Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

Thoughts and deeds

Archive for September 2009

Another lawsuit for online copyright violation

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Plenty of this kind of copyright litigation going on at the moment, and it is important that higher education institutions like Goldsmiths stay on the right side of the law.

Goldsmiths IT Services has a guide.

If you’re making your own stuff available, give some attention to the Creative Commons licence.

Written by Mira Vogel

September 21, 2009 at 14:53

The VLE is Dead debate at ALT-C 2009

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ALT-C (the Association of Learning Technologists Conference 2009) is ongoing at the moment. They’ve been streaming the invited speakers on the Elluminate video conferencing platform. I’m not there but I just logged onto what I understand was an unofficial stream set up by the presenters independently of the organisers, to look at a debate titled The VLE is Dead.

I really enjoyed watching, listening and reading the asides in the Chat pane (and adding my own 2ps). You have to work hard to follow the speaker and do that, but in fact I (speaking personally and anecdotally) find this quite helpful. Otherwise sometimes I emerge from a micro-daydream having missed a crucial clause of an argument. Passive listening – just hearing, really – is my bete noir. What I do get quite anxious about is not being able to take notes, but to tell the truth, I’m not sure how my notes help me anyway. If it’s a matter of process, maybe the act of participating in a side discussion – on Twitter, say, which in this context is a bit like whispering in a lecture – fulfils the same function as tapping out notes and consequent questions. My track record on revisiting notes tells me that they rapidly become fossils after the event, anyway.

I felt surprisingly dislocated and desolate when the sound feed died. But while it lasted I thought it was a great arrangement – the camera was close to the speakers and at a good angle given the constraints, the pacey and slightly breathless debate format was very engaging, and there was a lot of humour. John and I were laughing out loud – I even clapped at one point, I was so sucked in.

To respond to the bit of the debate I heard (and a Chat participant tells us the whole thing has been recorded and will be made available in due course – update: it is now; scroll down for the vid) the panellists who object to a VLE do so, in my view, on shaky grounds. I don’t subscribe to the argument that VLE is merely an expression of our current era of institutional managerialism and commodification. The first speaker’s analogy between the users of third party social software and Agincourt’s nimble, unencumbered and ultimately triumphant British archers left me wondering who the analogous enemy is, and concluding that it must be not French students but our institutions. Certainly, institutions are deeply frustrating places, if you take the good things about them for granted. But unless we expect academic teachers of the future to be freelance, and academic pursuits to become something very different indeed, then academic institutions are something to defend.

And, given that those of us who are not radical constructivists accept a substantial difference in roles between teachers and learners which mainly resides in experience, insight and expertise (a sort of ignorance-wisdom continuum), if our support for Personal Learning Environments is so unequivocal (which it should be) then shouldn’t we also give some consideration to Personal Teaching Environments? When I think about what they might look like, they begin to take on the form of a VLE.  The ‘Learning’ part of the term ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ was always PR – that’s not news.

Unrelatedly, the alternative to an institutionalised, supported environment is (most readily, anyway) free-at-the-point-of-use, commercially-financed social software. But doesn’t advertising exascerbate climate change? And doesn’t it represent the sort of instrusion of market forces into Higher Education matters which we would like to avoid?

Accountability, data protection, intellectual property, obscene or taboo subject matters – not sure if these were addressed by the contra-VLE speakers.

Lastly, isn’t this debate about the VLE being dead still hung up with the technology rather than the ideas and creations which animate it? There’s a built-in assumption that the VLE is a shackle, linked to another assumption that the VLE is a (conservative) expression of a bad approach. But although VLEs are certainly not pedagogically neutral, nor can they be pinned down and limited to a set of values. They can be subverted, or simply used creatively – that depends on their inhabitants (this much I know from researching designing for learning in VLEs for JISC). So I think a better question to ask is why those islands of vibrant VLE / technology-use which do exist, succeed, and (to avoid bias) also search out precedents for cooption of social software within the VLE, or abandonment of the VLE in favour of freer environments beyond the institution (although you may have to undertake to disguise their identities to get them to speak to you). Is it the case that academic teachers who are not using the VLE today have leap-frogged over it in favour of third party social software – PLEs? I’m kind of thinking that rumours of the VLE’s death should start from these kinds of findings, rather than from an ideological standpoint. One pro-VLE speaker said as much.

Time to stop. I missed a lot of what was said, so I avoided naming any speakers. But these arguments against VLEs aren’t unfamiliar, so it’s probably OK to address them in themselves.

There’s a bunch of links and a vid trailer for the debate on Cloudworks, the Open University’s social environment for discussing ideas.

Update: via James Clay’s blog, here’s the recording of the debate.

Written by Mira Vogel

September 8, 2009 at 15:04

Txt, kairos and authentic writing

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Interesting THES piece questioning the widely-held assumption that texting is a threat to literacy.

From it:

“And as for all that texting and the world of abbreviations, we simply must assess this development carefully. It seems that the most positive aspect of Lunsford’s research involved the concept rhetoricians call kairos.

The term is used to describe the technique of assessing the audience for whom one is writing. The basic premise focuses on the writer’s ability to adapt “their tone and technique to best get their point across.”

In other words, while texting and socializing online with friends, students might use multiple abbreviations and include smiley faces. But when it comes to writing a real academic paper, students never mistakenly insert such informality.

Perhaps most importantly, the texting and socializing appear to be incredibly meaningful in a student’s development as a writer. Lunsford found that “Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade.””

Written by Mira Vogel

September 7, 2009 at 12:38

Posted in literacies

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FAQs for learn.gold (our Moodle VLE) / using Moodle to find out about Moodle

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I spend a fair proportion of my time – particularly at this time of year – answering emailed questions about our Virtual Learning Environment (Moodle, branded learn.gold).

Every time I get a question I think might be more widely relevant, I create the response in Frequently Asked Questions form, post it on learn.gold, and refer the questioner to that. This has saved a great deal time and I’ve authored 77 of the things without going out of my way.

For this I chose a Moodle Database which worked pretty well with three simple fields: question; answer and keyword. Then a colleague pointed out that there was another possible approach – Moodle’s Glossary which actually has an FAQ format.

So I worked up some questions in both and then decided to put it to our users. I set up a brief Moodle Questionnaire – “Which FAQ version do you prefer?” and then used our front page bulletin board (Moodle Forum) to alert staff and students. It was summer and the response rate was pitiful – 7 students and 2 academic staff took the questionnaire. At time of writing:

  • 5 preferred the Database version; 1 the Glossary; 1 neither; 1 either; 1 wasn’t sure

I asked for explanations, and paraphrase below:

Feedback in favour of Database

  • Easier to search
  • Better-looking
  • Clearer layout, better formatting
  • Better search options

In favour of Glossary

  • Easier to use


  • Both too complicated; better to have all the FAQs on one page so you can see them at a glance [but at-a-glance doesn’t really work with a huge list which can’t easily be categorised or ordered alphabetically]

I’ll leave it up for the beginning of term, and then go with the consensus. But it looks as if it’s going to be the Database.

Written by Mira Vogel

September 4, 2009 at 10:27

Posted in learn.gold

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