From Design to implementation – DVLE programme Strand A Showcase

Last week the three Strand A projects from the current JISC funded DVLE programme, took part in an online showcase to share their outcomes now their six month development phase is over.

The three projects are quite diverse both in scale, approach and outputs. As I’ve written about before, the WIDE project from Teesside University took a very user centred approach. The team have created a range of widgets including a ruler to help with reading on-screen which the user can control size, colour and transparency. Teesside took the W3C approach to development using the Wookie widget server. Although Elaine Pearson (Project Director) did highlight that they did decided to make some of their widgets desktop based due to the accessibility features they need to utilise. Code for their widgets is available from the project website and Jorum.

Examview, from Glasgow City College looked at “integrating key student systems with the VLE”. Focusing on linking their VLE (moodle) with their exam records system the team have created an interface which gives students access to accurate and consistent information about their grades. Now when students log into the VLE, they can click on an ExamView link on their home page and they are taken to a personalized page which displays all their current results. So far, feedback from students has been very positive and is encouraging staff to input results regularly into the records system.

The team considered a number of approaches to their technical development, and the most effective way to get results from their record system into the VLE. Initially they developed a direct back-end query to the Unit E (their exam record system) Oracle database. They have also developed a MySQL database query which other institutions could utilise to create a scheduled export of data. All the code (with extensive comments) is available for download from the project website. The team have also released code into the Moodle community it has already been picked up and is being used by the University of Bejaia in Algeria.

Finally the Framework for Rich Interactive Quizzes for Mathematical Sciences project at Glasgow University, developed a very specific application to “extend the functionality of the quiz facility of a VLE by providing a framework for widgets displaying interactive graphics.” Current systems tend only to display static graphics and/or have limited interactive features. The team have developed in javascript to give them the level of functionality and integration they require with their VLE. However they do plan to make a wookie version of the widget available and add IMS simple outcomes functionality for recording scores.

Copies of the presentations (which include more details on technical choices etc) from the session are available from the CETIS website. For an insight into what is happening in the year long Strand B projects, this recent blog post from w2c project at MMU gives an comprehensive overview of the systems and possible integration routes they are exploring.

What technologies have been used to transform curriculum delivery?

The Transforming Curriculum Delivery through Technology (aka Curriculum Delivery) Programme is now finished. Over the past two years, the 15 funded projects have all been on quite a journey and have between them explored the use of an array of technologies (over 60) from excel to skype to moodle to google wave.

The bubblegram and treegraph below give a couple of different visual overviews of the range technologies used.

As has been reported before, there’s not been anything particularly revolutionary or cutting edge about the technologies being used. The programme did not mandate any particular standards or technical approaches. Rather, the projects have concentrated on staff and student engagement with technology. Which of course is the key to having real impact in teaching and learning. The technologies themselves can’t do it alone.

The sheer numbers of technologies being used does, I think, show an increasing confidence and flexibility not only from staff and students but also in developing institutional systems. People are no longer looking for the magic out of the box solution and are more willing to develop their own integrations based on their real needs. The ubiquity of the VLE does come through loud and clear.

There are still some key lessons coming through.

* Simple is best – don’t try and get staff (and students) to use too many new things at once.
* Have support in place for users – if you are trying something new, make sure you have the appropriate levels of support in place for users.
*Tell people what you are doing – talk about your project, wherever you can and share your objectives as widely as possible. Show people the benefits of what you are doing. Encourage others to share too.
*Talk to institutional IT support teams about what you are planning – before trying to use a new piece of software, make sure it does work within your institutional network. IT teams can provide invaluable information and advice about will/won’t work. They can also provide insights into scalability issues for future developments. A number of the projects have found that although web 2.0 technologies can be implemented relatively quickly, there are issues when trying to increase the scale of trial projects.

A full record of the technologies in use for the projects is available from our PROD project database. More information on the projects and a selection of very useful shareable outputs (including case studies and resources) is available from the Design Studio.

DVLE phase 1 online showcase – 25 January

We are holding an online meeting next Tuesday, 25 January showcasing the three rapid development projects in the current JISC DVLE (distributed virtual learning environments). If you are interested in widget development and how to extend the functionality of learning environments then do join us at 2pm next Tuesday.

The three projects are:
* Rich Interactive Questions for Quizzes, University of Glasgow
* Exam View, Glasgow Metropolitan College
* WIDE (Widgets for Inclusive Distributed Environments), Teeside University

The meeting will start at 2pm and last approximately two hours. As ever there is no charge for attending. Registration and log-in details are available here.

Thoughts so far on LAK11

Along with about 400 or so others world-wide, I’ve signed up for the LAK11 (Learning and Knowledge Analytics) MOOC run by George Siemens and colleagues at the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute (TEKRI) at Athabasca University. We’re now into week 2, and I think I’m just about getting into the swing of things.

When George was in the UK late last year, I managed to catch his presentation at Glasgow Caledonian, and I was intrigued with the concept of learning analytics, and in particular how we can start to use data in meaningful ways for teaching and learning. I wanted to know more about what learning analytics are and so signed up for the course. I’ve also been intrigued by the concept of MOOCs so this seemed liked the ideal opportunity to try one out for myself.

