Friday, March 25, 2011

Down the wire - the story of NZ and the internet

Chanced on this interesting site, set up by digital agency Heyday and launched in 2009, 21 years after the internet arrived in NZ. The site tells the story of how the internet arrived in NZin 1989 and its impact on NZ society through the years. A background on how Heyday constructed the site is also provided.
The content is laid in a timeline from 1989 to 2010. There are videos embedded, Kiwi music to characterise each year via the Flying Nun label and facility for anyone to add their comments /experiences/ reminisces for each year. All in a slick and informative site, also running well on the ipad.
On the Heyday corporate site, there are links to other projects including
one developed to provide information for international students at Victoria University in Wellington. It includes links to current weather and street views of Wellington via Google Street view providing students with a virtual impression of the city before they arrive to begin their study.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Telling our stories

Today, it is a public holiday in Canterbury, to allow people to attend a memorial service for the people killed and Christchurch residents badly affected by the 22/2 earthquake. The service will be held in Hagley park but also televised live. For everyone in Christchurch and NZ, it will be a time to reflect on the events of the pass 3 weeks. How the forces of nature can change the way we live and approach our lives. In this, we share a recent experience with others around the world including the recent cyclone in Queensland, floods in Brisbane and the horrendous earthquake, tsunami and potential nuclear fallout in Japan.

Over the past few weeks, I have been humbled and fascinated by the diversity of stories emerging. The NZ Herald has a series of videos  recorded just a couple of days after the quake. Everyone has a story of where they were and what they were up to when the quake hit. Most people were going about their daily routines, travelling on the bus through Lytellton and witnessing the harbour site buildings collapse; driving through the centre of town and just missing being crushed by a falling building; having lunch in the Art's Centre and walking through the damaged city to get back to their cars; crossing the Heathcote river in their best shoes and up to their knees in mud to get home to Sumner with the Ferrymead bridge closed; trying to get home across the boulder strewn Summit Road while negotiating landslips.Through all, there are stories of people going out of their way to help each other, of a stranger going out of their way to provide a lift to an elderly friend through the flood and liquefaction; of young men piggybacking kids and women across the Heathcote; of students spending time not only to clear liquefaction silt but to listen to and provide comfort to elderly folk. All of these stories example the good that has come out of people through a time of uncertainty and adversity.

At CPIT, a series of stories of CPIT staff and students lending a hand is on the website. Telling stories is in many ways cathartic. In sharing our stories, we acknowledge we are more than individuals, but part of a community whereby common experiences bring us together. As classes start to re-convene, it is import for staff and students to have an opportunity to share their stories. It is a good way to build up class rapport, community and increase engagement. Darel Hall wrote about the students of 2011 being 'special' and in a way, everyone who has experienced something momentous in their lives, is changed. The experience, if supported and the good things that eventuate nurtured, leads us to become better people.
Long may the story telling continue.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More tablets launched

A slew of tablets have been launched over the last few weeks in the US of A and feature on Android tablets blog. Of note on the blog,  is a comparison of the main contenders between the recently launched ipad 2 and others including the Motorola Xoom, HTC Flyer, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, BlackBerry PlayBook,  HP TouchPad and LG Optimus Pad.
The Ipad2 due to be launched in NZ at the end of next week but none of the others have made an appearance here yet. Most are more expensive then the bottom end ipad. For instance, Motorola Xoom selling at US$800. Samsung Galaxy Tab possibly to arrive in March / April but will be more expensive than the ipad. The Playbook, when it arrives (no date available) might retail under NZ$500 and no sign of the HP Touchpad (US$899) of the LG Optimus Pad either. So options in NZ still pretty limited.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Learning practical skills via elearning

The earthquake of 22/2 has challenged us to think more deeply about how to deliver learning opportunities to students without access to practical workshops / teaching areas. A large amount of contact time is put into providing student with opportunities to practice new skills and to assist students with applying newly learnt knowledge to practical tasks and real-world scenarios.  Many of the CPIT programmes located in the now non-accessible city campus will have to re-develop how to helps students complete practical skills training without access to specialised training facilities and equipment.

I have been thinking the above over the weekend and  making connections to my learning of tai chi. I attend a weekly tai chi practice session and have been doing this for many years. Over the last few summers, our group have been attempting to learn a more advanced form of tai chi using a sword - called a jian. Our difficulty has stemmed from having teachers who are expert practitioners from China, who are usually on holiday in Christchurch, visiting family. Each of our teachers over the last few summers have been from different parts of China. So apart from contending with understanding regional dialects of Mandarin, each teacher practiced a different form of sword tai chi. So progress, has been slow and confusion reigns for about 3 or 4 sessions before we adapt, after which, the teacher returns to China, leaving us to unravel the form through notes and videos (if available).

My proposal was to video ourselves doing the form and sending the video to our teacher in China. However, this plan never took off due to mixed digital literacy of our Chinese teachers and camera shyness on the part of some of the tai chi learners.

