Let’s leave them to their own devices

This posting is about some of the hidden benefits I discovered when I encouraged students to bring and use their own device (BYOD) to a workshop I ran earlier this week.

The workshop was on cloud computing for small businesses so it felt appropriate to develop the materials using a cloud platform and have a go at supporting it entirely from the cloud.  I set myself the goal of going to the workshop with no material at all on my laptop.

I chose Google Sites for the course website. Even if you are familiar with Google Sites it’s well worth another look.   You select  a website template that has most of the functionality.  you want and edit.  Mine had  blogging, a wiki and a file manager as standard pages.

The course outline was posted on the site and I made a PowerPoint presentation to walk participants through the workshop.  The ppt had quite a number of embedded links that pointed to web resources, the idea being that participants would load it on their machines and “follow along” (see below). Loading the presentation up as a Google Doc and then linking it into the site was a 2 minute task.

Into the file manager page went a selection of documents and other resources on cloud computing. Think of this as a reading list and set of contextual examples and price lists.  All in all about a days work to write, create and get ready.

The day before the course was due to run, I emailed the participants with the course URL, giving them view only access to the materials and site.  I also by chance suggested that they might like to bring their own computers to use on the day.  This was a last minute idea and was prompted by some research I have been looking at on students being encouraged to bring their own technology into the classroom.  I was therefore particularly interested in how this might work in practice.

How can cloud technology support a course differently ?

In designing the course I thought I might try a few things that can be done easily in a cloud tech supported course that are not as easy using traditional presentation methods.

Electronic introductions

– At the start of the course using a form to capture students details, the level of their existing knowledge, what they wanted out of the course etc was just so much better than that awful lets all say who we are,  why we are here and what we want out of the course.  This way these things are captured, students are asked to write their goals down rather than just vocalise them and spend much less time wondering how they will sound to others.  As the students completed the form, the results were displayed on the front screen and we then went through them and slightly re-designed the course.  Because the data was captured  we were able to come back to this at the end of the course to see if we had achieved our goals. This stage could also have been completed in advance of the course.

Follow the bouncing ball

– I encouraged the students to load up the presentation as I was running through it and explore the embedded links. One of the exercises had them adding a couple of slides into the presentation having looked at a couple of case studies.  This could have gone really wrong but if they have a screen open in front of them they would be doing twitter, answering email or face-booking anyway.  This was my way of asking them to look at the content twice.  For those that had their own technology then now had the links in their bookmarks!  see below

Reflect and tell others – collaborate

– After each exercise students were encouraged to write a short blog post on what they had done and to create a link to it. They were asked to jointly author material , collaborative learning.  Seeing additional material pour into the pot as the course progressed had a powerful effect: it seemed to give ownership to participants along with and a sense of their own creativity.

In summary having all the course materials, activities up in the cloud allowed:

Device and location independence.  One student was not able to make the course but as I had sent him the material the night before he  looked through it, tried a couple of the exercises, wrote a small blog post and emailed me some questions. The course was the same on an  iPad, and on a PC.  I was able to use my smart phone to add an extra person to the course while on the move yesterday.

Collaboration.  A killer benefit, all the workshop exercises involved students working together.  Sitting next to each other and putting content into the same document.

So why did allowing students to bring their own technology make such an impression on me?

I was surprised to observe that students that had their own devices were learning better, which started me wondering why. Here is what I concluded:

Less friction at the start of the class. They already know how to use all the tools on their device, know the password and how to attach to wifi etc.  Students using their own devices were able to get connected to the network and into the course material via the links in the pre course email in less than 2 minutes.  For the rest of group this was easily a ten minute exercise. Allocating passwords, typing in urls, navigating the new interface.

More effective and efficient in the use of time   Because students are familiar with their device’s interface and software, they are much more productive in the exercises and are able to focus on the content to a greater degree than if using unfamiliar systems.  The access process becomes transparent and allows learners to focus on the “what” much more than the “how”.