In her overview paper, Tanya Elias provides a useful description: ” Learning analytics is an emerging field in which sophisticated analytic tools are used to improve learning and education. It draws from, and is closely tied to, a series of other fields of study including business intelligence, web analytics, academic analytics, educational data mining, and action analytics.” (Elias, T. (2011) Learning Analytics: Definitions, Processes, Potential)

The course outcomes are:
*Define learning and knowledge analytics
*Map the developments of technologies and practices that influence learning and knowledge analytics as well as developments and trends peripheral to the field.
*Evaluate prominent analytics methods and tools and determine appropriate contexts where the methods would be most effective.
*Describe how “big data” and data-driven decision making differ from traditional decision making and the potential future implications of this transition.
*Design a learning analytics implementation plan at a course level. 
*Evaluate the potential impact of the semantic web and linked data on learning resources and curriculum.
*Detail various elements organizational leaders need to consider to roll out an integrated knowledge and learning analytics model in an organizational setting.
*Describe and evaluate developing trends in learning and knowledge analytics and develop models for their potential impact on teaching, learning, and organizational knowledge

You can check out the full course syllablus here .

The fact that the course is open and non-accredited really appealed to me as, to be honest, I am a bit lazy and not sure if I wanted to commit to to a formal course. The mix of online resources, use of tags, aggregation etc fits right in with my working practices. I blog, I tweet, I’m always picking up bits of useful (and useless) information from my streams – so having a bit of focus for some activity sounded perfect – I’m a self motivated kind of a person aren’t I?

But it’s never that simple is it? Old habits die hard – particularly that nagging feeling of guilt about signing up for a course and not reading all the suggested texts, reading all the forum messages, doing all the suggested activities. Is it just me that suffers from the tensions of trying to be an engaged, self motivated learner and everyday distractions and procrastination? I’ve had some vey circular discussion about myself about why I’m not actually looking at the course material at times.

However, George and the team have been particularly good at reassuring people and emphasising that we need to “let go of traditional boundaries”. With a cohort this large it’s pretty near impossible to keep up with everything so they actively encourage people only to do what they can, and concentrate on what what really interests you. They actively encourage “skim and dive” techniques -skim the all the resources and dive into what catches your eye/interest. If you’ve being thinking about doing one of the MOOCs then I would recommend having a listen to the introductory elluminate session (another great thing about open courses is that all the resources are available to everyone, anytime).

I’ve found the eliminate sessions the most interesting so far. Not because the other resources provided aren’t as engaging – far from it. I think it’s more to do with the synchronous element and actually feeling part of a community. All the speakers so far have been very engaging, as has the chat from participants.

Last week as introduction to Learning Analytics, John Fritz, UMBC gave an overview of the work he’s leading in trying to help students improve performance by giving them access to data about their online activity. They built a BlackBoard building block called Check My Activity (CMA), you can read more about it here. John and colleagues are also now active in trying to use data from their LMS to help teachers design more effective online actives.

This week’s topic is “The Rise of Big Data” and on Tuesday, Ryan Baker from Worcester Polytechnic Institute was in the eliminate hot seat, giving us an introduction to Educational Data Mining (EDM). EDM draws heavily on data mining methodologies, but in the context of educational data. Ryan explained it as a distillation of data for human judgement. In other words making complex data understandable and useful for non information scientists. EDM and Learning Analytics are both growing research areas, and the there are a number of parallels between them. We did have quite a bit of discussion about what the differences were exactly, which boiled down to the fact that both are concerned with the same deep issues, but learning analytics is maybe broader in scope and using more qualitative approaches to data and not so dedicated to data mining methodology as EDM. Ryan gave an overview of the work he has been doing around behaviour modelling from data generated by some of Carnegie Mellon Cognitive Tutor programmes, and how they are using the data to redesign actives to reduce for example students going “off task”. Again you can access the talk from the course moodle site.

Next week I’m hoping to be doing a bit more diving as the topic is Sematinc Web, Linked Data and Intelligent Curriculum. Despite the promise, there really isn’t that much evidence of linked data approaches being used in teaching and learning contexts as we found with the JISC funded SemTech report and more recently when Lorna Campbell and I produced our briefing paper on The Semantic Web, Linked and Open Data. I think that there are many opportunities for using linked data approaches. The Dynamic Learning Maps project at the University of Newcastle is probably the best example I can think of. However, linking data within many institutions is a key problem. The data is invariable not in a standard form, and even when it is there’s a fair bit of house keeping to be done. So finding linkable data to use is still a key challenge and I’m looking forward to finding out what others are doing in this area.

Happy New Media Year

Over the holidays I’ve tried to take a proper break from twitter. It’s becoming such an integral part of my work life, I wanted a break. However, twitter is one of those things that does cross work/life boundaries so it is hard to keep completely away and tonight (again) twitter and the BBC illustrated the power of the social web and data visualisation.

In case you weren’t aware tonight was the 60th anniversary of the equally loved and maligned radio soap “The Archers“. Tension has been building in the press over the past few weeks. Being Radio 4 it’s been in all the broadsheets!

Ultimately this extended half hour episode was a bit of a let down (no thud, not that much screaming). But the twitter stream using the #sattc (shake Ambridge to the core) hash tag more than made up for script deficits. And the live website, mashing up tweets and plot lines with some great visualisations really showed how real-time social data from an engaged and (mostly) articulate community can be used.

I’m hoping in 2011 we’ll be able to see some similar experiments within the educational community. What’s our equivalent sattc hash tag? What messages can we effectively visualise – innovation? impact? itcc (in the current climate)? And how can we ensure that the people making decisions about funding for HE can see the the collective thoughts of our equally engaged and articulate community?