Endemol, creators of some of the most successful television formats of recent years, announced yesterday that they would be launching the first Virtual Big Brother within Second Life.  It’s a fascinating concept, and it’ll be fascinating to see how it’s received by both the Second Life community and those who so far haven’t engaged with it.  Will the intrusive and often prurient appeal of ‘real’ Big Brother with ‘real’ people really transfer to avatars within a virtual world?  Whether it succeeds or fails, it should tell us a lot about how we negotiate our own and others’ identities within real and virtual communities.

And hopefully something to look forward to in January 2007: Boris Johnson, inimitable Shadow Minister for Higher Education, is widely rumoured to have been approached to appear in the next series of Celebrity Big Brother.  I will of course be watching carefully in case he has anything to say on eassessment and elearning in any potential future Tory government.

Now all I need is someone to pay me to play WoW and my life would be complete…

Digital Literacy, Podcasting and eLearning – trainerspod webinar

Yesterday afternoon saw my second webinar in two days, this time a session on digital literacy, podcasting and elearning led by Graham Attwell of Pontydysgu.  Around 40 people took part from many countries.  Because of the way in which the session was run (which I’ll discuss in yet another blog post), the following is just a few impressions from the event rather than a proper report.  The archived session will be available online soon for those who would like to learn more about this topic.

The session was split into three sections: digital literacies and new pedagogic approaches; what is a podcast and how should it be used in education; and how to make a podcast.

Graham pointed out that traditional LMSs use a traditional, didactic, ‘push’ approach to learning.  In the new era of ‘elearning 2.0′, this should change to a more constructivist approach; however, there are many activities around at the moment that are constructivist in name only – as always, there is a need to examine what we’re actually doing instead of just optimistically applying labels like plasters and hoping they stick.

One quote, from Harry Jenkins, which particularly struck me was: ‘We need to shift the focus of the conversation about the digital divide from questions of technological access to those of opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement’.  Graham cited the example of George W Bush discussing what he’s ‘used on the Google‘ to help illustrate this point, and Senator Ted Stevens’ own personal internet is also always worth remembering (no, it’s not funny).

Clarence Fisher’s ‘eleven skills for participation’ were mentioned, and are worth repeating: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgement, transmedia navigation, networking and negotiation. 

It was interesting to learn that I’m not the only person who dislikes the term ‘podcasting’ because of its close relationship to Apple and the iPod.  A few alternatives were suggested, with ‘audio report’ being the most popular, but – as with the whole Web 2.0 business- it’s not got that snappy, cliquey, in-the-know connotation that will probably leave us with podcasting for some time to come.

It’s also worth mentioning that enhanced podcasts (enhanced audio reports?) which allow users to embed still images such as the ubiquitous PowerPoint slides into podcasts, can be created with tools such as Garageband, Audacity and Divicast; we made presentations from our joint Assessment and MDR SIGs meeting available as Breeze presentations, integrating MP3 recordings and PowerPoint presentations and received a generally favourable reaction.

A key part of the new models of education and elearning is sharing, yet I felt that Graham made one of the most important points of all when he said that it’s about ‘learning to share, learning how to share, and learning how to have the right not to share’.  That’s something that will be very relevant to the TrainersPod webinar he’ll be leading on eportfolios in the new year: I’ll certainly be there.

Integrated Assessment – IMS Webinar

On Monday night I attended IMS’s webinar on ‘Integrated assessment products and stategies: gauging student achievement and institutional performance’.  This was the first IMS webinar I’d attended, and I found it a useful session.  Over 80 people participated on Horizon Wimba for the session.

Rob Abel, CEO of IMS, introduced the session by describing integrated assessment as assessment which is designed into and throughout the learning experience.  He discussed the outcomes of a recent survey on satisfaction with elearning tools which showed that tools for quizzing and assessment had the highest satisfaction ratings amongst users; of the 88 products surveyed, Respondus came top in terms of user satisfaction.  This is a consequence both of the usefulness and maturity of this category as well as the availability and quality of tools available.

Rob also suggested that ‘standards are a platform for distributed innovation’, which is a nice phrase, although one of the criticisms often made of QTI is that it isn’t innovative.  It’s hard to see, however, how true innovation could be standardised.

Neil Allison (BlackBoard Director of Product Marketing), Sarah Bradford (eCollege Vice President of Product Management) and Dave Smetters (Respondus President) all spoke briefly about how their tools could be used for integrated assessment. 

Neil illustrated how BlackBoardcan ‘make assessment easier and more systematic’ by integration with other elements of the VLE such as enterprise surveys, portfolios and repositories.  One comment I found particularly interesting was an outcome from a December 2005 Blackboard Survey of Priorities in Higher Education Assessment, which found that portfolios are used in 86% of public institutions but only 43% of private, while interviews and focus groups are used by 78% of private institutions and only 48% of public.  I’ve tried to find this online without success; it’s referenced in slide 20 of the presentation.

Sarah noted that eCollegeusers are using Respondus and Questionmark’s secure browser to assess their learners.  Her talk focused on the eCollege outcome repository or database, which is linked to their content manager, stressing the importance of a good tagging system.  The eCollege Learning Outcome Manager addresses some of the problems for usage data management for quality assurance, an important issue given the current interest in item banking.

Dave’s talk was most wide-ranging, looking not only at the highly popular Respondus assessment authoring and management tool but at some of the wider issues around integrated eassessment.  He referenced research which found that only between 13 – 20% of courses with an online presence have one or more online assessment as part of that course – yet market research consistently shows that online assessment capabilities are one of the most appealing elements in drawing users to esystems.  As he said, once the system is in place, ‘reality kicks in': online assessment takes work, effort and time, raises difficulties in converting or creating content, and raises fears of the potential for cheating.  He argued that only a very small number of students have the desire to cheat, yet the impact can affect an entire class.  Students themselves like a secure assessment environment that minimises the possibilities for cheating.  Locked browsers are a big issue for Respondus at the moment; security of online assessments is also addressed by BS7988 which is currently being adopted by ISO.

Colin Smythe, IMS’s Chief Specification Strategist, provided a brief survey of the standards context for integrated assessment.  He noted that all specifications have some relevance for assessment, citing Tools Interoperability, Common Cartridge, ePortfolio, Content Packaging, LIP, Enterprise and Accessibility.  He also posted a useful timeline (slide 69) which shows that QTI v2.1 is scheduled for final release in the second quarter of 2007, to be synchronised with the latest version of Content Packaging.

He also said that Common Cartridge provides ‘for the first time content integration with assessment'; how much this will be adopted remains to be seen but IMS are marketing it quite forcefully.

There was time for a short question and answer session at the end.  I asked about the commitment of the vendors to QTI 2.1 and the use of QTI 2.1 in Common Cartridge.  The Common Cartridge specification uses an earlier version of QTI partly because there were some migration issues with 2.0 which have been resolved through transforms in 2.1, and also because IMS ‘didn’t want to force the marketplace to adopt a new specification’.  As Rob says, interoperability requires the ‘commitment of the marketplace’, and it would be useful to know what commitment these vendors have to the newer version. 

The session concluded with a reminder about the Learning Impact 2007 conference being held in Vancouver on 16 – 19 April 2007, which should be of interest to many.