Ownership  As a result of using  their own device within the course, it’s much more likely that learners will be creating bookmarks and be integrating content and links into their workspace.  Courses that are taught via screens in a class room, even if the materials are made available on the Web, will, I suspect feel as if they are owned by the institution, rather than by the learners, at least in their early stages.

On reflection, these are pretty obvious, but not to me prior to running this workshop hence the post. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has listed or overcome some of the obstacles.  The technology that makes this work is Wifi and tablets / laptops / notebooks.  We would expect students studying catering to have their own knives, it strikes me as absurd that we do not expect students to have a device that will help them to learn.

Schools I suspect are likely to be the most hostile environment in which we might expect students to use their own devices.  The technology issues can be overcome.

–         Protect the wifi with an internal firewall to implement policy and auditing

–         Register an association between the device MAC address and a person

–         Provide secure storage

It’s answers to the cultural issues that I am more interested in

  • Not all students have their own device
  • Teaching in this way is very different. Can it be done in groups of 30+?
  • Migrating existing content might be difficult. Specifically, workshop and question-based  learning are a good fit but more traditional styles may not work.
  • Issues of Cyber bullying,  Trolling  etc. need to be addressed
  • How can work be assessed?
  • Can it be afforded? Is it fair to require students to have a suitable device to learn in this way?

Eric Mazure  states nicley that “the plural of anecdote is not data”, the above piece is clearly anecdotal , if any one is doing a proper trial answers the issues above I would be really interested to hear from you.

A copy of the course site can be seen here.

I tweet as @mooreanswers and can be found lurking on my company website at http://www.mooreanswers.co.uk 


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Learning Technologies in adult learning: influence how a charitable trust employs >£40m to achieve its mission

Last year, with Seb Schmoller, Adrian Perry, and Clive Shepherd, I was commissioned to report to the Ufi Charitable Trust (UCT) on “priorities for interventions by the Trust and others through learning technologies in adult learning and employability in the UK”. This followed the Trust’s October 2011 announcement of the sale of Ufi Limited. The Trust intends to apply the proceeds of the sale – which exceed £40m – to the mission of achieving “a step change in adult learning and employability for all in the UK, through the adoption of 21st century technologies”. This 10 minute survey provides an opportunity to influence the way in which UCT employs its funds to achieve its mission. The closing date for completion is 6 March 2012.

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A new digital revolution

I wonder if the technology we all use would be the same if  Gene Roddenberry had not written Star Trek?  Would we have doors that go swoosh,  flip top mobile phones, ipads and androids with touch sensitive interfaces.

digital spannerWhile down at the BETT show this week I watched the adjustable spanner in the image on the left “printed into existence”, it took around two hours.  It was astonishing to watch and in my opinion profound in its implications,  this new capability has got to be at least as revolutinoary as the desk top publishing revolution was 25 years ago in that it allows small organisations to create personalized 3D objects transmitted digitally or created on the screen.

The technology that created this very expensive plastic spanner was the HP designjet color 3D printer pictured below.  Watching  an object materialise one layer at a time was

mesmeric, objects are built up layer by layer with the result that it can create complex curves, hollows etc.

The interface with the digital world just got a little bit more fuzzy and ideas like mass-bespoke become possible.  The ability to allow design students to express their creativity and prototype prior to digitally sending off a design to a mass fabrication facility can only transform manufacturing as we know it.

Self publishing books is one thing but the ability to self publish physical devices is a whole new meme that needs a lot more thinking about.

You can see, (if you enlarge the image), that the education price was £9,690+VAT for the white plastic version and £12,475+vat for the color, that makes those spanners quite expensive unless we believe that this sort of technology will underpin manufacturing over the next century, if we do then  it becomes a prerequisite in every school of art and design and engineering shop – it would be good if primary school kids could get a look in as well. Incorporating such devices into the curriculum has the potential to contextualize many a rather dull curriculum.  Such a device has the potential to create a renascence curriculum where students are required to include material science, material culture, maths and design to create an object.

You could quite see how a library of the smaller objects in the History of the world in a 100 objects together with how they where created their cultural significance might transform a history class to take a very obtuse example.