I now plan to take the above concept further here at work. Students will still need to be provided with a hands-on learning opportunity whereever possible. Demonstrations and initial practice can then be supported by students doing practice at off-campus facilities (in workplace, possibly at home etc.) Practice can be videoed and emailed to tutors for formative assessment. After several iteractions, formative assessments can also be obtained by students sharing their videos with each other. Student will need to be provided with support sessions on providing peer-feed back. Hopefully, the above will replicate some of the contact time that will need to be replaced with self-directed activities. Using the above will still ensure students are provided with opportunities for feedback, even when they are working independently and physically distant from tutors and class mates. Will have a chat with our elearning support team about ramping up Mahara for the sharing process as it will be an ideal tool to use.

The above may be supplemented in some specialised areas by the use of video analysis software, for instance silicon coach, which is easier to use than other specialised research analysis software. Discreet skills in programmes like circoarts (juggling, riding unibike etc.) may be improved using comparative software and especially where key kineasthetic motor skills need to be honed before students are able to move on to more complex and integrated skill sets. If ideas for using video eventuate, it will be good to evaluate the process using a formalised research / evaluative study. Will progress this further this week to see how well the idea aligns with current approaches to teaching practical skills.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Reconnecting with pbworks

Back at work after almost two weeks on Monday.  I am working from one of the CPIT Campus Connect centres, set up mainly for foundation courses in digital literacy. The Campus Connect I am working from is a hive of activity as various staff work on plans to re-start the 2011 academic year.  At this moment in time, no one is able to put a date on when the CPIT Madras Street site will be accessible as it lies within the 'red zone' city cordon put in place immediately after the earthquake / aftershock of 22nd February.

Therefore, CPIT management have been working on re-locating classes either to the CPIT Sullivan Avenue site, the various Campus Connect sites, other teaching institutions (Lincoln University for example) and community halls.  A staged beginning to many programmes begins next week.

For many programmes, flexible and blended delivery learning models will need to be utilised much more so that the physical teaching spaces can be maximised. The Centre for Educational Development (CED) will need to support staff to modify / review / reconfigure existing programmes to allow for the current situation. To this end, I have been working over the last few days to set up a support site with programme design principles based on constructive alignment, with exemplars and templates. Since our Moodle LMS is currently out of action, I have been working on a wiki set up on pbworks . This is the ex- pbwiki I have worked on and I must say the new pbworks is a much better experience. The user interface is user-friendly with a wysiwyg front-end and there is intuitive handling of files, links and pages. The template provided for 'educational users' reflects the focus of pbworks on using it as an LMS or CMS with pages set up for course information, course outlines, timetables etc.

Setting up the wiki has not been a problem. The challenge has been to set it up without access to our usual digital resources, also inaccessible. Our IT people did manage to remove the servers late last week through the cordon and everyone is hopeful access to Moodle and shared files will eventuate by end of this week.

One major item I now have at home is a pack with all the important articles in it - passport, treasured photos, set of bankcards etc. When I evacuated work, I left everything behind, including memory sticks and my external hard drive with the assumption that access to work data should not be a problem. WRONG. So next time round (hopefully not - but to be prepared), I will ensure backup drive is left at home and if possible, to pick up cell phone and memory sticks when evacuating.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Using technology to provide assistance to earthquake hit Christchurch

The week since the earthquake has gone by quickly. The central city is still cordoned off and many homes in the Eastern suburbs still without water or electricity. The Christchurch city council earthquake information page makes for sobering reading as the city council works to bring services back to the city. Continuing aftershocks make the recovery effort a challenge and frazzled residents have been leaving the city in droves.

I have kept myself busy helping out with food distribution organised by Comfort for Christchurch (CforC), an offshoot of the student volunteer army (SVA). My son has been helping out with the volunteer army's main effort, the removal of liquefaction from gardens and homes (yes there is liquefaction INSIDE some homes). Both the SVA and the CforC are run by students through facebook pages linked with chat and twitter feeds. SVA runs out of the University of Canterbury Student Association and CforC out of a student flat near the university.

At CforC, they have managed to obtain sponsorship from Telecom and run their database using Google docs, track their activities with Google maps and communicate using facebook and gmail. Two desktops and half a dozen laptops plus a multitude of makeshift 'whiteboards' coordinate the effort. The main objective is to be a collection point for food, water and toiletries and then to distribute these to the people who are in need. Volunteer drivers and mountain bikers from the university's mountain biking club do the distribution into the Eastern suburbs, aged care homes and 4 daily runs to police HQ. We have been deluged with food including 2 truckloads of home baking from students in Wellington and people who bake for another SVA offshoot, the Christchurch baking army (CBA). However, short of containers to put all the yummy food into :( so if you are able to help, please check the SVA facebook page for details.

All the activities above are fine examples of the use of cloud computing, a topic of Derek Wenmouth's blog yesterday. He provided his own example of COREs use of cloud computing, allowing CORE to continue work despite their physical premises being located within the city cordon. There is still no electricity in the central city due to the ongoing rescue / recovery. Today's blog on use of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) also pertinent as guides to providing blended learning. Some programmes at CPIT may need to supplement classes, once the polytechnic opens, to help students catch up with missed lessons.

I am really enjoying my time with the CforC. The students are enthusiastic and very competent. It is heartening to experience the community spirit NZ is well-known for. Everyone pitches in and things get done quickly and efficiently. The majority of the volunteers associated with SVA, CforC and CAB are young and it is heartening to see how they have engaged wholeheartedly with the work. All bodes well for the future :)