, which can be a veritable nightmare in an institutions with 30,000 students, can be addressed by the shift away from every activity being dependent on physical presence at a particular time and place. Although the concept seems extremely strange in a culture built on dependency on face to face contact, it is certainly catching on, and is only one of many changes to impact on the long established culture in recent years.

What is a lecture anyway?

A pause for reflection on this question, followed by bit of forward looking got the creative juices flowing. A lecture is a one off performance. Recording it can make it more widely available, and allow students to engage with a body of knowledge within a course. This opens up much more potential than lecture recording and delivery through a server and desktop computers, as capture can be staged in different settings and delivery through the range of mobile devices that most people under the age of 25 as well as many older ones spend considerable amounts of time plugged into.

So how do I get started?

Students are beginning to demand this kind of flexibility and convenient access in courses that currently do not provide it. So how does the novice / unrecorded lecturer get started? For some it may be as simple as ‘just turn your mic on.’ For most, a bit of guidance and initial support is needed. The University (of Auckland) identified the need and bought a site license for BB Flashback screen recording software which installs on a laptop to provide a portable option open to all members of the academic staff. Contact your local IT Support staff for details of access and installation. The Lectopia / Echo 360 recording system can be made available in various locations. Contact David Cunningham at Lecture Theatre Management Unit (LTMU) for details. Head of LTMU Pat Maguire says to ‘watch this space’ as further developments are in the pipeline for 2009.

For further information on the options, and an up to date assessment of the impact on teaching and learning, a report on Web-based Lecture Recording Technologies from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council presents research on the subject.

As the publicity material says, there is great scope here for enhancing presentations and information websites as well.

Wholesale broadband for all NZers?

October 16, 2008

I attended a Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ) event this morning. Two eloquent chaps from Telecom talking about infrastructure, applications and users. Broaderband New Zealand. The future looks bright indeed, new cabinets are coming to a street near you! One day they might come to a street near me, but for now the less favorable aspects of living in a heritage area continue to rule, and I am still stuck with dial up rather then the tempting speed, simplicty and variety being promoted this morning. There is a certain irony in the fact that today, even my landline is not working. A reasonably frequent occurance. Though Telecom are polite and quick to come and offer a fix – though apermanent one seems to remain elusive.

It was a little daunting (even for me!) to raise my hand with a question in that IT savvy company. Worth it in the end though, as you know when half the audience sits upright in their seats that they are wondering the same thing but too polite/timid/inarticulate to ask.

With all this great technology being delivered, how do people who don’t want to talk in VOIP / ADSL2 / other such acronyms, but want to use the services provided know how to access and get things set up? The presenters had to admit that this is a bit of a gap in the current service. They don’t address it – and rightly so – who can understand the website or magazine style information provided by ISPs? It’s too technical for most of us. The techos have done a great job for their part. Now its up to someone who can communicate with end users to help with getting access. The problem is – nobody does, so the great services are not, in fact, available to the average end user.

I learned from the presentation that the wiring and wee boxes in my house might be part of the problem. I have no problem believing this. Anything else in that state would have been thrown out years ago! Problem is I don’t know how to go about replacing these, or with what.

Contacts made at the event might lead to a solution – I sure hope so, as the contrast between the high speed KAREN network available to NZ universities and the dismal dial up at home would be laughable if it wasn’t so frustrating when I try to telecommute, or do basic personal things like banking and travel bookings online. Four minutes to load a page on average! Of two previous attempts at installing broadband, one wasn’t worth paying for because it cost heaps, fell over frequently and only worked at dial up speed anyway. The other one never got off the ground. The helpful chap on the support line decided after 4 hours or so of trying to solve the initial connection problem that it must be because I have a tree in my back yard!!!!! I won’t mention any company names, but the call centre wasn’t in Glasgow or the Philippines.

So, I look forward to delivery on the promise of Broaderband NZ – as do many of our +/- 30,000 students. Hopefully its been in the pipeline for long enough now to be just around the corner. Hopefully also, my question might lead to further consideration of how to deliver it in palatable form to the masses.

The free brekkie was excellent – thanks Telecom. I hope your technician has managed to fix my phone!

Wrap up of the day

September 5, 2008

For the final session of the day each of eight – now seven – groups came back to a plenary session where the draft syllabi were presented. The eight became seven because the ‘third party’ and ‘developing content’ groups decided the topics could not reasonably be separated.

There was quite some shift from the drafts that authors had generated on their own a day earlier. A very productive day resulted in seven fairly complete specifications for the topics. These will now go on to the next stage of detailed specification and development according to the time frame  defined in the earlier post.

Some people traveled a very long way to get here for the event. I think its safe to say the effort was well worthwhile.

Development timeframe

September 5, 2008

Graham Bradford (also Epigeum) outlined the specification, development and review milestones and hopes that work over the summer break can be accommodated by southern hemisphere contributors. Google Docs is already being used to allow contributors to view and comment on draft syllabi – spreadsheets are the chosen format to allow comments – although the software has some limitations, this does support version control and reversion. Storyboards can then be produced in Word format for reviewers to comment on. Although the documents can end up being rather long (65 or 70 pages) the process has been found to be manageable in previous development initiatives.

An iterative process is used for development and review, the impression seems to mirror the publication process where modifications are greater at first and lesser following the first round of reviews and modifications.

