Connected Course

Connected Courses

Connected Courses

Spent Friday afternoon listening to Jim Click Groom, Alan Link Levine and Howard Embed Rhinegold introduce Connected Courses in a session entitled Pre-course: Orientation: Registration & Setting up your Network.

I only listened for the first half an hour but “Click”, “Link” and “Embed”  did have some good points about online learning. These were the 3 main takeaways for me

  • What is a connected course? A connected course is not just one central broadcast system, but a space that you own, where you have the tools to create and manage your own space.
  • What’s presence?  Presence is the trust that you establish when you are teaching online. It’s about being real and accessible.
  • Why your own domain?: There’s a difference between renting an apartment and owning your own flat. Once you have your own space, instead of simply occupying an area that you pay a landlord for, then its yours and a greater part of your identity because you can do anything with it decorate it at your hearts content.

What I am particularly excited about is the obvious assumption that participants in Connected Courses are still getting their ideas around hosting, blogs, RSS and distributed learning. There’s always a danger, when running an online course, that we assume expertise in the technologies central to the course. This is a real blind spot I suffer from, and I forget that many have not yet had the opportunity to become familiar with concepts we ed techies take for granted. Kudos to Connected Courses for offering an opportunity to get on top of RSS, self hosting, publishing platforms and other ideas. Now people who are participating in this course have a scaffolded opportunity to start playing in this space.

Putting the laptop / tablet debate before the horse

tablets vs laptops

tablets vs laptops

The debate between tablets (iPads and others) or laptops is a discussion that gets to the heart of the intention to use ICT. But before we re-launch the great laptop vs tablet debate, and cost out the budget required for equipping student with tablets or laptops, a department that wants portable computing devices for students should stop quibbling about the merits of each device and  start with clearly articulating how academics and students intend to use this device in their context. I’ve made an attempt to pen a few questions to assist a department ascertain what experience they envisage when their students and staff use devices.

In a teaching and learning context,  portable computing devices should be used for:

  1. Exercises and practise
  2. Informational dissemination and retrieval
  3. Class administration and management
  4. Collaborative work amongst students
  5. Data entry, storage and processing
  6. Initiate a range of engagement opportunities designed to support learning intentions
  7. Promote autonomous learning
  8. None of the above

Portable computing devices, in teaching and learning, positively impacts on:

  1. Student motivation
  2. Student achievement
  3. Students’ higher order thinking skills
  4. Student’s competence in 21st century skills
  5. None of the above

Students will be expected to access the following content on their own  portable computing device:

  1. Professionally marked up content
  2. Content that has been purchased from a commercial publisher
  3. Content supplied by the department
  4. Content that has been authored by peers
  5. Content that is licensed as an Open Educational Resource

Our department envisages academics leveraging these portable devices to:

  1. Offer their students access to course related information, readings & resources
  2. Offer opportunities to deliver multimedia
  3. Offer opportunities to use web 2.0 tools for learning activities (blogs, portfolios, OERs)
  4. Offer opportunities to practice blended learning

In the past two years, academics in our department have undertaken professional development in the following:

  1. Introductory courses on commonly used software or applications provided by general trainers
  2. Advanced courses on particular software or applications provided by specialists
  3. Courses that require use of multimedia
  4. Equipment-specific training
  5. Courses that focus on the pedagogical use of ICT in teaching and learning
  6. Subject-specific training on learning applications
  7. Participation in communities of practice about the use of ICT for learning and teaching
  8. Other professional development opportunities related to ICT

It’s not about the device in your hand — it’s about the experience that the technology can provide. The job of the department is to articulate the vision that goes along with the technology. I’m not talking about rephrasing the universities mission statement and describing how devices can fit this vision. A well-articulated statement needs to make the intention behind the purchase of the device clear and describes how technology can help achieve this objective. The focus should not be on the tablet or laptop but what the device does for a student. Stakeholders within departments need to construct a detailed story of their future success with the device and how this choice will define what their department will look like over the next few years.

Are we ready for Blended Learning?

Blended Learning

Blended Learning

Technologies for teaching and learning are a part of the current and proposed Teaching and Learning plan at Wits. If Wits is indeed going to be tech savvy, going beyond EdTech “solutionism”  and explore how a range of different modes for course provision can best be used, then it is appropriate that a range of campus stakeholders plot out how these two separate modes of teaching and learning (traditional face-to-face learning systems and distributed learning systems) should be combined.
When considering embedding technology, Wits has made progress in the following areas:

  • technology infrastructure
  • integrating the learning management systems with other learning technologies
  • help and support
  • instructional design
  • professional development
  • media production services

CNS is developing a campus infrastructure that can support the embedding of technology into teaching and learning. A wireless network, broadband and communication platforms offer teachers who want to incorporate digital technologies a backbone to support learning activities. Course and student management tools such as Sakai have been deployed and the tools therein are being used in a rudimentary fashion to communicate and disseminate information. Technologies used to support student learning, such as databases of research literatures, e-text books, video lectures, and other multimedia resources, are being piloted by the library and various faculties. eLSI offers training, help and support; CNS offers software and system specialists that can provide technical assistance.

