Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Learning from mlearning pilot participants

Nick Ford & I had an invigorating session with a group of apprentices who are part of our mlearning pilot. The session is an introduction to the apprentices who are keen to take part in the pilot on how to archive their evidence so that we can have access to their work.

All of the apprentices own a camera capable phone. Three are very conversant with phone capabilities and especially up to date with how to ‘work the system’. If you know how and when to do it, there are ways to access the web via your phone for very little payment!

Our advantage with our mlearning project, is that we are using a form of personal expression that is natural to our students. They find photo and video blogging to be a normal way for them to share their leisure activities with their friends. Half the students had their own webpage. Their perception of webpage layout & navigation is different from ours. They are not phased by a page with is cluttered with video clips, photos, advertisements, text snippets, multiply search boxes etc.

The introduction was also to familiarise the students with how to transfer their evidence or link to their evidence on to a Moodle page set up for each student. All the students are provided with ‘teacher’ access to their page. Almost all the students understood how to work Moodle very quickly and were linking to flickr, youtube and other websites (like their own Bebo page) within a few minutes of being shown how to work the editing icons. In fact, they picked up on the possibilities much faster than groups of tutors who would be given a similar introductory session to Moodle.

We also showed the students the possibilities in using Vox and Comic life to lay out their portfolios. Students familiar with Bebo appreciated the cleaner Vox interface and most thought that laying out their evidence in the form of a comic book would be something they would give a go.

It will be interesting at the beginning of next year to see what has eventuated with evidence collection and to see how the collation of the eportfolio will take place when the time comes for the evidence to be presented.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Activity theory and mlearning research

I have had several goes at trying to unravel activity theory and how I might be able to use it as a base for my ongoing research projects.

Activity theory is based on the work of Leontiev, much of his work has been overshadowed by the work of Vygotsky. The seminal works on activity theory are the English translation of Leontiev’s book, Activity, Consciousness and Personality (1978) and a book edited by Wertsch. Engestrom is perhaps the most well known exponent of activity theory.

A book by Kaptelinin and Nardi, (Acting with Technology:- Activity Theory and Interaction Design) provides a more accessible route to understanding how to make us of activity theory in better understanding human interactions with technology. Chapter 3, Activity theory in a nutshell, is an especially succinct and clear summary of the origins of activity theory and how it relates to the human mind’s inter-relationships with people and artifacts in the context of everyday activity.

I learn by doing, so over the summer, I will work at structuring our mlearning pilot project around the activity theory research framework. It will provide me with the opportunity to apply the theory to a real situation that has people, tools (mobile phones, research questionnaires, surveys) and artifacts (multimedia evidence, assessment criteria, learning outcomes). It will be important to have a look at my planned research tools to see how they might presently reflect activity theory assumptions and see if there needs to be any tweaking of these to bring about a proper analysis of the data generated from interviews with apprentices, evaluations of their use of web 2.0 sites and their mlearning experience.

Why activity theory and not something else? There is a fit with the type of research I am undertaking with mlearning with the overall structure of activity theory. Using activity theory provides an opportunity for me to learn how to use another ‘research method’. It will also provide another perspective on how I view the data when it starts to come through plus the opportunity to evaluate how activity theory works and how to best make use of it’s framework in an actual research project.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Passion and Creativity

One of the books I took across with me to Melbourne a month or so ago was Howard Gardner’s new book, Five Minds for the Future. I started reading it on the plane and by the time I got to the second page , I found that it mirrored the same thoughts I had put together for the CPIT Spring graduation keynote held at the end of September.

In my speech, I spoke about the importance of passion. Passion has been a defining factor in my research with young apprentices who have fallen into the trade and are now all working hard to become bakers. I advised all the graduates to work at:-

  • gaining and maintaining passion for their content area,
  • maintaining a passion for life-long learning,
  • staying passionate about people,
  • fostering a passion for their profession and
  • most importantly, work on sustaining a passion for goodness.

The five minds Gardner required to enhance creativity are

  • the ability to be expert in a discipline,
  • to have a wide spectrum of knowledge in order to synthesise other fields of knowledge with ones own discipline,
  • to be able to create new forms of knowledge, innovate new ways to do things,
  • be respectful of others and
  • to behave ethically.

The above has triggered some thoughts on whether the students I teach are actually being prepared for the future.

  • Are we igniting passion sufficiently for them to move on to gain enough motivation to work at becoming expert in their discipline (Gardner reckons it takes ten years for an individual to work up to true expert hood)?
  • Do we model that we, as teachers and tradespersons, have an abiding love for life long learning?
  • Do we show students how our expert knowledge, spiced with extra learning from our hobbies, leisure, research activities etc. allows us to synthesise and create new products, concepts, ways to do things?
  • Do we treat students with respect regardless of their innate abilities, attitudes or social, cultural or religious values?
  • Do we work within our societies ethical codes?

All of us can perhaps reply YES to all the above, but to what degree does the above permeate our teaching practice? Can we say that we are able to ignite passion in every student that we have the pleasure to teach? Have we the time to be all things to everyone? How does technology help?

So many questions, and any answers? In my context, it’s the ability to reflect, to have the things that we should be passionate about, always at the forefront of how we teach, develop learning resources and live our lives.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Swopping across to a Treo 700wx

I returned to work to find that my trusty Treo 650 has been upgraded by the powers that be to a Treo 700wx.

It then took most of Sunday afternoon to work out how to convert as much of what was on my Treo 650 (Palm OS) on to the Treo 700wx (Windows mobile OS).

I followed the steps set out in a how to guide although there is an easier but have to pay option in the form of Chapura’s PocketCopy 2.0. The how to guide worked well and there was a smooth transition with contacts, calendar, tasks and notes from Palm to Microsoft Outlook and then on to the Treo 700wx.

Photos and music stored on the 2gig SD card transferred across without any hassles. Lost access to all my ebooks - drats - plus use of Lampwords (dictionary and anagramer for scrabble) – double drats. So have resorted to resurrecting my old Treo 180 (which I gave to my son but he never used as it was monochrome) so that I can access these well used items. I will use the Treo180 as my Palm PDA until I have worked out alternatives for the Treo 700wx.

I am now getting used to the Windows Mobile environment. It is not as direct as the Palm OS to get to items but it works well enough. Also, Pocket Excel, Powerpoint and Word work better than Documents to Go. The camera resolution is noticeably better from 0.3 to 1.3 megapixels and sound quality seems to be clearer too. The phone works similar but not the SMS.

The changeover has provided a good opportunity to compare the two platforms. I will need to use the Treo 700wx a bit longer before I can say which I prefer as I am presently biased towards the Palm OS – having used it in several PDAs and two Treos.
It will take me some time to find Windows mobile / pocket PC versions of the utilities I use most often on my Treo650 and then download them to try them out.