Thursday 9 May 2013

Ramblings of an ocTEL junkie (Week 4)

This post is trying not to turn into a rant…

… it combines my thoughts on activities 4.1 and 4.3 for ocTEL Week 4.

4.1. Compare some resources (Khan Academy, eLearning examples, iEthics game)
4.3. Look at tools for creating online learning resources (Xerte, Glomaker, Camtasia, CMaps, Screencast-o-matic)

It would be very difficult not to be aware of Khan Academy with all the hype and plaudits and the money being thrown at it. On the surface, it seems like a great idea - create thousands of videos and quizzes to help people around the world to learn (as long as they have decent internet connections). The Khan Academy’s mission is “to provide a world class education for anyone, anywhere.” This is similar to some of the lines coming out of the xMOOC providers (e.g. Coursera: “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few.”) The basic premise of giving access to learning materials to people who might not otherwise have it, via the internet, and perhaps helping them to improve their learning situation is admirable, and when there is extensive research documenting the concrete improvements in people’s circumstances brought about by these unaccredited learning paths, that will be something to celebrate. But I don’t think we should get carried away and start talking about changing the world just yet. After all, is it really true to say that a ‘world-class education’ can be had simply by watching a few online videos and taking a few quizzes?

Khan Academy - Multi-step linear inequalities
Pedagogically, most of the material on the Khan Academy appears to exactly replicate transmission-model chalk ‘n’ talk style lectures – surely one of the strengths of the internet is that it offers us so many different ways to access information, communicate and collaborate and opportunities to break away from the more formal, lecture-based educational paradigms?

And if we’re trying to encourage our students to have a critical eye and learn to evaluate reliability and value of online sources, what does it say if we recommend they watch videos where we don’t even know who the author/speaker is, for example, this video on the French Revolution (maybe I just don’t know where to look?) Having said that, expanding learning opportunities to greater numbers of people around the world has to be a good thing. Also, it may well be useful to be able to point students in the direction of these videos as supplementary resources, as long as we’re also teaching them to question what they find and synthesise information from a variety of sources.

Next, I tried a few of the Elearning Examples e-learning games. Game-based learning has been the next best thing for a long time now. For example, look at the Horizon (HE) Report in 2006 and you’ll see ‘Educational Gaming’ – Time to adoption 2 – 3 years. Look at the 2013 (HE) report and you’ll see ‘Games and Gamification’ – Time to adoption 2 – 3 years. In my view, this underlines the fact that with a few exceptions, gamification of learning is something that is often talked about but rarely implemented in any coherent way (in Higher Education). Yes, it would be fantastic to harness the motivation and energy that people often experience when taking part in and completing games, or the social aspects of MMOGs, but creating quality gaming experiences generally costs a lot of money, something which isn’t exactly sloshing around in Higher Education at the moment.

The games available on the link we were given seemed to have little to do with education and I couldn’t work out what I was supposed to be learning by doing them. I tried something called ‘NYT brain games’ but none of them worked. I tried a dinosaur fighting game but this just involved pressing arrow keys and ‘z’ as fast as possible. I tried ‘The Creative Mystic’ and it turned out that it was designed to advertise a product. At that point I gave up.

For me, the iEthiCs simulation has more obvious value and I can see how it could be a useful tool for staff and students involved in medical ethics education. I have seen other examples of gamified learning which I also think are worthwhile: e.g. The WW1 Poetry Archive in SL , Inanimate Alice , or Preloaded – but these all take a lot of money, time and expertise to produce. Not quite the same as a Hot Potatoes quiz…  With a background of language teaching, I’ve been used to ‘gamifying’ my teaching practice for many years – making activities competitive, quizzes, word searches and that sort of thing. The question for me is, how can we bring the positive aspects of game-based learning into our practice in relatively easy ways without needing to be a developer to do so? And is it really worth our while trawling through endless badly-produced and or irrelevant e-learning games in an effort to motivate our learners? What is the best way to find examples of game-based learning which we might actually want to use?

WW1 Poetry Simulation in SL (Oxford University)
We also need to beware of making assumptions about what learners want. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon by saying we need to build in elements of game-based learning to make engaging and effective learning materials, but when did we last stop to ask OUR learners what they find engaging and effective?

In the final activity we were asked to look at various tools which could be used to create learning resources. I had already used some of these (Camtasia, Screencastomatic) and generally found them quite straightforward to use. I had a look at Xerte. If you want to create a learning object with all the bells and whistles this is probably an excellent tool to help you do that job. My one issue with this (and GloMaker which I’m familiar with) is that many lecturers simply won’t have time to develop the required skills to use these tookits properly. A combination of lack of time and lack of digital literacies means that these type of tools will probably only ever be used by a very small proportion of teaching staff. As an example, if we take an introductory paragraph about Xerte online toolkits:

 “Xerte Online Toolkits 2.0 is a server-based suite of tools for content authors. Elearning materials can be authored quickly and easily using browser-based tools, with no programming required. Content can be delivered to all devices using HTML5.” Many teaching staff I know would look at terms like ‘server-based suite of tools’ or 'HTML 5' and say "Eh?". Also, as it says, the toolkit is designed for content authors – in an ideal world, teaching staff would work alongside learning technologists who could help them with this, but this isn’t always (often?) the case.

