The Higher Education blog from the JISC RSC Scotland North & East

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Starred Items.

Posted on the December 28, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Starred | Add Your Comments

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Starred Items.

Posted on the December 20, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Starred | Add Your Comments

Polling Station
Polling Station
Originally uploaded by hugovk

Mobile phone ownership within the UK is regularly reported around 90% peaking to 95-97% for 16-24 year olds. While we know ownership is high, there is very little research on the type of phone young people have. Knowing the type of phone potentially allows us as educators to start tapping in to this resource. I’m particular interested in the data capabilities of mobile phones, previously posting on various topics including 3G usage. One area not to be overlooked is wi-fi access.

Wi-Fi Enabled Phones

Nokia N95 8GB Music
Nokia E71 White
Nokia N85
Nokia E71 Grey
Nokia N95 sport
Nokia N96
Nokia N78
Nokia N82
Nokia 6301
Nokia N81 8GB
Nokia N95 8GB
Nokia E90 Communicator
Nokia E65
Nokia N95

Apple 3G iPhone White
Apple iPhone

Samsung i900 Omnia White
Samsung i8510
Samsung Omnia 16GB
Samsung Omnia
Samsung G810
Samsung i780

Sony Ericsson
Sony Ericsson C905 Silver
Sony Ericsson C905 Gold
Sony Ericsson G900 Red
Sony Ericsson G900
Sony Ericsson C905
Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1
Sony Ericsson P1i
Sony Ericsson W960i

LG KC910

T Mobile
T-Mobile Ameo 16GB
T-Mobile G1
MDA Vario II
MDA Compact III

BlackBerry 8120 Pearl Pink
BlackBerry Bold
Blackberry Curve 8310 Pink
BlackBerry Pearl 8120 Titanium
BlackBerry Pearl 8110 Pink
Blackberry Pearl 8120

Windows Mobile 5/6

There is now a growing list of phones (see column) which can connect to wireless networks. Importantly, this list is not just limited to the business exec prousers with their iPhones and Blackberry’s, but also extends to free-on-contract phones which are already finding there way into students pockets. So assuming there will be a growing number of portable wi-fi devices knocking around campuses, which students are already prepared to carry with them on a day-to-day basis, how can we start utilising them?

A particular area I’m interested in is students response systems (also known as audience response systems, electronic voting systems, clickers …). Prior to joining the RSC I worked at the University of Strathclyde, arguably the first UK institution to integrate this technology as part of active collaborative learning. Having seen these systems in practice, particularly when combined with Peer Instruction (developed by Professor Eric Mazur), you cannot but be impressed with the level of engagement and learning gains students experience. [Here is a paper and video case study of what is done at Strathclyde and Mazur's Peer Instruction site]

A number of response system manufactures supply ‘virtual’ versions of their handsets. The solutions tend to be either purely web based or an application add-on. Web-based is the most flexible as it only needs a device with an Internet connection and Internet browser with basic JavaScript support (theoretically you could use anything from a Nintendo DS to a laptop). Application based requires a small application to be installed on the users device. This can be more limiting and unless the manufacturer has been incredibility busy developing different versions of their software for different platforms (you have the added complication of distributing the right software to your students).

There is also a cost associated with using a response system manufactures solution. If your institution is already using physical handsets it however might be possible that a set number of ‘virtual’ licences come as part of the package.

If you are looking for free solutions one option is ClassInHand (CIH). CIH was developed by Wake Forest University and basically turns a Windows Mobile device into "a web server, a presentation controller, and a quizzing and feedback device for a classroom instructor". Turning the Windows Mobile device into a web server means that any device with a web browser and a wi-fi connection can be used (again, anything from a Nintendo DS to a laptop). Unfortunately development of CIH appears to have ceased in 2003 and when I recently tried the software on my Windows Mobile 6 device it kept crashing :-(

One other big limitation of CIH, apart from it not working, is the reliance on the web server being hosted on a mobile device. Not every member of staff will have access to one of these and with tight budgets a purchase might be hard to justify. An equally, if not more, portable solution would be to run a response system from a USB pendrive. To my knowledge no one has done this but all the components are potentially already out there.