The invitation is for project managers to circulate the drafts to key people within their own institutions so they can provide input. This needs to happen during the early iterations as limited modifications can be accommodated at later stages.

Respect for deadlines is, naturally, a critical factor.

At this stage, the template driven structure for storyboards is fairly standard, and the information required is high level rather than detailed in the sense of actual video scripts and specific materials.

A question raised about whether the assumption is that users may move in and out of the course content pages returned the response that deep linking is generally to be avoided as this could result in broken links or other problems. The assumption is that customization for the local VLE environment will be where other features such as links to communication activities and external sites will be added.

Structure of the eight modules

September 5, 2008

The overall structure of the modules was presented by David Lefevre from Epigeum. The format is quite standard with left screen navigation, breadcrumb trails and a main content window with information, interactive and multimedia elements. The modules end with a resources section – which institutions are encouraged to add to – and an online quiz. This last element is controversial for a PD program.

A key design principle is that each module will be able to stand alone as a ‘learning object.’ David went on to demonstrate how the modules will look in a VLE (LMS). Imperial College uses Blackboard – the modules appear slightly – though not much – different in a VLE. An advantage of embedding them in this way is that pages can be added, as can communicative elements in the VLE environment. The capacity to do this will depend on the VLE – none has thus been encountered that caused any problem, but it is not clear how many have been tried and tested. We will be talking to the Cecil Team about this back in Auckland. For Faculty of Education, the modules will also be put through their paces with Moodle. Collaboration with Australasian consortium partners (Edith Cowan, UNE and Massey) will be helpful in this respect as Massey is committed to adopting Moodle in the near future.

Epigeum currriculum design workshop

September 5, 2008

Thursday September 4th 2008

Following a meeting of course authors yesterday, the member institutions, authors, reviewers and project leaders are gathered at Imperial College, London to work on content specification for the eight professional development modules that will be developed under the consortium agreement.

The topics are:

1. Introduction to learning technologies (author Caroline Haythorthwaite, Illinois)

2. Effective use of VLEs (LMS), (Sam Breton, Queen Mary Colleg, London)

3. Internet collabration tools (David Kennedy, Hong Kong University)

4. Course planning (Richard Millwood, Bolton)

5. Developing effective course content (Larry Ragan, Penn Sate)

6. Using third party content (Kevin Burden, Hull)

7. Computer aided assessment (Phil Davies, Glamorgan)

8. Teaching with learning technologies (Rhona Sharpe, Oxford Brookes)

Each course also has an appointed expert reviewer.

THe purpose of the day’s event is to finalize the syllabi for these PD modules that will then be developed by Epigeum according to the specifications developed by the authors.

DIana Laurillard kicks off the day with a presentation on the context of elearning PD and notes that each institution will have different strategies, support infrastructure (and culture.) Most academics are as focused on research as much or more so than teaching. The project needs to be mindful of variations in prior knowledge and experience among staff and pragmatic about the constraints of time, incentives, rewards etc.

A common factor is workload – all academics are extremely busy and have limited time for PD and teaching and learning innovation. Variation will occur in modes of use and integration into existing programs and structures. Diana talked about this as levels of commitment by institutions, from provision of access for independent use to modification and enhancement of materials for the local context. The format and concepts may be reusable by institutions, and this project may be regarded as a seeding initiative. The overall objectives are to speed up elearning integration through production of quality PD resources, and to lift perceptions of elearning capability and potential among academic staff who are exposed to the modules.

The limitations of what can be achieved in a total of 12 hours of PD module engagement needs to be recognized. These early beginnings should set the scene for operation at a higher level of engagement with elearning across the board.

In answer to a question from the floor, Diana notes that at this stage, no particular conception of learning has been defined to underpin development.

Acode 47 (2)

June 18, 2008

The afternoon session focused on the hypothetical situation of University of the South Pole implementing and elearning strategy to address falling student numbers, a tight (untenable) financial position in the face of aggressive competition. The situation looked familiar enough that names of hypothetical institutions could easily be substituted with real ones. The New Zealand eLearning Guidelines and Marshal’s eLearning Maturity Model were provided as resources for participants to generate advice to the VC regarding areas for immediate action and information gathering priorities. An interesting and engaging exercise that involved analysis of an institution’s position – albeit a hypothetical one – against a strategic plan and priority.

The prospects did not look good, as the competition scored higher on many elearning maturity aspects, making the strategic objectives look quite unrealistic. Interesting to make a head count of attendees who recognize the situation from their own institutions.

Focus on the positives is one piece of useful advice. Creative alternatives would be to merge with other institutions that do it better, reconsider strategic objectives as the proposed ones would need a significant amount of investment and, presumably a change of structure and/or culture, to become a high achiever in areas that are not current strengths. Another option would be to select areas or schools that do have strengths in the right areas and work with them on the stated objectives in the first instance.

Overall, an engaging exercise that puts the eMM into close focus populated with data that makes it meaningful to everyone involved. It helps to focus the mind on key issues, identify risk factors and assist with strategy implementation planning. If real institutions and real eMM analysis data were used with staff from the focus institution the process would be valuable. I think I have finally ‘got’ the real value of the eMM – as a strategic planning reality check and implementation tool. This new workshop could really add a useful dimension to the organizational analysis process. It was a treat to be part of the first trial run of this add on workshop. Thanks to Stephen Marshall, Victoria University of Wellington for setting it up.