Thursday, March 29, 2012

Windows 8 preview

I have just been watching a preview of Windows 8. It certainly is different.

Have a look at the opening screen - does it remind you of anything?

Here is the video from Atomic Learning:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Redefining research

I was interested to read in our local newspaper (hard copy!!) about Encyclopedia Britannica stopping printing their books and focusing on an online service.

Many years ago I remember some research where three groups of children were asked to find the answers to some research questions.
  1. Group one used the Encyclopedia Britannica books
  2. Group two used any site on the Internet
  3. Group three used the Encyclopedia Britannica CD Rom 
Guess which group consistently got the answers first?

It was Group 1, followed by Group 2 and finally Group 3. - It would be interesting to see how the children would get on now.

WikipediaI really like this graphic which shows how Wikipedia has developed over time and is now an acknowledged source of information.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I am very keen on having the children in the classroom using blogs. Kidblog is a great site to use where each child can have their own blog with the teacher moderating it. This is all free, it has been set up by teachers for teachers. A great web 2 tool for the classroom.

Kidblog is safe:
  • Teachers have administrative control over all student blogs and student accounts.
  • Your students' blogs are private by default - viewable only by classmates and the teacher.
  • For "semi-public" blogs, set up guest (e.g. parent) accounts that require a password to view students' posts/comments.
  • Comment privacy settings block unsolicited comments from outside sources.
  • Kidblog does not collect any personal information from teachers or students.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Interactions in an elearning course

Carrying on from my previous post where I was musing about Doug's thoughts, the findings of my study about an online course included the importance the participants placed on the interactions. These findings may give those who are using elearning an understanding of the perceptions of the participants.

Email interactions with the teacher

Regular contact with the teacher was seen as important by participants. Weekly emails were valued to maintain contact between the teacher and the course members. Having course members email work in to the teacher was seen as important by one participant because it meant that the teacher was monitoring to ensure that she understood the learning before moving on to the next step “you wanted to make sure that we understood what we were doing before we went to the next level so that was important”. Some participants liked contact with the teacher to affirm their learning or to gain support and encouragement from the teacher. Two participants stated that they needed speedy responses via email from the teacher and they mentioned a desire for a twenty-four hour turn around by the teacher.

This study found that the teacher asking course members to email exercises or information relating to the learning gave participants confidence in their learning. This enabled the teacher to ensure that the course members had developed knowledge or the teacher could clarify miscomprehensions to enable course members to move to the next step. This provided formative assessment throughout the online professional development as evidenced by “your replies clarified things for me or told me I was on the right track”. This finding supports Fahey (2004) who suggests that feedback initially needs to be frequent to ensure that the course members have a positive experience in their learning. Participants felt that that “it made me interpret or analyse in my own words and cemented my understanding” and gave them the confidence to enable the course members to continue their learning.

The teacher’s role in online discussions

A significant finding in this study is that the teacher needs to take an active role in the interactions in the online environment. This is evidenced by participants noting that the teacher, in the online interactions, used “good questioning”, “good insights” to enable learning to progress to the next step. Having the teacher being an active contributor in the online discussions provided participants with support and guidance; this is shown by a participant saying that after contributing she would look for the teacher’s comments to know she was on the “right track” and another participant saying “it takes the teacher to pick up those links and respond to them”. The participants found that the teacher’s contributions created clarity for them to enable the learning to continue.

In this study the teacher monitored the discussions and interactions carefully to ensure that misunderstandings did not occur, to interpret what was being said, and to point course members in the right direction for their learning “it takes the lecturer to pick up those links and respond to those links and then things start to go from the murkiness to that clearness so I guess the lecturer in a sense creates clarity for you to keep building on”. This is how a teacher in a face-to-face class would be working however the online teacher needs to take the time to read carefully to ensure that they fully understand what the course members are saying and carefully word the response to ensure clarity.

These findings support Gorsky and Blau’s (2009) study which suggested that the teacher’s presence, particularly facilitating interactions, plays an important role in achieving and sustaining the learning.  They also suggest that course members place a high priority on the role of the teacher to maintain momentum in discussions, a finding which is supported by my study. The findings from this study also support the study of Choy et al., (2001) who found that the participants in their online professional development valued quick feedback and regular contact with the teacher both for direction and motivation. However this study is in conflict with Hewitt (2004) who argue that some teachers do not support the teacher taking an active role in the online interactions.

Modelling by the teacher in the online discussions

A significant finding in this study is that the teacher needs to set and model a respectful learning climate to enable the peers to share contributions. Participants found that good modelling by the teacher enabled them to overcome their fears of contributing to the discussions “the guidance from the lecturer – it was well modelled” as well as “having it modelled helps you realise as a group this is OK, this is acceptable”. This finding supports Gorksky and Blau (2009) who argue that it is important that teachers model good online communication and Veseley, Bloom and Sherlock’s (2007) study where students perceived the teacher modelling as the most important element in building an online community.