Similar to CIH, for a core you would want to run a portable local web server. There are a number of projects which already allow you to do this. I use XAMPP which, at the the danger of completely loosing you non-techies, creates a integrated server package of Apache, mySQL, PHP and Perl. The bits I’m interested in are: Apache - the bit which can serve web pages; PHP - which allows you programme the pages to do clever stuff; and mySQL - a database which allows you to store and retrieve information.

So a rainy weekend later here’s what I’ve come up with:

DIY wireless student response system from Martin Hawksey on Vimeo.

Here are links to the components I’ve pulled together for this example:

  • XAMPP - Portable web server
  • PHP Libchart - Simple PHP chart drawing library
  • LiveWeb - insert and view live web pages in PowerPoint

and here’s my DIY code:

If you’ve found this post useful you might also be interested in the JISC funded ‘EVAF4All: Electronic Voting Analysis and Feedback For All’ project being led by Simon Bates at the University of Edinburgh. More information on the project including the original proposal is available here.

Posted on the December 16, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Assessment, EVS, Mobile Technology, Student Response System | Add Your Comments

Here’s some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Starred Items.

Posted on the December 12, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Starred | Add Your Comments

Originally uploaded by kafka4prez

It is fair to say transmissions style education isn’t exactly popular right now. In the era of student-centred learning, co-creation of knowledge the "sage on the stage" is becoming an endangered species. I personally believe there is still a place for ‘traditional’ lectures but only if they fit into a wider continuum of learner engagement.

What do I mean by this? It’s about looking at a students education as a whole and trying to appreciated a learners journey on a more granular basis. So instead of just looking at module outcomes or lecture topics consideration should be given to learner activity inside and outside the classroom. For example, instead of just asking students to look at a chapter in a textbook before the next class get them to perform some sort of activity around the particular topic.

The Department of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde have for a number of years directed students to perform online weekly group activities aligned to face-to-face lectures. The tasks are designed to scaffold learning. So in week one they groups of students are asked to collaborative define psychological terms. In week two students are directed to expand on these terms and collaboratively write a paragraph contextualising these terms. In week three students are required to expand on this and respond to an exam-style essay question. This pattern is repeated for each of the topics in the class. All the time this is happening the lectures are augmenting the online activity and because students are engaging with the topics earlier, instead of cramming before exams, lectures become an opportunity for dialogue. [Click here for a detailed description of the Department of Psychology example.]

This is just one example of how activity outside the classroom can be used to enhance what is done in the classroom. There are a lot more examples of activities you could use. The key is assessment, both formative and summative. Students are highly strategic when it come to their learning. Most are looking for the path of least resistance towards their final goal, usually the accreditation of their knowledge. Assessment therefore features highly is a learners game plan.

The SFC funded REAP project used this notion as a core theme when piloting the redesign of 1st year classes across a range of disciplines. One of the outcomes of this project are a set of assessment principles of good formative assessment and feedback developed by Professor David Nicol and the Assessment Working Group at the University of Strathclyde (copied in below). I believe these principles are incredibly powerful as the represent a distillation of expert knowledge, published research and practical experience.

Posted on the December 5, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Assessment, Half baked | 2 Comments, Add Yours

Moosh Fashion Show
Moosh Fashion Show
Originally uploaded by Ravenelle

Yesterday (Tue. 2nd Dec ‘08) saw the publication of the JISC sponsored Guardian Supplement - Digital Student highlighting the experiences and expectations of students in and entering higher education. This particular area has received a lot of recent interest with a number of projects funded by the JISC Learner experiences of e-learning: phase 2, and the Denham reports on Teaching and the student experience and World leader in e-learning.

In particular I’m looking forward to the final report of The Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience. This committee, chaired by Professor Sir David Melville CBE, aims to bring ‘focus and coherence’ to this area, pulling together research to inform policy and strategy for national agencies, universities and colleges. Their remit is to "consider the impact of the newest technologies such as social networking and mobile devices on the behaviour and attitudes of students coming up to and just entered higher education and the issues this poses for universities and colleges".