The mechanics of electronic course delivery, however, remain a challenge. Difficulties in relation to servers, tools on Sakai, service levels from CNS, Internet availability, SIMS and other technology elements have been common and have hampered the use of “course portals” (as envisaged in the previous T & L plan). If e-learning continues to grow on campus, as envisaged by current and proposed T & L plans, greater organizational capacity will be required to assist with developing digital delivery, support for online students and teachers, and to carry out the myriad other functions that are needed to keep the system running.

Wallace and Young (2010) point out that the introduction of any new technologies in education will always result in debate and policy decisions around educational methodology, implementation, evaluation and costs. They argue that the introduction of Blended Learning is not only about the introduction of a new pedagogy, but issues about power, control over education, the culture of the university, the privilege of professors, the rights of students as ‘consumers’—not only ‘how’ something is taught, but what, when, why, by whom, and for what purpose. Wits should be aware that the introduction of blended learning is closely linked to these broader contestations of power, control and institutional culture.

The biggest challenges to the proposal to adopt blended learning are the institutional variables. Blended Learning intersects with so many sectors of a university and requires careful policy development and execution. Administrators need to consider the impact of this modality on infrastructure, programmes and planning. Academics will need to reconsider long held assumptions. Some students’ ability to navigate the existing educational system is already limited; Blended Learning could be even more inaccessible to them. For students, the benefits gained by a blended course are realized only if the associated risks are mitigated; for, without careful course planning and design, the blended format could offer the worst aspects of both the live and online modalities instead of offering the best (Dziuban et al, 2011).

Supporting blended learning is challenging. The range of professional skills needed to design and develop blended courses, create and deliver faculty development, produce instructional media content, conduct assessment, and partner with academic units to develop blended courses or programs is greater in scope and depth than exists at present at Wits. If Blended Learning is to succeed at Wits, then a range of macro and meso matters will need to be addressed before an institutional blended learning initiative is realistic.

  • A commonly understood definition among stakeholders for “blended learning”
  • A blended learning strategy that aligns with institutional goals
  • An effective organizational model to support the blended learning initiative
  • Qualified staff capable of supporting diverse faculty needs and lifecycle of courses
  • User support services to support blended learning
  • A robust planning process to identify blended learning faculty/courses to develop
  • A faculty development program to prepare faculty to teach blended learning courses, including incentives and rewards as part of the program
  • Learner support resources to prepare students to learn in blended learning courses
  • The ability to identify blended learning courses in the class schedule
  • Blended learning policies developed around accessibility, copyright, and intellectual property
  • An evaluation program to assess the impact of the blended learning initiative
  • ROI calculated based on resources dedicated to the blended learning initiative
  • Reusable courses and materials shared within departments engaged in blended learning

(From The Blended Learning Toolkit )

Blended Learning offers potential for improving the manner in which we deal with content; social interaction; reflection; higher order thinking and problem solving; collaborative learning and authentic assessment (Moskal et al, 2013). But institutionalising blended learning is not the silver bullet that will turn Wits into an “IT savvy” University and support 21st Century learning. Wits’ 2022 goals will not be accomplished by adopting the term Blended Learning; it will be necessary to align the Institution’s goals with all other stakeholders’ goals.

On a cautionary note, Moskal (2013) suggests that blended learning itself has a very weak statistical correlation with student success and argues that mode of delivery in general has weak statistical correlation with student success. Rather, he suggests a set of institutional variables (Institutional goals and objectives, organizational capacity, faculty development and course development support, support for online students and faculty, robust and reliable infrastructure, institution-level, longitudinal data collection and assessment, proactive policy development and an effective funding model) has come to be accepted as critical factors for blended learning success.

If more attention is paid to the issues of alignment by leadership, an institutionally-initiated blended learning programme can reap benefits that impact face-to-face teaching and learning across departments. However, significant investments in the areas mentioned will be required to build, deliver, and assess the merits of adopting a “blended learning” approach.

