Monday, February 28, 2005

Evaluating m-learning tools

Helen Barrett has been undertaking an evaluation of various software tools for the set up of ePortfolios. It is a wonderful resource that any one interested in ePortfolios can tap into. However, it is based on a context of using non m-learning technology.

Undertaking a similar evaluation using m-learning tools will be a financial challenge. Not to mention a huge commitment in time. Singh summarises that the mobile system components for mlearning needs to include:-

  • Authoring tools for content capture and conversion to mobile delivery
  • Templates for the development of mobile games and simulations
  • Learning content management system to archive mobile content
  • A learning management system to track the m-learning students

The evaluation of the above will also have to bear in mind how mlearning could fit into existing elearning systems that are already in mainstream use. Some of the existing elearning components may be adaptable for use with mlearning but again, time is required to explore how all of these various components will fit into a mlearning delivery environment.

The evaluation or a suitable device for use by mlearners is made even more difficult by the number of models of smart phones that are being released into the market and the relatively short time span that various phone models are ‘in fashion’. Deciding on a smart phone operating system helps cull down the number of smart phones to be evaluated. The main choice will be between PC compatible OS and the Palm OS. Deciding on a service provider might also help narrow things down more as in NZ we do not have that many to choose from!

For choosing the correct devise, Singh identified eleven different factors to consider including cost, battery life, the size of the display screen, how data can be input into the devise, the processing power available, the storage capacity of the devise, communications options, application development tools and IT support. These factors could form part of a decision matrix to evaluate the various smart phones currently available here in NZ.

Mlearning technology is also in its very early stages of development. This is good from the point of view that any learning that takes place will improve delivery of flexible learning / ePortfolio generation via mlearning. However, it also means that there needs to be a large input of time and effort into learning about how to make the technology work.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

More on mlearning

I found a literature review on mobile technologies and learning put out by nesta future lab. There is a useful overview of existing theories of learning (behaviourist, constructivist, situated, collaborative etc) and a summary of mobile learning technologies that are currently available.

The report also provides case studies of recent examples of teaching and learning using mobile technologies that are matched with the various learning theories. The majority of the case studies describe work that has been undertaken using PDAs as the main mobile technology tool. There are not as many examples for the use of mobile phones. The report does conclude that there is a move towards combining the functions of mobile phones, PDAs, game consoles and cameras. This merging of capabilities is set to continue at a fast pace with true convergence of all of these devises in the next five to ten years.

None of the examples deal specifically with the completion of competency based learning outcomes or with portfolio development. However, the examples provide glimpses of the many possibilities the m-learning can bring into my teaching context. Some of these include:-

  • Providing ‘revision’ questions in the form of drill and feedback type questions. These could be used to revise underlying understanding of practical work based skills.
  • The opportunity to work collaboratively on projects with other students so that the social nature of learning is enhanced.
  • Use of the m-learning tool as a repository for information. Course notes, glossary of industry jargon, administrative information, templates for use in submitting reports etc.
  • Administrative functions including reminding students about when projects are due via SMS, providing students with updated records of learning, providing ready access to teaching staff for advice.
  • Web browser functions via WAP and access to course site where individual portfolio is archived.
  • Opportunity for apprentices to provide access to each others portfolio site for peer critique and feedback.

Individually, all the above scenarios are possible with present technology. Access to the various areas is not yet seamless but the possibilities for building up a ‘one-stop shop’ accessed by mobile is becoming attainable.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Where am I at with ePortfolios?

Took me quite a while to catch up on ePortfolios and how they have evolved using digital technology. The article in Educause Quarterly on levels of maturation in the use of web based portfolios (web folios) provides a good guide to the stages of development of ePortfolios.

  • Level 1 basically revolves around a scrapbook concept and
  • level 2 provides more structure to bring it up to curriculum vitae status.
  • The authors argue that a true web folio begins at level 3 whereby there is the ability for both the student and faculty to put together a working portfolio that showcases the student’s work.
  • Level 4 opens the web folio up to feedback from other parties that may include the student’s families, employers (current and potential), various mentors and the faculty.
  • At level 5, the web folio becomes an authentic / authoritative evidence that links the contents of the folio to standards, programmes and “other descriptors including higher order taxonomies.”