I was a little disappointed so see that the Committee have decided to only focus on Web 2.0 technologies (mobile appears to have been dropped according to the Committee’s emerging findings), particularly as the inquiry state they are "looking to draw the big picture and to interpret it clearly and concisely".  Even when just considering the impact of ICT I would argue there is a whole raft of other influencing factors which effect the learner experience such as the provision/ownership of hardware, or the effectiveness of existing systems (i.e. student email, Virtual Learning Environments, network access). You could also argue that while the majority of students use Web 2.0 in their social life, it is still only a minority who experience this technology as part of formal structured learning. My concern being that emphasis is being placed on a particular technology and not the learning experience as a whole.

While I wrestle with my thoughts on this one some of you might like to read a report commissioned by the Committee on the "Review of current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education" (Warning: 141 pages). The Committee also highlight the following relevant activities:

Posted on the December 3, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Learner Experience, Report, Research | Add Your Comments

The Mini-Geek in Me…
The Mini-Geek in Me…
Originally uploaded by David M*

Last month I commented on the growth in the Mobile Internet. More evidence of this was revealed on Monday (24th Nov ‘08) when Neilson Online published the first results from Mobile Media View (full press release available here). They are reporting a 25% growth in the use of mobile Internet from 5.8 to 7.3 million users. More shocking is the fact that this surge in uptake occurred in one quarter (Q2 to Q3 2008). It is probably not surprising that just over 50% of mobile Internet users are aged 15-34.

So what is this mobile generation surfing for? Kent Ferguson, Nielsen Senior Analyst comments that:

It’s interesting to see that BBC Weather, Sky Sports and Gmail are amongst the few sites that have a greater reach on the mobile Internet than the PC-based Internet. This highlights the advantage of mobile when it comes to immediacy; people often need fast, instant access to weather or sports news and mobile can obviously satisfy this, wherever they are.

For me ‘immediacy’ will continue to grow increasingly important for 21st century learners. A common system found in probably all institutions is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). VLEs are incredibly cumbersome and largely unusable on a mobile device, an issue which developers like Blackboard seem to continue to ignore. In particular Blackboard cannot be used on the very popular mobile web browsers Opera Mini and Opera Mobile because of the reliance on cookies.

Open source solutions provide a glimmer of hope because they can be customised and styled for mobile browsing. This is not to say there isn’t issues, for example,  Moodle will only work with Opera Mini if the installation has cookieless sessions enabled.

There have been some projects which specifically address a mobile VLE. Notably the Mobile Moodle (MOMO) project have gone beyond tweaking style sheets and looked at the fundamental features of a mobile VLE. In particular they have been looking at new scenarios which allow online and offline interaction with Moodle. They have achieved this by developing a small JAVA based application which is run on a students mobile phone. Using this students can login to the institution’s Moodle site download mobile elements, which can include quizzes, use these offline, then resynchronising with the central site.

While I see projects like MOMO as a positive development, at the back of my mind I have the nagging question is the growth in mobile Internet another nail in the institutional VLE. When I look at projects like OU’s SocialLearn (a previous post on SocialLearn is here), you can see the disaggregation of a central system into the integration of a personal system. The fact that many of the existing web applications being used by students in their social life are already optimised for mobile usage can only strengthen this argument.

Posted on the November 25, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Mobile Technology, Report, Research | Add Your Comments

A couple of weeks ago our RSC was involved in the Virtual Worlds 2008 event at the University of Stirling. As part of this I was tasked with facilitating a hands-on session being given by David Burden, MD at Daden Ltd (here’s Daden’s YouTube playlist). David was highlighting his work with University of Coventry and St. George’s Hospital, London on the JISC funded PREVIEW project.

The PREVIEW project have been exploring the use of virtual worlds, Second Life in particular, as an environment for problem-based learning (PBL) for care professionals and paramedic students. The care professionals are using open-ended PBL scenarios using a chatbot engine to create characters who can guide, act out eDramas and interact with students within Second Life. Paramedic students are using fixed-ended PBL scenarios which require them to conduct patient assessment and treatment on virtual patients in Second Life. The project is best summarised by the video below:

It was the paramedic scenarios which interested me the most, and in particular the Medbiquitous Virtual Patient (MVP) XML standard used to code them. This is an existing scripting language used to create virtual patients. The format is very similar to that found in ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books (i.e. a paragraph containing plot point followed by go to page x to do A, go to page y to do B, go to page z to do C). You can find examples of these on the University of Edinburgh’s Labyrinths site.