Apologies for straying off task, and raising more questions than answers.. ;-)


  1. Hi Jim, I enjoyed reading your post. I was surprised when I went to a local learning technologists forum about how much content creation, of the Xerte kind, still goes on.

    Even commercial tools like Storyline which builds on top of PowerPoint and very easy to use appear to be left in the hands of the learning technologist, probably not because of the lack of skills of academic staff but lack of time.

    It's always interesting to put these tools in the hands of students and ask them to create their own learning resources, the issue however is the complexity of the tools rarely makes it effective time on task.

    Apologies for the ramble (you started it ;)


    1. I think there's definitely a place for co-creation of learning resources with students as part of the learning process, but I agree that this type of co-creation would be more problematic/time-consuming with tools like GloMaker or Xerte. In my experience this type of activity is more likely to take the form of creating a video, screencast, podcast or any tool that is relatively simple and familiar to students...
      I'm not sure that the world needs more reusable learning objects, but if it does, teaching staff either need comprehensive support from dedicated learning technologists and / or time and training to develop these resources themselves. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be a priority in many HEIs...
      another ramble! - I've started so I'll finish..

  2. I look afer the xerte web site. I'm a nerd, so forgive the language. I've made some changes based on what you've said. I'd be really happy if you wanted to provide some plain english copy that you think will read better?

    1. Hi Julian...sorry, not meaning to be too critical, just trying to look at it from the perspective of some of the teaching staff at my workplace.
      How about something like: “Xerte Online Toolkits provide easy to use tools for anyone looking to create their own eLearning materials quickly and easily, without the need to download any specialist software or have any programming skills. These materials can then be accessed on any device (PC, mobile, tablet) that has the latest version of HTML5” (perhaps with a hyperlink to a definition of HTML5. (e.g.
      Another alternative might be to have a small glossary of 'techie' terms which the less techno-literate teaching staff could look at when looking at the site... or maybe just hyperlink to online definitions for any words which you consider to be a bit challenging for some users..

      BTW - being a nerd is fashionable these days isn't it?

  3. Great posting, Jim. You've summarised a lot of issues and questions that I have been wrestling with. On the one hand, there are a number of excellent tools which we can use without extensive training to produce interesting materials which students can get to grips with. Cmap is one of my favourite devices for this and I've also been impressed with the latest version of Camtasia. On the other hand, it feels like tools like GloMaker and Xerte are still not quite usable enough to appeal to more than a minority of teaching academics - too steep a learning curve for uncertain benefits. I revisited Xerte in preparation for this week and found it a bit off-putting (and I am really interested in the technology so I can imagine reactions from some colleagues). I am also a fan of iEthiCs and the other work of the team from St George's. But this needs sustained support and funding. Maybe we need more of a consortium approach from universities to provide really good materials on issues which students find difficult and which have a decent shelf life, as in the ethics example.

    1. Thanks for your comments,Peter. Good to know that I'm not the only one concerned with some of the hype around Khan Academy..
      In terms of how to ensure that really good OERs are easy to find and reuse, for me what is missing from these OER repositories is the social element. I think we need to move towards 'Social OER'. I'd rather find out about great resources from other like-minded individuals in my discipline (i.e. my PLN) than have to go looking in impersonal and often impenetrable repositories which are jacks of all trades but masters of none. I could see the benefit of a social network for practitioners in a particular discipline/subject area open to all UK HEIs (to start with) which would become an informal, grass-roots platform for resource and knowledge sharing. This would be the first place I'd look for those great resources people have spent their precious time producing, I'd be able to get feedback on how well they work, tips and advice, suggest improvements and build on them. A linked Twitter feed would alert me to any new resources added and, as an academic, I'd start to see the benefit of some of these Web 2.0 tools... The point is, I'd be engaging with others in my field and this in itself would hopefully be more motivating than the lonely and frustrating repository search. Not sure what platform this could be on - maybe something like Yammer?. So, that's my view - let's make OER a more social experience and take advantage of all these amazing communication tools we're surrounded with...

  4. PS. And we also need to 'puncture' some of the hype surrounding some of the materials which are now being promoted as 'the future' (e.g. liked your comments on Khan)

  5. Yes, I looked at some Khan Academy videos in my area (business) and they were average, shall we say - not as exciting as I hoped!

  6. One thing that I discovered in the LearnHigher CETL - was that students did not really need more resources - especially resources that they had to plough through before they could finally get to work on their assignments... What they might need would be *tools* to help them engage creatively with material - and to produce better assignments - and we need perhaps is to be much more creative in the assignments that we set - such that students are encouraged to use ideas and think about how and why to communicate - rather than to just regurgitate in information in yet another essay. I always thought that assignments should involve working with students to build VLE and other resources... Now there's a digitally literate learner! Best, Sandra