My interpretation of these levels is that the ePortfolio starts by being an ad hoc collection of student work. Gradually, more links are put into the work that students add to their portfolio. At level 3 and beyond, these links allow the student to receive feedback on their efforts, first from their teachers and then from the wider community that they live / work in. Along the way, students learn not only about how to select the material that they would like to showcase. They also learn about how to reflect on why they select certain pieces of work and obtain feedback from their peers and community of practice about the appropriateness of the work that they have selected. So we basically have the students construct a framework about their practice and provide them with the opportunity to tap into the knowledge base of their community.

At the moment, we collect paper based portfolios from students for two unit standards (competency based modules). One for breads and one for gateaux / torten. These are level 2 type paper portfolios where the criteria for what to collate is set down and the students produce photos of their products along with accompanying recipes and background information. Bringing this up to level three as a web folio using existing elearning technology at CPIT is not technically difficult. The main barrier would be access to hardware for students who do not own a computer.

However, exploring how a level 3 web folio can be achieved using mlearning technology is the next step I intend to investigate. Nokia’s lifeblog is one concept that may be useful. At the moment, the lifeblog is constructed to act mainly as an archive for various data that comes through the phone (SMS, email, photos). The current version of lifeblog is able to organise the archive data so that it can be posted on to an actual blog site. At the moment, this idea is interesting but a bit limited for the purposes of building up a level 3 portfolio. It is possible to put together a level 1 or a limited level 2 portfolio using lifeblog but the capabilities need to be extended to take ePortfolios up to level 3 and beyond.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

learning & teaching

I am trying here to capture some of my thoughts on where I stand with regards to teaching and learning philosophies. This writing reflects what has worked best for me in my teaching context and what fits my overall approach to life. I am always interested in exploring new teaching techniques, trying them out to see if they fit in with my teaching style and how my students learn best. However, I would not see myself as someone who jumps on every educational bandwagon that comes along. Instead I am someone who explores and evaluates new ways and then works at them to eventually use them to do things better.

I have over the years, studied, reflected on, evaluated and explored various teaching and learning theories. Almost 25 years of teaching practice has taught me that the learning about learning never stops. One of the things I have learnt, is that being a learner makes me more empathetic towards the needs of the learners. This year is no exception, I will be doing two more courses towards the Graduate Certificate in Applied eLearning and continuing on my ongoing M Phil – about to be upgraded to Phd – studies at Griffith University with Dr. Stephen Billett.

My philosophies on learning have matured over time, my leanings are towards constructivist cognition with an emphasis on social interactions. These ideas are clumped together and referred to as socio-cultural learning theories or social constructivism. My research studies are based on the work of Vygotsky, Lave & Wenger’s Situated Learning, Wenger’s Communities of Practice and Brown, Collins and Duguid’s Cognitive Apprenticeships. Of late, the writing of John Seely Brown have been influential in my elearning teaching, in particular, his article on Growing Up Digital. I have applied much of what I have learnt about teaching and learning into all of my teaching practice. At last year’s ITPNZ efest, I presented a paper on cognitive apprenticeships and their application to elearning.

I learn best by doing and am continually trying out new types of technology to see how useful they might be in my teaching context. I also find that I learn much from my students by talking to them about their attitudes to new technology and how they use these in their daily lives. In short, I have over the last few years been exploring how to use the tools that young people take for granted, to provide them with better learning opportunities. Alongside these explorations has been an investigation into how access to information via the WWW and communications technology contributes towards helping to form young people’s sense of identities.

I am setting this out so that readers of this blog will understand some of the reasons why I am going down the road of exploring ePortfolios using mlearning tools. My belief is that ePortfolios have an important role in helping young people consolidate their learning about themselves and their work. mlearning technology is evolving to a position whereby it can be useful not only a tool to transfer digital data but also as a really viable component of social constructivist learning. The really exciting bit is that the combination of e-Portfolios and m-learning into m-portfolios allows both synchronous and situated learning to take place with learners who are based in the workplace.

Friday, February 11, 2005

m-learning and smart phones

m-learning is the third thread I will be exploring on this blog. Having ventured into elearning territory by offering elearning courses on baking theory for apprentice bakers has provided me with concrete evidence that the majority of apprentices do not own computers. However, the vast majority of apprentices, own game consoles and cell phones. Therefore, exploring the concepts of m-learning and how the technology may be used to collect assessment evidence from apprentices is not too difficult a link to make.