References
Dziuban, C., Hartman, J., Cavanagh, T. B., & Moskal, P. D. (2011). Blended Courses as Drivers of Institutional Transformation. In Kitchenham, A. (Ed.), Blended Learning across Disciplines: Models for Implementation. (pp. 17-37).
Moskal, P., Dziuban, C., & Hartman, J. (n.d.). Blended learning: A dangerous idea? The Internet and Higher Education., 18, 15-23. Available http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S109675161200084X
Wallace, L., & Young, J. (2010). Implementing blended learning: Policy implications for universities. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 13(4). Available http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/winter134/wallace_young134.html

Making sense of MOOCs at Wits

MOOCs

MOOCs

The word MOOC is an acronym for Massive Open Online Course. The term emerged in 2008 for a particular type of e-learning activity that was intended to integrate “the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in a field of study, and a collection of freely accessible online resources” (McAuley et al 2010). Since 2008, this format has rapidly grown in popularity, expanded, evolved (Haggard, 2013) and morphed into a less defined concept with meanings that are vague and contested (Stewart, 2013).

Sir John Daniel (2012) points out that the Wikipedia definition of MOOCs is in flux. On 2012-09-16 Wikipedia defined a MOOC as
‘a course where the participants are distributed and course materials are also dispersed across the web … this is possible only if the course is open, and works significantly better if the course is large. The course is not a gathering, but rather a way of connecting distributed instructors and learners across a common topic or field of discourse’.
By 2012-09-20 the definition had become:
‘a MOOC is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web. MOOCs are a recent development in the area of distance education, and a progression of the kind of open education ideals suggested by open educational resources. Though the design of and participation in a MOOC may be similar to college or university courses, MOOCs typically do not offer credits awarded to paying students at schools. However, assessment of learning may be done for certification’.
Most recently (2014-06-01) the definition had changed to
‘a MOOC is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for students, professors, and teaching assistants’.
These shifting definitions make it clear that a commonly shared understanding of the term has still to emerge, as suggested by Matthew Plourde’s poster entitled “MOOC: Every letter is negotiable.” MOOCs, at present, remain a quickly moving target with “new material presenting new aspects or insights becoming available on a daily basis” (Gaebel, 2013).

MOOCs are probably best understood descriptively, in contrast to traditional university courses, and may be characterised as follows:

  • MOOCs have content, learning activities and engagement that occur online;
  • MOOCs have a start and finishing time;
  • MOOCs have no formal entry requirements and they are accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection;
  • MOOCs are free of charge;
  • MOOCs are designed to support an indefinite number of participants; and
  • MOOCs do not earn credits.

The term MOOC was coined by Bryan Alexander and Dave Cormier and first used in 2008 (Daniel, 2012) to describe an experimental course run by George Siemens of the University of Manitoba and Stephen Downes of the National Research Council of Canada. Siemens and Downes opened up an accredited course on their work in connectivist learning theory to the public. The original purpose of this first MOOCs was not only to provide a scaled learning opportunity, but also to improve the learning experience. A few other MOOCs followed in the footsteps of Siemens and Downes model, and the connectivist vision emphasizing “creativity, autonomy and social networked learning” in an environment where participants in the course would act as both teachers and students, sharing information and engaging in a joint teaching and learning experience through intense interaction facilitated by technology was pursued.

The MOOC model caught the attention of the press in 2012 and was touted as a “Campus Tsunami” (Brooks, 2012). When The New York Times labelled 2012 the ‘year of the MOOC’, they were not however referring to the model developed by Siemens and Downes but to high profile ‘Courses’ with enormous enrolment numbers. Popular attention from entrepreneurial vendors, education professionals and technologically literate sections of the public (Yuan & Powell, 2013) shifted to this variant, as can be seen by the large volume of press articles and blogs about the topic.

Since the original instance of MOOCs, the undergirding ideas behind MOOCs have morphed from a connectivist approach to behaviourist, so much so that MOOCs are divided into subsets –cMOOCs and xMOOCs. “cMOOCs emphasise connected, collaborative learning and the courses are built around a group of like-minded individuals’ platform to explore new pedagogies beyond traditional classroom settings and, as such, tend to exist on the radical fringe of Higher Education. On the other hand, the instructional model (xMOOCs) is essentially an extension of the pedagogical models practised within the institutions themselves, which is arguably dominated by the “drill and grill” instructional methods with video presentations, short quizzes and testing” (Yuan & Powell, 2013).

In the developed world, the combination of rising tertiary education costs, distributed communications and venture capital looking for a business opportunity to be exploited (Yuan & Powell, 2013) offered American and European universities an opportunity to think afresh about new business models that may fix or disrupt education, and force it to change. The interest in MOOCs has grown beyond the developed world, because MOOC providers have promised free access to cutting edge courses that could drive down the cost of university-level education. However, much of the early literature about the subject was dominated by thinly disguised promotional material by commercial interests or written by practitioners whose perspective is their own MOOC courses (Daniel, 2012).