A virtual patient example is available here. The MVP standard uses a node model. For each page rendered there is an activity node which includes related assets: data availability, virtual patient data and media. The screenshot shows you how a page is rendered from the XML model. One of the limitations of the MVP model is that each node has a limited number of options, meaning there is a closed path, potentially inadvertently leading the students to the correct answer.

By using Second Life, PREVIEW have been able to take existing MVP scenarios and make them open ended. So instead of having a limited number of options, it is entirely up to the student as to how they proceed using only their existing medical training to guide them through the scenario.

The most important thing for me is that Second Life is only being used as a medium to interface the MVP scenario, consequently the scenarios can be exported to any other platform which supports MVP. The diagram below shows how this model works.

Diagram showing the flow of information between the XML, MVP Player and Second Life

To date the PREVIEW team at St. George’s have created 4 paramedic training scenarios. A short YouTube clip explaining these is here. I’ve made my own video so you can see what one of the scenarios looks likes from start to finish:

The crucial thing to remember is that Second Life is only being used to interface the MVP data. So when you click on a IV canella data is being read from the separate server hosting the MVP data. If you wanted to create a different paramedic scenario, the majority of information would be coded using the MVP standard.

It doesn’t have to stop at medical scenarios. The MVP standard is flexible enough to be adapted to other discipline areas which rely on problem-based learning. So theoretically this technology could be used for forensics, mechanical engineering, the list can go on.

To create problem-based learning scenarios for other disciplines would require scripting the scenario using the MVP standard, then creating the objects in Second Life you would like students to use to interface with the MVP. For example, if you wanted to create a scenario for forensic students you could create an SL object called ’swab’. Then in the MVP you would create an activity node ’swab’, which is linked to a data availability node with the associated actions/text (additional information could be coded using the virtual patient data or media assets).

And all this is going to be made open-source! Yes, PREVIEW will be making the code and the Second Life assets FREELY available in the next couple of months. Which I’m sure you’ll agree is fantastic!

If you would like to try the scenarios yourself you can by registering on the PREVIEW site. You can also take a peak by going to the St. Georges Island in Second Life.

Posted on the November 19, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under JISC, Project, Virtual Worlds | 3 Comments, Add Yours

In September I wrote about netbooks (Ultra mobile, ultra cheap - Netbooks) and in particular what I be looking for when buying. This is one of my most popular (I’m guessing drawing in Googler’s looking for advice).

Following the recent hiatus with almost a weekly announcement of a new netbook, things seemed to have settled a bit. It could be a good time to take the plunge and get your 1st netbook. If you would like a more detailed advice the UMPC Portal have put together the 28 page Ultra Mobile Computing Buyers Guide 2008.

Posted on the November 13, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Netbook | Add Your Comments

The Economist Intelligence Unit, with sponsorship from the New Media Consortium published The future of higher education: How technology will shape learning report yesterday (27th Oct). The key findings, from the global survey of 289 executives* from higher education and corporate setting, aren’t that surprising. In particular the associated press release highlights that "online learning is gaining a firm foothold in universities around the world" and "university respondents view technology as having a largely positive impact on their campuses", which I’m sure most of us already knew.

Digging deeper into the report there are one or two interesting findings not highlighted in the press release. For example almost 50% of respondents said that their institution already use mobile broadband and 66% utilise text messaging/notifications systems.  SMS usage was particularly surprising as over half the respondents were from the USA, which has historically had a low take-up of this technology.

When asked how respondents felt higher education would evolve in their country over the next five years, 69% felt that campus libraries would be enhanced by full-text searchable databases. The next most popular with 64% of respondents agreeing was that universities will frequently partner with corporations and other third parties to create new areas of study (this was a closed question with 8 other similar statements).

Overall however I feel the questions used in the survey were a little loaded and with the small sample size I doubt many institutions will be basing their strategic plans on the findings. I’ll leave it up to you to decide … 

*189 participants from HE, of which 60% were ‘professor’

Posted on the October 28, 2008 by Martin Hawksey
Filed Under Report | Add Your Comments