There has been quite a lot of activity of late on the m-learning front. m-learning could be basically undertaken with several types of tools which include laptops with WiFi capability, pdas (personal digital accessories like Palm Pilots) and mobile phones. For the interim, I will be concentrating on exploring the use of ‘smart phones’. Smart phones vary in their capabilities but they are mobile phones with some or all of the pda’s capabilities. There are several reasons for choosing to hone in on smart phones:-

  • Most of the smart phone models look like phones and not like pdas.
  • They combine the capabilities of pdas – with the convenience of mobile phones.
    The operating systems used in most models of smart phones sync onto most PCs without complicated systems to be learnt and or circumvented.
  • Many smart phones also incorporate digital cameras, an important application for the purpose collecting evidence for use in assessments.
  • There are already existing pda OS based ‘learning management systems’ that can be purchased from a variety of vendors. These LMSs provide basic tools for students management, content distribution and assessment result collation.
  • We can learn from the experiences of several projects using cell phone technology, these include the original European m-learning project with much of the information disseminated via this m-learning development site, through to smaller research projects like Eviva.

m-learning is still relatively new territory to be getting into and the use of smart phones opens up more possibilities for everyone involved in education. There is an already established educational market for pdas in education. Smart phones provide the added opportunity to make use of principles for the social construction of learning to take place. Looks like exciting times ahead!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Why ePortfolios?

My thanks to Stephen Harlow for telling me about Helen Barrett’s presentation at Ultralab South which was held in Christchurch last December. The presentation helped me consolidate my learning about what ePortfolios were about.

In Helen’s latest blog, she writes about her plans to ‘retire’ by launching herself into a new research project. I look forward to following her work on the Reflect Initiative which stands for stands for Researching Electronic portFolios: Learning, Engagement, Collaboration through Technology. The details make for interesting reading on the way one direction ePortfolios could be heading.

My interest in ePortfolios stems from my teaching context. I teach bakers and here in New Zealand, a large proportion of New Zealand apprentice bakers come to the NZ Baking Training Centre for block courses. Apprentices are assessed using competency based assessments with the majority of these assessments to be completed in the workplace. The majority of the smaller bakeries are finding it extremely time consuming to complete these assessments for their apprentices, so they are lobbying to have all assessments completed off-job. This throws the challenges for gathering evidence to proof competency on to the providers who offer training to the industry. Hence my interest in looking at how technology may help make gathering evidence for competency based assessments more user friendly for apprentices and less paper heavy for bakery tutors.

I believe that ePortfolios have a crucial role to play in workplace evidence gathering for competency based assessments. One of the concepts I am exploring is the use of ePortfolios to help apprentices present a more holistic picture of their skills, knowledge and passion for the trade they are training in. Competency based standards are awfully proscribed, structured and atomistic. They break craft skills up into small achieveble competencies when often, the ability to bring all the many facets that make up an artisan's expertise is not fully understood (even by the artisans themselves, let alone the many academics studying the subject). ePortfolios provide an opportunity for apprentices to :-
  • showcase their practical skills,
  • reflect on the way in which their knowledge of the craft is growing, evolving, consolidating
  • demonstrate their changing attitudes to the trade as they move from novice to journeyperson
  • create a tangible resource as a base for their lifelong learning projects
  • store their achievements in one repository from which they are able to build new portfolios for various objectives in their career
  • share their work with their peers and their families, friends, employers etc.

I would really appreciate feedback on the above, especially from others in the Vocational Education sector who might also be working on similar projects.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Starting out

Well, I have taken the plunge and started up this blog. I am going to use this blog to

  • track my learning about how I am maturing as a elearner
  • record my reflections on how being a elearner is contributing to how I teach (both f2f & online)
  • gauge my feelings about blogging as I am still not too sure if it will work for me
  • act as an archive for my findings on elearning instructional design, eportfolios and mlearning
  • provide me with a forum to network with many others who are also blogging, reflecting and learning about similar topics.

I have been lurking around several blogs of late to see what others have been up to. I have been inspired especially by JeremyHiebert's very topical, informative and up to date blog on many of the issues that I am also researching,

I plan to put in at least one post a week, so watch this space!