MOOC literature can be divided into three classifications:
1) Contributions by individual authors on MOOCs
2) General press writing and journalism.
3) Formal and comprehensive research carried out with methodological approaches
Universities in the developing world may have been influenced by the hype generated by category one and two and I have been party to numerous hallway conversations around MOOCs and whether Wits can and should use this form locally. Two years since the Tsunami proclamation, published research is beginning to suggest that MOOCs are not conceptually as revolutionary as they seem (Bali, 2014). Although strong claims were initially made for MOOCs to drive innovative pedagogies and flexible modes of course delivery, as well as encouraging learner analytics through the processing of course data, the substance beyond the hype is lacking (Walker & Voce, 2014).

While MOOCs do provide alternative routes for students to gain new knowledge according to a given curriculum, they also highlight the many fault lines that exist in the terrain of contemporary higher education. When people express an opinion about MOOCs, they often conflate online education, with globalization, and with networked learning (Stewart, 2013). A hyped interest in technology and its place in education contributed to a shallow understanding of MOOCs and led to unlikely predictions about new educational models that will replace the established system (Hill 2012).

Although many large online free courses describe themselves as a MOOC, there is no unified “ultimate goal” for MOOCs and neither one can it be generalized why MOOCS are used. Some have argued that MOOCs help universities fulfil their ultimate non-profit goals of offering knowledge to society and widening access to education (Bali, 2014). Low completion rates (reported as less than 10% across numerous reports), the low ratio of students from underserved areas and a high percentage of registrants already with an undergraduate degree or higher have undermined this stated intention. Real motivations may not be as philanthropic, but more operational like marketing and branding for future profit-making. Ivy League universities have widely engaged MOOC service providers by lending brand, content, funds, staff, badging and policy support. Their intentions are certainly not only altruistic, and see opportunities for brand enhancement, pedagogic experimentation, recruitment and business model innovation.

In Africa, MOOCs have been positioned as an adjunct to a country’s development process and are hailed as a cost-free way to access excellent resources and learning experiences for students in less educationally privileged geographies (Haggard, 2013). Sceptics suggest that MOOCs, with their high demands for connectivity, online literacy, and English language skills, may be excluding developing world students and privileging learners from the most highly developed educational environments. This is a factor particularly relevant to the South African higher educational landscape. Others take this criticism further and suggest that MOOCs may be “yet another wave in cultural imperialism from the ‘North’ and the ‘West’ crashing across borders, washing over (or possibly washing out) local educational institutions, cultural norms and educational traditions” (Trucano, 2013).

Trucano suggests that in a developing context, there are further questions that need to be addressed around MOOCs.

  • Are MOOCs addressing equity concerns? MOOCs were touted as a way to provide access to education for some of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups in developing countries. However, there is not much evidence to back up such claims. As research into course outcomes has become known, it has become apparent that most people who successfully complete MOOCs already have a university degree.
  • How do MOOCs contribute towards building ‘local capacity’? MOOCs are often offered in partnership with an established platform provider and it could be argued that MOOCs are the first step to outsourcing the teaching of courses to more highly qualified teachers from other countries. If MOOCs are merely about adopting technologies developed and maintained by others, then capacity to develop such technologies ourselves will not be fostered.
  • Are MOOCs vanity projects? – the decision to create a MOOC instead of investing scarce resources in other areas may lead to underfunding of other important programmes.

While this critical discourse around MOOCs is important, from an educational technologist position, there are two ways that Wits can utilize the discussion around MOOCs:

  1. We can participate in the ‘MOOC phenomenon’ as a consumer of things produced elsewhere, or
  2. We can use participation in MOOCs as a strategic opportunity to help to develop related local capacities.

Both options are legitimate, but the latter option, while much more difficult to pursue, may be worth serious consideration. I’d argue that Wits should take the opportunity to develop a more strategic approach to online learning and not let the polarised opinions between those who identify MOOCs as direct access to global quality education, versus those who detect a new form of cultural imperialism distract Wits from exploring a set of opportunities that have been brought to the attention of mainstream education by MOOCs.
MOOCs offer Wits the following

  1. Pedagogic opportunities – for educators to experiment and evaluate different online learning approaches by developing and using MOOCs that challenge the established roles of learner and teacher and offer more flexible forms of learning and assessment that include community as well as content-based models of learning. For some, experimentation will be at the level of the individual lecturer and for others it may be departmental or large-scale cross-institutional change projects.
  2. Research opportunities – MOOCs provide a great opportunity to develop research how courses can draw from a pool of open educational resources (OER) and provide their students with better and more varied teaching than individual instructors could develop by themselves.
  3. Materials development opportunities – In era of knowledge abundance, the structures and roles through which we organize learning experiences are designed on pre-digital concepts of what is possible and valid. Universities’ and academics’ roles are both deeply rooted in the concept of centralized expertise. MOOCs offer opportunities to challenge this model

