Archive for the 'Half baked' Category

What’s happening? The ‘utility’ of Twitter in teaching and learning

In this post I want to put down a marker as to the role I think Twitter could have within education. When previously presenting on the use of Twitter in education I’ve always tried to emphasis its not just about a tool for discussion (in fact I try to avoid the word discussion because 140 characters can seriously hamper the depth you can go into), but instead Twitter which can be easily interacted with via its API and 3rd party services has the potential to be used as the building blocks for a service to support teaching and learning.

Some examples for you.

Does your institution use (or is about to cut) a SMS service to send administrative information to students? If so you could save yourself 4p per text by asking students to follow a Twitter account and receive free SMS updates if they are customers of one of the four big mobile network operators.       

Do you use or want to use electronic voting in the classroom but don’t have enough handsets or are frustrated when students don’t bring them in? If so Twitter can be used as a mechanism for collect votes even using the most basic mobile phones.

Making a strategic decision to use Twitter for different aspects of the educational experience I believe students are less likely to perceive it as a gimmick and consequently more likely to take more ownership of it as a tool to support their own education.

A nice diagram I came across recently which illustrates the ‘different aspects of Twitter’ this is Mark Sample’s Twitter Adoption Matrix which featured in his A Framework for Teaching with Twitter post.

Twitter Adoption Matrix  

(Mark has followed up his post with another expanding on Practical Advice for Teaching with Twitter, which is also worth a read)

The idea of building applications around social network sites to aid teaching and learning isn’t new. Examples like OU’s SocialLearn and Purdue’s Hotseat spring to mind. Perhaps the issue with these is they are designed around breadth instead of depth, trying to tap into the illusive Personal Learning Environment.

What if instead we ignore the personal and focus on the functional. That is building applications around Twitter to provide students and tutors with the tools to support learning, focusing on formal uses enabling opportunities for serendipitous informal learning. 

But why Twitter and not Facebook or FriendFeed et al.? For me it comes down to a couple of things. With Facebook there is the ever distraction of games, friends and family. Twitter stripes a lot of this away. FriendFeed is better in terms of simplicity but you are not restricted by 140 characters. Whilst this makes FriendFeed a better tool for deep discussion it makes it less mobile friendly (i.e. you can read notifications from Twitter on the most basic phone via SMS).

Finally flexibility. My favouring of Twitter’s flexibility is perhaps down to my own limitations as an educational mash-up artist. I find it a lot easier to extend Twitter’s functionality because of the simplicity of the core product and number of examples that can easily be adapted.

Hopefully you are getting my gist. Focus on adopting Twitter as a tool. Think of Twitter’s utility. The utility to collect comments. The utility to collect votes. The utility to send notifications. Through focusing on utility you are creating opportunities for other learning theories to come into play enabling the transition from formal to personal.

If Outlook was my idea …

If MS Outlook was my idea I would make it easy to read and edit all my social networks, VLEs, PLEs from my inbox.

Email 2.0
Email 2.0 – App friendly by mhawksey (click to enlarge)

Perhaps not a completely original idea but recent developments might this happen sooner rather than later. Google are already exploring what is possible from with Google Wave. The model they are developing not only makes it possible to interact with other sites from your inbox (like reading searching and posting twitter updates), but also makes ‘waves’ embeddable elsewhere.

Mozilla, the developers behind Firefox, are already looking at a new communication platform, codenamed Raindrop, and if you look at some of the prototype sketches a similar theme of ‘one app to interact with them all’ is evident.

Raindrop sketches

Currently, MS Outlook is the first application I fire up in the morning and the last I switch off at night, but for how much longer …

Microsoft’s vision of technology in higher education

Be inspired by the possibilities of how technology could be used in Higher Ed. Microsoft technologies can help deliver a seamless flow between lifestyle and learning and new ways to collaborate. Some of what is shown in the video is already possible. 

Vision for technology in Higher Education

Initially I was sceptical of this candy coated view of technology in education, but when you view this with “The Horizon Report: 2009 Edition” there are some common themes. In particular the Horizon report identifies key trends in how we are using technology to enhance the way we communicate and collaborate. How visualisation tools are making it easier to present information in more meaningful ways. All touched upon in the video.

An area not fully explored in the Microsoft vision, but apparent in most of the scenarios they portray, is the influence of mobile technologies. This is an area which the Horizons report identifies as a critical challenge for the future particularly as there is a perceived “growing expectation to make use of and deliver services, content and media to mobile devices”.

Another document I happened to have open when viewing the video was HEFCE’s new ‘Enhancing learning and teaching through the use of technology’ strategy document. The Microsoft vision maps onto some of the example development goals. Including:

  • Students can access information, support, expertise and guidance, and communicate with each other, wherever they are studying
  • Technology is used to help students connect formal study with other aspects of life and work
  • Joined-up information systems support students in transition or while studying at more than one location or institution

So there are synergies with Microsoft’s vision and trends in the use of technology in higher education. Ultimately cost will be the biggest barrier to adoption. In this current economic climate I think few institutions will be prepared to splash the cash (or is this the ideal opportunity for radical change?).    

Sage on the stage 2.0 - beyond the classroom

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.


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

mhawksey [at] | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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