The set of cogs and wheels demonstrated below is an example of applied maths and engineering that could transform a maths or physics lesson.  You can see that it required the “Printing”of multiple objects requiring planning skills.  An engineer friend of mine suggested that we teach maths incorrectly, maths he says, “allows me as an engineer to predict the future – I can model an outcome before I do the work”, such contextualization combined with the ability to create a physical device could increase the relevance of mathematics for millions switched off by the abstract nature of algebra.

Cogs digitally printed

While slower than the replicator in star trek, I get the feeling that this technology will speed up, incorporate inks with different  properties.

Like in almost every other endeavour, rapid prototyping facilitates learning.  If you get the impression from reading this that I was excited by the educational possibilities of this device you would be right.  Having spent a week at the BETT show, I only wish that they would get on and finish the transporter!



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Research in Learning Technology Journal goes Open Access

1st January 2012 was the launch date for the Journal of the Association for learning technologies learned academic journal to transfer from the more traditional publishing model to an open access model.

So what I hear you say, publishing is publishing same old….  I beg to differ.

To my mind the move to open access, online publishing offers significant benefits in academic publishing and is bringing significant change to the publishing industry.

The new journal website provides a list of benefits describing why we think the new model works, in this piece I take these “features” and elaborate the ideas further to explain why ALT took the decision to change its publishing model. 

Open Access – Research in Learning Technology is free from all access barriers, allowing for global dissemination of your work. Well not quite, you will still require some sort of web reader, however when compared traditional publishing, requiring subscription payments and a limited circulation, there is no contest. 

Indexing – once published, your article will be comprehensively indexed in the foremost international databases. The ease with which content can be indexed and searched widens its potential audience.

Online submission – simply click on the ‘Submit Manuscript’ button, register yourself as an author, submit your paper and follow its progression. Again removing barriers of cost and time.  The introduction of workflow with automated responses removes all those lost in the post issues and will encourage international collaboration

Free to publish – Currently there are no article submission or article processing fees. ALT intends to  keep this the case with the sole criteria for selection being the quality and suitability of the content that is submitted.

Supplementary material – you may add data sets, protocols, videos,
interactive files, etc. to your paper – at no cost.  This is a critical feature.  Sharing data and or providing readers with  a video of an author giving a talk creates opportunities both for collaboration and for elaboration both of which are likely to make research  better and more useful.

Author retains copyright – you are free to disseminate your work, make
unlimited copies, and deposit it in any repository.  Under most traditional publishing agreements this is not the case, often to the detriment of a main goal of the author, which is the widest possible dissemination of their research!

Rapid publication process – upon acceptance of your article, you can
expect your work to be online within 3-4 weeks. Traditional publishing models can take up to 18 months from submission to publication, in a field such as learning technology this represents a barrier to progress.

Post-publication statistics – you can continue to login to the website after publication and check the number of full-text views your paper is receiving. This ability to gain insight into readership and impact on a regular basis as a core function of the system can only provide valuable feedback to authors over time,

ALT’s move to Open Access publishing model was not made lightly, and over the next two to three years ALT will learn if the move was a good one or not.  Some thought, care and attention has been given to the editorial processes that support quality.  The underlying peer review processes that contribute to the quality of the journal remain unchanged; the journal continues to be available in print, with copies deposited in the Legal Deposit Libraries; and all articles will continue to have a DOI reference (the online equivalent to an ISBN) so as to support citation.

Are there issues and risks, of course, the loss of a revenue stream for the association from Journal subscriptions –  issues around permanence and citation – will the reputation of the journal be affected.  These are a few of the top line risks, however it feels like the technology is now sufficiently mature for the benefits to be worth the risk.

Did I mention that all previous content is now also available on line for free.  So happy new year to you all, consider this to be a new year minor revolution.


How ALT went about tendering for the service is described here at  http://repository.alt.ac.uk/887/

The new journal site is found here <http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt>

In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that I am a Trustee of ALT and chair of its publication committee.