As a solution to the problems of higher education, MOOCs in their present form are unsustainable and without an established business model, they cannot be replicated by universities worldwide. MOOCs unfortunately are bubble, and the motivation for getting involved stems primarily from the fear of being left behind. The MOOC phenomena has however provide important opportunities to learn about online pedagogy, to research online education and to develop digital materials. MOOCs do not necessarily need to showcase an academic, high-profile ‘rockstar’ and his/her teaching. MOOCs can focus on gateway skills and help prepare students for undergraduate study and introduce skills required. The foundational or enhancement skills would be taken by students prior to applying or attending Wits. MOOCs could help prepare students for postgraduate study and develop general skills and expectations. MOOCs may support continuing education and showcase professional careers and qualifications. MOOCs geared towards vocational skills development, re-tooling and professional development could be offered in conjunction with other organisations or professional bodies (Brown et al 2014).

MOOCs have initiated a long overdue debate about the place of online teaching and learning in higher education. And while this new interest in educational technology has resulted in a lot of hype and in shallow descriptions of the potential for new educational models to replace the established system, the debates have also offered opportunities for universities to reconsider a range of different models for delivering education. Wits need not automatically follow the MOOC agenda, but should use this opportunity to discuss and debate how we as an institution can improve the quality and pedagogy of online education and learn the lessons from research on MOOCs and other earlier educational technologies.

References
Bali, M. (2014). MOOC Pedagogy: Gleaning Good Practice from Existing MOOCs. Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 10(1).
Brooks, D. (2012) “The Campus Tsunami,” New York Times, May 3, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/opinion/brooks-the-campustsunami.html.
Brown, C., Deacon, A., Small, J. & Walji, S. (2014) To MOOC or not to MOOC? http://www.slideshare.net/CILT_UCT/to-mooc-or-not-to-mooc-by-janet-small-and-sukaina-walji
Conole, G. A new classification for MOOCs http://mooc.efquel.org/a-new-classification-for-moocs-grainne-conole/
Daniel, J. (2012). Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility. Journal of Interactive Media in Education.
EDUCAUSE (2012, December 20). What campus leaders need to know about MOOCs: an EDUCAUSE executive briefing. Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE Publications.
Haggard, S. (2013). The maturing of the MOOC (BIS Research paper number 130). London, England: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/240193/13-1173-maturing-of-the-mooc.pdf
Gaebel, M. (2013). MOOCs–Massive Open Online Courses. EUA Ocassional Papers. http://www.eua.be/Libraries/Publication/EUA_Occasional_papers_MOOCs.sflb.ashx
Hill, P. (2012) Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive view
McAuley, Stewart, Siemens, & Cormier (2010) The MOOC model for digital practice – https://oerknowledgecloud.org/sites/oerknowledgecloud.org/files/MOOC_Final.pdf
Plourde, M. (2013). MOOC: every letter is negotiable, www.flickr.com/photos/mathplourde/8620174342/
Stewart, B. (2013). Massiveness+ Openness= New Literacies of Participation?.Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 9(2). http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no2/stewart_bonnie_0613.htm
Trucano, M. (2013). More about MOOCs and developing countries http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/moocs-developing-countries
Walker, R., & Voce, J. The Future of Learning Conference. https://vle.york.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/xid-4599533_4 (pdf)
Yuan, L., & Powell, S. (2013). MOOCs and open education: Implications for higher education (2013:WP01). Bolton, UK: JISC Centre for Educational Technology & Interoperability Standards
Yuan, L., Powell, S. & Oliver, B. (2014). Beyond MOOCs: Sustainable Online Learning in Institutions http://publications.cetis.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Beyond-MOOCs-Sustainable-Online-Learning-in-Institutions.pdf

Making ICT a part of a schools vision

An ICT future in our school

An ICT future in our school

The primary school where my children are enrolled have taken steps towards preparing the school for the introduction of information and communication technology (ICT). The governing body are thinking of equipping teachers with laptops and Gauteng Education department have equipped the school with a set of tablets. These are exciting moves for our school and leadership are to be commended for their bold steps.
Now, I don’t want to be a wet blanket – but I’d like to suggest a little caution to parents and management before the school goes ahead and invests too much money in ICT’s. Before budgets are blown on laptops, tablets, data projectors, software etc. it is important that the school look at the following:

  1. Manage expectations of staff, students and parent
  2. Find an educator who’ll act as a champion, not a technician
  3. Install suitable infrastructure that will support the vision for the incorporation.

