The ICT Dilemma facing Senior Management in FE

Earlier this week I was invited into a Further Education College to participate in a Technology Strategy working Group. I’m really very pleased to be invited to these kinds of discussions as I see them as crucial in informing both my work for JISC CETIS and the IEC Department in Bolton. Perhaps on the down side it is a often a (much needed) harsh reality check on the challenges faced by institutions in applying technologies and technology policy across their enterprise, not just in the teaching and Learning domain.

I have previously “blogged” about, what I see as, often poorly informed and quite “Draconian” policies regarding internet usage within FE colleges including, for example the wholesale blocking of students’ internet access to social networking sites. It’s easy and too simplistic to suggest that this is resolved solely by increased knowledge amongst administrators, education, or by a more sophisticated understanding of ICT by those responsible for policy. There are major issues at the policy level, which Colleges are obliged to deal with.

There is some discussion as to what level of technical understanding should senior Management in institutions have. Lawrie Phipps, JISC programme Manager “blogged” about this very subject earlier this week. And he raises some important issues and questions.

What has prompted my current thinking on this situation are recent guidelines produced by Ofsted in structuring grades for College Assessment within the Leadership and Management effectiveness. Two of the criteria “Safeguarding” and “Equality and Diversity” are what are termed as Limiting grades; which in effect means should a college receive an “ineffective” grade on one of these criteria it is unlikely that overall effectiveness of the college would be assessed as anything but “inadequate” which in turn triggers a series of requirements of the college.

Whilst these two criteria are clearly extremely important the emphasis of college’s maybe, understandably, concentrated on these criteria. Quality of provision, which falls within the teaching, learning, and Assessment criteria, could be compromised. Whilst Ofsted recognizes the need to equip students with the skills necessary to navigate the digital space safely; the balance is precarious.

Clearly any college that blocks access to all sensitive sites and social networking sites is “effective” with its safeguarding policy but would, in my view, be quite inadequate with its teaching, Learning and assessment provision. The former however carries much greater weight.

I’m sure there is good practice in dealing with this in the FE sector but it does present a real challenge to senior Management

Thoughts on the Amazon “Kindle”

The Amazon Kindle is device is creating quite a storm in educational circles in the US. The device has a 6″ screen and weighs a lttle over 10 ounces.
“Utilizing a new high-resolution display technology called electronic paper, Kindle provides a crisp black-and-white screen that resembles the appearance and readability of printed paper. The screen works using ink, just like books and newspapers, but displays the ink particles electronically. It reflects light like ordinary paper and uses no backlighting, eliminating the glare associated with other electronic displays. As a result, Kindle can be read as easily in bright sunlight as in your living room.The screen never gets hot so you can comfortably read as long as you like.”

So why the storm ? well its Digital Rights Management again . Amazon have invested heavily in this technology and consequently have built in a sphisticated DRM system which prevents users form “openly sharing content”. Educators are begining to use the technology in educational settings and emerging are two distinct viewpoints, use and support the technology issue and the DRM issue will be resolved by user presssure, or boycot the technology completely and Amazon will “cave in under consumer pressure”.
It is of course a small part of a much larger discussion relating to open access and digital rights management and content publishers attempts to forge new business models in the digital age. It will be interesting to see what evolves………..

What about LETSI ?

I have been asked on numerous occasions, well perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, what is happening about LETSI another acronym Learning, Education, Training, Systems Interoperability?

For the uninitiated LETSI is an international organisation that is currently being formed by several international partners , supported by ADL to, amongst a wider remit, provide governance for SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) standard and other learning technology specifications and standards.The organisation was born out of ADL’s desire for SCORM in the future to be self sustaining managed governed and developed by a community of users. JISC CETIS has monitored the development of the organisation and contributed to the intial start up meeting earlier this year.

The Organisation was officially launched last week in the United States by Wayne Hodgins at an event in Orlando Florida and without comment or endorsement the video of this launch is available at the link below.

We here at JISC CETIS will continue to monitor developments in this area, representing the needs of the UK HE and FE communities.


MUVE The Way Ahead ?

Back from leave I’ve been reflecting on Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVE) and their adoption as ‘mainstream’ educational technology, this was prompted in a large part by the book chapter for “Living Virtually” I have just completed with US academic Sarah Robbins , feedback on my personal activities and preparation for the forthcoming CETIS/Eduserve event at the IOE (link to the event)

I’m quite a fan of the Gartner Hype curve in considering the application of new technology..

(Link to Gartner Hype curve)

As far as MUVE are concerned (educational)interest seems to be primarily focussed around the use of Second Life arguably this is because Second Life does provide a fairly low entry point into examining the educational potential of MUVE it has a very established and active community of practice as in the Second Life Educators community (Sled) with support both accessible and available. It is my belief that despite some interesting projects that we (As in the broad educational community)are firmly entrenched in “The Trough of Disillusionment” having travelled through the “hype of over inflated expectation “the cynics arguing, with some justification ,that Second Life is a solution searching for a problem. This journey is not unique it is journey typical of most new technology. We have yet to reach the “plateau of productivity”

Sarah Robbins concedes that what platform technology emerges at the end of the journey may indeed not be Second Life , there are a number of alternatives emerging most of which require more developed technical skills than Second Life, in addition to Multiverse, Croquet et al I’ve just looked at Opensim, an open source project.

We are just at the beginning of this journey and whilst criticism and discussion are essential I’m concerned that the use of MUVE may be deposited in the “dustbin of good ideas that didn’t work in education” without fully exploring the potential.

(link to Opensim)

As far as JISC CETIS is concerned we are agnostic and we will continue to provide a platform where “educational technology” can be openly discussed, criticised and the event on the 20th September will allow us to do that whilst exposed to the four Eduserve projects

MUVE/3D Learning Object Development

With increasing interest in multi user virtual environments (MUVE) and games based learning an interesting project is underway at the University of Southern Queensland. Alive X3D is open source

To enhance distance learning, AliveX3D technology also allows the embedding of multi-user 3D immersive virtual environments within online course content. In this way students reading through study materials online can collaborate within 3D embedded windows in real-time.
2D/3D Hybrid Course Content. Existing course content can be enhanced through the inclusion of 3D immersive content. They are currently working on methods to embed 3D content into 2D online webpages.

The issue of Interoperability across MUVE, VLE and other content seems to
be an emerging issue of significant interest to Learning Technologists folowing on from the recent anouncement by Blackboard of projects exploring the integration of MUVE and building blocks.

It will be intersting to see how this space develops

Blackboard and Multi User Environment MUVE

Recently anounced at the Blackboard Development conference was a small intiative looking at integrating the functions of Blackboard with theose of MUVE.

There has already been a condsiderable amount of exploratory work undertaken in this area by the the sloodle project
integrating the complimentary features of MUVE and VLE’s (in the sloodle case open source vle Moodle)

On reflection Im wondering if this is something the specifications and standards community should be monitoring closely. There does appear to be a groundswell of practitioners wishing to incorporate the use of MUVE in their teaching activity , weather its ‘flavour of the month’ a ecidence of sustained interest i’m unsure. There is certainly a lot of activity in this space.