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Creating short videos that support learning


If you are here to learn how to upload the free e-books from project Gutenberg onto your Amazon Kindle then click here  or scroll down

I continue to be impressed with the use of short videos as a method for teaching people how to do things.  I suspect that the process of creating such short videos is an even more powerful tool for re-enforcing learning, and can create an asset that others may find useful.   Projects such as the ever impressive Khan Accademy http://www.khanacademy.org/ with its 2500+ instructional videos and associated tutor eco-system is worth  taking a look at if you have not already done so.

Youtube http://www.youtube.com/ and video jug  http://www.videojug.com are full of great examples of short videos that demonstrate howto do things, though of variable quality. It is always easy to criticise others efforts , having watched a few of these, read some materials on best practice  and thought a bit about what makes a good one work, I thought I would have a go at creating one.

I recently found out how to load free books from Project Gutenberg onto my Amazon Kindle and thought that it would be a good subject, it not being mentioned on the amazon instructions and on the basis that e-readers and OER are likely to be a thing of the future.

While the cost of a 2 min advert on commercial TV can be  many times more than the annual budget of a small school, I thought I should set myself some design goals and constraints:

Design goals

1. The final video should be no longer than 5 minutes in length.

2. After viewing it most people would feel confident to have a go at exploring Project Gutenberg and be able to download an e-book to their PC, connect their Kindle and upload the book.

3. Compared with a written howto it should give the viewer more confidence to have a go.

4. The aim was for the viewer to feel as if they had a friendly instructor sat beside them and to keep personality out of the way and focus on activity.

Design constraints:

1. On the basis that most people are short of time, I set myself a goal that it should not take more than 1 hr to plan and film the material, no scripts, a  simple structure outline

2. Use simple software tools that are free.

3. To minimise risks and assumptions and for it to more than instruct, for it to motivate someone to have a go.

To see how it turned out click below: (best viewed full screen)

What did I learn?

In creating this I learnt that it was not as easy as I first thought to create one of these.

It took me about 2 hrs to film the material 1hr to process it and another 1 hr to save it to the various formats and upload it to Youtube so that’s 4 hrs for a 5 minute video.  Next time I feel sure I could get it down by a  1/3  but it still it took longer than I thought.

You need to speak slowly, and leaving  2 second pauses at the end of every learning point and section helps you with the editing.

The ability to insert captions is a strong feature.  It allows teaching points to be re-enforced and lets you make up for mistakes in the video – you can see that in disconnecting the kindle I just pulled the cable but in the video I use a caption to remind people to disconnect the device correctly.

Sound quality is absolutely critical – I am not happy with the sound quality used in the screen capture in this one and having watched quite a few of these it makes such a difference.  Video quality needs to be adequate, if you are pointing out things on a screen then its important that they can be seen.  For that reason this was saved with a high resolution.  Nick Newman from http://www.careersbox.co.uk/ told me that I should think of these as radio with pictures and it seems right to me.


Creating a video howto is a good exercise to have a go at.  I think that asking students to create some of these  would be a very strong  formative assessment method, particularly when other students are encouraged to provide feedback.

 Tools used

Screen capture: Hypercam 2 free screen capture.  easy to install and allows you to select an area of the screen to capture http://www.hyperionics.com/hc/

Video editing and assembling: Windows live move maker http://explore.live.com/windows-live-movie-maker  free to download and easy to use.  This software allows you to add images captions titles etc .

Hosting: load onto a Youtube channel

Video capture: a Sony handycam with an internal hard disk

I would be interested to hear your opinion on the use of short videos as an aid to teaching and learning!

  • Is it is better to have 3 x 5 minute videos than 1 x 15 minute video?
  • What do you think makes a great video howto?
  • What pitfalls did I make in this one and what should I do to improve it?
Comments and feedback sought.
Quick update
RIP Michael Hart died this week the 6th of Sepember 2011, I sent him the link to this posting just after I wrote it he replied almost immediately.  Over the last tw0 weeks we exchanged a few emails, he came across as a kind, generous, challenging,  person.  He leaves the world a different richer place with  36,000 free books available for anyone that wants one FOC.  I regret not knowing him.  Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven’t thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air.”
His obituary can be found here: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Michael_S._Hart

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