Manage expectations
Computers and education are presented by many people as a given. Silicon Valley believes that they have a new technological solution for teachers that will help them solve all their problems – from admin to assessment. The business community, concerned that schools are still stuck in an industrial mind-set, want empowered employees, comfortable with working on tools of the 21st century. Parents like schools equipped with new technologies because they demonstrate that the school cares about children future.
Rapid adoption of computers, laptops, cell phones and tablets across society have left an impression that technology is driving change in education and schools have to adopt technology or they will be left behind. Yes, here’s no doubt that ICT can play in education. In the classroom, for example, ICT can take on a range of roles – library, noticeboard, intercom, jotter, simulator etc.. There’s also no doubt that ICT makes it possible to participate in learning environments that transcend classroom walls. Where we all get a bit lost, is when we focus on “what the device can do”. Instead, a school that is thinking of incorporating computers into premises should be asking is – “what aspect of ICT will best contribute to improved learning?”
Introducing ICT into a school requires more than equipping teachers and students with devices, infrastructure and the internet. If a school is not clear about what they want students to accomplish with these devices, if students and teachers are not ready for these activities and if there is no groundswell of support amongst parents, staff and students for using these devices in the manner envisioned, then it is likely that in the medium to the long term, this initiative will be costly and underused.

Find a champion
It’s assumed that computers and education are inseparable and much marketing makes the point that technology alone can deliver desired benefits to education. Technology does not make – except by lucky accident – a good teacher. It simply magnifies practice. If technology is well used, then it’s effects are noticeable. However, Ill-considered use of the technology may have results which are the opposite of what was originally planned. So before we start talking about equipping a school with tablets or laptops should be clear about how teachers are intended to use the devices. I’d suggest that the school finds a champion that that communicates the overall set of goals of the project, the components that will be required for success and the schedule for rolling out the stages of digital learning. Such a champion should be able to address the following questions

What do you want teachers to accomplish with their own computing device?

  1. Distributing content
  2. Collaboration
  3. Communication
  4. Assessment
  5. Admin

What digital content will teachers be expected to use with their own computing device?

  1. Content supplied by the department
  2. Content that has been purchased from a commercial publisher
  3. Content that they have authored themselves
  4. Content that is licensed as an Open Educational resource

How do you envisage teachers using the device?

  1. Distributing learning materials
  2. Distributing admin information
  3. Projecting Interactive learning materials
  4. Delivering multimedia

How are teachers going to collaborate with their devices

  1. What are teachers going to use to connect to each other (email, instant messaging, social media and intranet)
  2. Is the school’s infrastructure sufficiently prepared for network and wireless access?
  3. Is the school going to pay for Internet access
  4. Who is going to be responsible for managing the various services
  5. Who will be responsible for technical support

An enabling infrastructure
School buildings need an infrastructure that can support an influx of devices accessing the network. With both tablets and laptops it is important that as many wireless access points as possible—at least one per room. If the school’s programme take off then children will be bringing their devices (cell phone in their pocket and an iPad, tablet, or eReader) and it may be good to plan on two devices per student.
Tablets are portable – their lightness makes them easy to carry around the school. The inbuilt multimedia capacity within tablets make it easier to record sound, capture and record video and record Tablets have access to a range of educational apps and for special education, apps on tablets are more suitable to support students with speech, communication, wring and reading issues. When it comes to functionality – laptops have more processing power than tablets and can be used to support larger programmes and projects. Laptops also have more memory than tablets. Research on laptops is preferred by students because it’s easier to swap between various sources. Data entry remains easier on laptops as full keyboards are ideal for entering, capturing and working with data

Draw on the many sources of experience and expertise
The school can and should take advantage of the many resources out there to assist schools with preparing themselves for getting the school ICT ready. The Laptop for Teachers project is a government sponsored project intended to provide educators with Laptops. Microsoft’s Partners in Learning programme, has a great set of resources to assist teachers get on top of technology. Their School Technology Innovation Centre (STIC), located at SciBono is a wonderful resource for infrastructure. While I have not yet met the folk from Tablet Academy, I have been impressed with their advice on Twitter. They offer a free consultancy service. Last but not least, don’t forget SchoolNet . With over 20 years’ experience in schools, they are an invaluable resource.

Conclusion
Computing at schools should never be about the technology. Students behind screens or teachers projecting a multimedia presentation do not necessarily mean that learning is taking place. Computers might enable good teaching, but incorrectly used, their capacity to distract is great. If the schools goals are clear, an educator, and not a technician is leading the project and the leadership of the school can see how ICT infrastructure could be another building block in accomplishing those goals, then the school may see results from their spending on ICT.

 

Digital Divides & Participation Gaps

digital literacies

digital literacies

Wits has made it explicit in its vision 2022 that it would like to known as a “tech savvy” intuition. On our digitally equipped connected campus, academics and students do make regular and expert use of digital technologies to meet their communication, scholarship and teaching needs. Ability of staff to access and use the network satisfactorily is a given. Students skills with finding, evaluating, utilising, creating, manipulating and transforming digital material on the internet, within a virtual learning environment, on software packages, in digital textbooks, working on exercise software, listening to podcasts, participating in simulations or playing learning games etc. is generally assumed or remedied with a brief training session. However, for many students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, such digital fluencies are not automatic. A range of digital divides or ‘inequality of access to the Internet’ have limited these students opportunity to access and use ICTs’.