Social interactions in the online learning environment

In the online environment the teacher is not ‘seen’ or ‘heard’ in the traditional sense with the physical separation being a challenge for the online teacher. The social presence of the teacher is their ability to project themselves to develop personal and purposeful relationships (Gorsky & Blau, 2009). Discussion, where the teacher related stories of her own teaching experiences, was valued by participants and gave the course members an insight into the teacher’s own teaching life. As one participant said “What I like about you is that you put in your thoughts too”. One participant said that the teacher’s role in the interactions was “having a meaningful part in the interactions not just acknowledging that someone has made a comment”. This is a way of building these relationships. Having the teacher taking an active and meaningful part in discussion lounges was viewed by the participants as being important not only for the modelling but also to build relationships, help clarify points, and to question and challenge course members’ thinking. This finding supports Woods and Baker (2004) who suggest that an online teacher can foster the climate in the discussion lounge by incorporating real-life stories.

These findings align with Gorsky and Blau (2009) who suggest that there is a relationship between course members’ perceptions of social presence as a motivating force to participate online and argue that the social interaction may be a key element in the success or failure of an online course. This finding also supports Ukpokodu’s study (2008) which found that a key point noted by the participants to enhance their learning included the teacher relationships. Woods and Baker (2004) suggest that by the teacher using humour and real-life stories in discussions that these contribute to the building of the teacher relationships. This study found that the social interactions where the teacher takes an active role are an important component of the online learning environment.

Participant interactions

Contributing to the discussion lounges initially held fears for two participants. One had prior experiences which had left her feeling reticent about contributing. The other participant felt “I was probably a little bit apprehensive” about contributing. She was worried about leaving her comments to be under the scrutiny of others. Unlike a verbal contribution a written interaction stays and may be reread many times. This finding supports Light, Colbourn and Light’s (1997) study where they suggested that some course members are hesitant to express their opinions in an online environment. They found the idea of contributing daunting and worried how others would view their thoughts. This points to the need for the online teacher to be vigilant to ensure that interactions in the site are not abused in ways that may give offence to others (E-Learning Advisory Group, 2004). Not feeling comfortable to contribute in the online environment can cause course members to waste time worrying and stifle their own learning.

An important finding in this study was that participants valued the freedom an asynchronous discussion gave them as evidenced by having “the ability to gather your thoughts” and having “the opportunity to reflect”. An important distinction here between the online environment and the face to face classroom is that often not all course members have the opportunity to contribute while in the online environment they are all able to contribute and be ‘heard’ by other course members. This finding supports Dede (2006) who suggests that there are opportunities for reflection in asynchronous discussions as some course members are able to find their voice in the mediated interaction.

Feedback from the teacher

In this study participants found that asking for help or support from the teacher was an important component in the online learning environment. This was evidenced by participants mentioning that they felt comfortable at being able to contact the teacher and confidently expected a prompt reply. By being able to contact the teacher participants felt supported and gained confidence in their learning. This was evidenced by participants saying “just wanting to check in – have a look at this – is it right” and “ask for help and to double check I was on the right track”. These interactions supported the course members in their learning. Two participants felt that a prompt reply was a twenty-four hour turn around supporting Gorsky and Blau (2009) and Ukpokodu (2008) who advocate that teachers need to reply in a timely manner.

Feedback from peers relating to assignment

This study found that giving and receiving feedback from others relating to their work was an important part of their learning. Participants said that “using other people’s knowledge to build a better picture for yourself” enabled the participants to use the feedback to encourage them in their own learning. This also gave the course members the time to read and reflect on the feedback to gain insights into their own learning. Giving feedback to others was “pivotal learning” for one participant who felt that by doing so was “like having my eyes opened” and this feedback gave participants insights into their own learning. Another referred to this part of the learning process as the “pìece de résistance ” as this part of the online environment was where she felt gave her insights into making the connections and linking ideas together. This study supports the view of E-Learning Advisory Group (2004) who suggest that course members value and can gain a great deal from viewing other’s work.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I have just been reading Doug Woods' article on elearning and why it doesn't work.  I am fascinated by this and by the comments others have made. I have been involved in e-learning for over a decade and found it pretty successful but I feel that it is so important that the teacher develops a relationship with each of their students. Unfortunately I have found that many teachers (often pushed into placing a course into an online environment) put up files and then rarely make themselves available to the students.  Some of the research I did on this topic in 2009 enabled me to develop the model shown on the left. It is important that teachers understand that e-learning takes as much if not more time as face-to-face classes - it does not just run all by itself.

Design of the e-learning environment

A significant finding in my study relates to the design of the online learning environment. Participants identified that having links “visually obvious” was seen as an important part of the web site design. Participants in this study identified that having a logical order was an important element in the design of the online environment. By having links signposted in a logical order that is consistently used throughout the site, gave the course members familiarity with the learning environment and enabled course members to move around the site easily; “allowed moving from one page to another easy to do”.