Within South Africa’s secondary education system, more traditional forms of literacy have been developed and while post matric students should be able to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about the written word as undergraduate students, they have not necessarily been exposed to technology enhanced learning. For Wits “tech savvy vision” to be realised, the institution will have to take specific steps that will actively address the various barriers to access. Van Dijk and Hacker (2003) argue that there are four types of barriers to access:

  • The lack of ‘‘material access’’ means a lack of possession of computers and network connections.
  • The lack of ‘‘mental access’’ refers to a lack of elementary digital experience.
  • The lack of ‘‘skill access’’ is a lack of digital skills.
  • The lack of ‘‘usage access’’ signifies the lack of meaningful usage opportunities.

At present Wits runs specific projects to address material access issues. If Wits is to address the other three digital divides and assist its students to gain digital experience, practice digital skills and learn appropriate and responsible behaviours within a meaningful context, then as an institution, Wits will have to go beyond simply creating conditions for material access and systematically and deliberately prepare students so that they can indeed learn anything, anytime, anywhere.
eLSI (eLearning, Support and Innovation) is well positioned to assist academics and students with the development of such capacity. Although the unit are already involved in computer literacy and life-skills programs, additional resources are required to create a particular project that can meet the identified need for systematic digital literacy development. This digital literacy project will be designed to specifically to address the abovementioned issues and should have the flexibility to meet academic needs and build local capacity; It has three components

  1. Materials development: The development of a toolkit to facilitate digital experience. A series of professional development workshops that would introduce academics to patterns and techniques used to develop necessary skills
  2. Benchmarking: Ongoing progress with developing in class opportunities for student to practice their digital competencies within their specific discipline would be measured against a benchmark
  3. Community of Practice: The creation of a local network of expertise.

Marc Perensky’s mistake was to assume that because students were born within a digital era, that they are necessarily “digital natives”. The ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies is not inherent. To assist various stakeholders achieve digital literacies, it is essential that all members of the Wits community, academics, administration, library and other support services and students are offered opportunities to become sufficiently competent in the set of life skills that are necessary for full participation in our media-saturated, information-rich society.
With the number of students set to rise significantly in the next decade, this need for such digital literacies is magnified, as it will become imperative that Wits is able to adapt their traditional teaching methods and offer a mix of face-to-face and online learning possibilities and students will need to be technologically fluent to master this new mode.

 

Van Dijk, J., Hacker, K., 2003. The digital divide as a complex, dynamic phenomenon. The Information Society 19 (4), 315–326

Open Access Week 2011


It’s the second year that Wits celebrates Open Access Week. Along with 2,000 individuals from more than 110 that have registered at openaccessweek.org, eLSI and the Library will be hosting two events.

24 October 2011 (Monday) 13.00-14.00
Wartenweiler Conference Room, 4th Floor
Theme: Open Access & Scholarly Communication

  • Prof. Yunus Ballim – “Wits and Open Scholarship”
  • Pierre Malan (Sabinet) – “The African Journal Archive”
  • Luci Abrahams (Wits LINK Centre) – “The OpenAir Project and South African Research”

26 October 2011 (Wednesday) 13.00-14.00
Wartenweiler Media Centre, 2nd Floor
Theme: Open Access Projects
Speakers:

  • Prof. Yunus Ballim – Welcome
  • Kerryn McKay – The African Commons Project
  • Shelley Nicholas – Neil Butcher & Associates
  • Barry Dwolatzky – Joburg Centre for Software Engineering

Three steps to a Twitter +

Wouldn’t be useful if public posts on Google +were also published on Twitter?

It’s helpful when platforms can talk to each other. My tweets with links, for example, are automatically stored in my delicious account, thanks to packrati.us Google + looks like it has a future with other Google sites, but I’d like it to connect further – with Twitter.

To get the two connected, follow these three steps

  1. You are just a number to Google + but your unique number is special. Find it when you click on your Google + profile, then take a look in the URL bar and note that number.
  2. Go to plusfeed and create an unofficial atom feed.  Just paste your Google + account number after the above URL and it will generate an atom feed of your public posts.
  3. Signup for a service like Twitterfeed that enables you to send RSS feeds to your Twitter (or Facebook) account.

There – Google + is linked to Twitter. Your thought stream is now available as an information stream. Now all my public posts on Google + are also published on Twitter.