Another finding in this study suggests a layout with clear organisation is necessary to encourage easy navigation. For example “it is easy to navigate especially your front page with all the links right there and you just click in to the session you were up to” suggests that having all the major links in one area of a Home page, with the links clearly visible, helps course members to navigate the site quickly and easily from a central area to the relevant session without becoming frustrated by not knowing where to go. This finding aligns with Lin and Gregor (2006) who claim that the visual design of the web site is important and encourages course members to maintain concentration. They also suggest that the structure of the web site should make it quick and easy for course members to navigate to find what they want.

Currriculum design of the online learning environment

How the links are sequenced and the sessions organised is important for the online environment design and layout. Participants identified this as being important “On the top was everything you needed – files, web links, discussion areas, learning outcomes”. This design enabled the course members to feel familiar with the structure for each session so they were then able to continue with their learning for each session. Becoming directors of their own learning was identified as important by participants: “the design was that the learners became the directors of the learning really”. Participants mentioned the learning outcomes as being important to each session, “that constant link into the relationships between all the different areas of the online environment with the learning outcomes for each session”. This can enable the course members to find all areas without having to search, providing easy access and flexibility as suggested by Duffy et al. (2006).

When designing the online learning environment, providing opportunities for course members to reflect on their learning was seen as important in this study. This is evidenced by one person who stated: “I definitely remember a point where there was a change in the level of my own conversations because the reflections were coming through and showed I had done a bit of learning and experienced some success”.

This finding aligns with Fahey (2004) who suggests that if components in online environments are not organised in a meaningful way, they are more difficult to understand. Trewern and Lai (2001) also emphasise the importance of having a structured learning environment to ensure that course members are not confused about what is being asked of them. Having these clearly stated learning outcomes for each session describing the intent of the session in terms of the knowledge skills and attributes (Ally, 2004; Davis, 2004) enables the course members to approach the session with a clear view to content of the session and to gauge whether they have achieved the learning outcomes at the conclusion of the session. The learning outcomes could then be translated into the session content and resources to enable the course members to achieve the goals (Davis, 2004). This finding supports Palloff and Pratt (2001) who suggest that a well constructed online environment is one which is logical in its design, easy to navigate and is inviting to the user.

Nature of course tasks and assignments

The next group of findings relates to the weekly tasks and two course assignments. These are related to participants’ educational context and are a key component in the online environment for teaching practitioners.

Participants in this study valued the weekly tasks which were at the conclusion of each session. These tasks involved the course members using the skills and knowledge that were built up during the session and were then used in the course member’s own context. This is evidenced by comments from participants such as “Couldn’t have got through without them – just having the skill building and then putting them into a context that had a purpose”, and it definitely added another level of learning”. The participants described how they needed to put the knowledge into a context that had a purpose which was an integral part of the weekly tasks undertaken by course members. They felt that this was important to encourage them to use the skills in the future. In their own contexts course members were able to use the skills and knowledge within their classrooms or as part of their administrative roles. This is illustrated by one participant who described how, if she had only skill building without putting these into a context with meaning it would have been “pointless” as she would not have been able to transfer the skills to use in context in the future. Another participant found that through doing tasks in her own context, she was able to put everything she had learnt into a context with a purpose. Course members having ample opportunities to use the skills and knowledge in their own contexts supports E-Learning Advisory Group (2004) who point to the importance of having ample practice opportunities in the learning experiences to facilitate the growth of connections and to link theory to practice.  In addition this finding endorses Timperley et al. (2007) who suggest that when undertaking professional development, teaching practitioners need multiple opportunities to learn through a range of activities to assist them to integrate the new learning into their own context. Learning needs to be relevant and applicable to the course member’s own real-life experiences (Duncan, 2005; Lu & Jeng, 2006/2007).

Understanding the pedagogy with the skill building was valued by participants as this enabled them to make the connections in their learning. “Theory helped consolidate the reason for and why, we use these technology skills in teaching”. Learning skills with technologies is little use without developing knowledge about how to use the digital tools to teach more effectively, developing understandings of the relationships between the technologies and content, and how to use the technologies in context (Koehler & Mishra, 2004; Leach et al., 2004).

Course members were also required to complete two assignments related to their own classroom practice or administrative roles. These assignments were highly valued by the participants who all described the benefits of the assignments that were linked to their own practice. A participant said, “trial your learning in an authentic context has been brilliant for me” while another described how having an authentic and meaningful assignment meant that she had seen how successful using these tools in the classroom was and now had the confidence to use her skills in her classroom in the future. Another participant used the assignment he had completed to develop an administrative tool which will be used as a “productive tool” for part of a contract his school had won.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

50 sites

Davide Kapuler has recently uploaded version 3 of his collection of sites that are very useful to an educator.
50sites ver3
View more presentations from David Kapuler