A wet & soggy account of ANT

Wits has decided that if they are going to prepare students for a 21st century world, then they will have to equip their students with connected digital devices that enable 21st century thinking and work. Accordingly, they have embarked on a number of projects to wirelessly connect the campus and improve the ratio of students who have access to computing devices. In understanding how this project is going to play out, I propose that I use ANT as a lens to understand the process, identify the actors that play a role in ICT diffusion at Wits and investigate the relationship between them.

Two weeks of dipping in and out of Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (ANT) has left my mind drenched with a new thought framework. Instead of looking for another article, I’ve decided to articulate what I have (and haven’t) grasped about material-semiotics. By straining my synapses through a textual sieve, I’m going to attempt to apply ANT to my area of study, and see what I’ve absorbed and what I need to clarify.

Why ANT
ANT is a reasonably established theory that has been used for understanding information systems. It avoids some of the common technology cliches; “ICT as an enabler” or “bridging the digital divide” . It supports thinking about the sociotechnical networks that incorporate people, computers, institutions, policies etc into ICT.

What is ANT
A repeated theme in the literature is that ANT refuses to be labeled as a theory or a methodology. ANT asks that the person to look at all “actants” (be they people or objects) and describe what they see. In this project at Wits, there are a range of different actants. Do I need to list all of them? Is it possible to list them all? No. I anticipate that what will emerge will be complicated, complex or chaotic. But the ANT lens says that we should resist the temptation to reduce what we see into natural, social, or discursive categories. Rather than reduce the various entities or see them as separate objects that can be manipulated, ANT asks the observer to note the actants and their relationship to each other.

How does ANT work?
The relationship between the heterogeneous actants interests is called a network. The formation of this network occurs by translation, not transmission. The stability of the network depends on the ability of the different actants to translate that is, re-interpret, re-present or appropriate, others’ interests to one’s own. There are four moments in translation; Problematisation, Intressement, Enrolment, Mobilisation of allies. In order to bring clarity – the focus on the process of translation is usually taken from the point of view of a single actor

What will the ANT framework accomplish?
Who shapes, enables and constrains change in an organisation? People or technology? The debate as to has agency swings between technology and society. ANT would argue that the relationship between technology and humans are interwoven. Although technology is changing rapidly, technology does not drive the development of an organizations’s values. But neither can an organization behaviors be entirely explained by social interactions and constructs. Rather, ANT argues that human and non human actors have agency and create a network that influences how things get done. ANT ask that we acknowledge the reciprocal and dynamic interaction between technology and humans.
Disclaimer
This is by no means intended as accurate or authoritative account of ANT. It’s me squeezing my brain against words (much like a sponge against the palm of my hand), waiting to see if anything useful emerges. Please feel free to comment. Hopefully my mind will feel less soggy soon.

Digital Slates

Digital slates

Digital slates

So, you want to move from OHP transparencies, where you portably project the process of working through a problem to a class on a transparency, to a more modern device that should allow you to do the same…and more.

Projecting and recording the process of obtaining a solution on a data projector should be simple, portable and cost effective. Yes? Sadly no. This is technology. Things are not always easy to master or easy on the back pocket.

The OHP allows the process to be demonstrated in small or big steps in front of the class. A PowerPoint presentation is great for presenting a prepared show, but it does not really allow the teacher to modify the presentation on the fly and decide what size steps they will take as he/she presents the sums up in front of the classroom. So what other options are there.

Option 1 – Interactive Whiteboard
Go ahead, blow your budget and install a interactive whiteboard, and give your class a large monitor on which you can write, show and record. But whiteboards are costly, they re-enforce student passivity and carrying a white board around to your different lecture venue is fairly tricky.

Option 2 – A tablet computer
Be trendy and purchase a tablet computer (preferably an iPad 2) and a stylus and wirelessly connect with the data projector. Then demonstrate your working process on screen and walk around the class and show solutions to specific problems that students are facing. But tablets are expensive, the stylus may not be as precise (and using your finger to write does not work). Hooking up to the data projector wirelessly is not as straightforward as it sounds.

Option 3 – Plug in your pen and pad
Before you ditch those transparencies, scan them and convert them to a PDF. Now project the scanned transparencies on the data projector, and then write on the transparencies with a digital drawing device. Want to show and image or video. Then hyperlink to the resource. Digital drawing devices are cheap, but they do require new skills and an extra layer of technology to be plugged into the laptop

Option 4 – Get a Smartpen
Or get out some paper and a special pen and press record. The pen has a small camera installed and your handwriting and audio is recorded and then can be downloaded to a PC. The working process can be projected on the data projector – but if you want the process to be visible in real time, you need to forgo the pens recording ability.

None of the solutions are perfect, they never are. Option 3 is the cheapest, option 4, the most portable and option 2, once you’ve installed the bits, may be the simplest.