Testing teachers’ key skills

The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) will be working with BTL and AlphaPlus to develop content for the assessment of Qualified Teacher Status skills.  Practice material available online demonstrates the use of BTL’s Virtual Desktop, a Flash-based simulated desktop which can provide a secure, locked-down replication of a desktop environment complete with replicated web browser and email.  The live version also disables right mouse clicks and keyboard shortcuts.  You can read more about this work here, and it’s well worth trying out the practice material to see the simulated desktop in action and its use as a training and assessment environment.

Will Twitter for money

I was more than a bit bemused to stumble upon this post discussing Andrew Baron‘s attempt to sell his Twitter account ‘and followers’ on eBay.  Although Baron is still the proud owner of his account after ending the auction early (now that wouldn’t have been a publicity stunt, would it?), bidding had reached a tidy $465 as Boyd was writing.  He also inspired one innovative entrepreneur to apparently net himself a similarly neat $375 by selling his phone number on the auction site.  If only it had been 867-5309, perhaps Baron would have bought it and the circle of Web 2.0 life would have been complete…

This does raise some interesting questions though.  As Boyd says, it seems more like a playful thought experiment than something that ‘shed[s] any light on the issues of identity and reputation in any real world fashion’, but some commenters on his post seem genuinely offended by the notion that ‘followers’ can be sold, likening it to selling your friends’ email addresses to the highest bidding spam advertiser.  Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Baron’s comment that Twitter ‘is not the place to get personal… networks are different’, and to be honest I feel pretty guilt-free about unfollowing people whose tweets I decide (link may offend) I don’t want to read

This experiment also highlights the implications of relationships underlying the debated issue of Twitter reciprocation etiquette (or twitiquette – I guess someone had to do it).  Baron appears to follow almost all of his over 2,300 followers, while Boyd has a thousand more followers but follows less than 700.  Baron is a performer perhaps relating to his followers as to an audience, whereas the majority of Boyd’s updates are @comments that are part of a series of dialogues with individuals.  Just as the thoughtful and extremely persuasive comments to my post on Twittering at conferences illustrate, there are as many different ways of using and relating to such technologies as there are people to use and relate to them. 

virtuALBA student showcase

I dropped in to the virtuALBA exhibition a couple of weeks ago to view projects created by some of Daniel Livingstone‘s students studying collaborative virtual environments at the University of the West of Scotland.  The projects explored various aspects of Scottish achievements in technology and sport, as well as some distinctive Scottish wildlife (of the non-human variety).

Displays on Scottish inventors were set up in a real-world style exhibition hall:

Although most of the exhibits replicated real life displays, one that particularly stood out as taking advantage of the opportunities offered by SL was the display on Charles McIntosh, which incorporated a mannequin in a raincoat being rained on by their own personal indoor climate (unfortunately my screenshot really doesn’t do it justice):

Outside the main exhibition hall, a virtual Hampden included an interactive game and displays of sporting achievements:

Various beasts, real (wildcats, cattle, seals) and debatable (haggi and the Loch Ness Monster) completed the exhibition, with a particularly skillfully built pair of peregrine falcons and the unofficial CETIS mascot, badgers (don’t ask…):

It was good to see that a number of people had turned out to visit the exhibition and discuss the students’ work with them.  The exhibition will be available at least for a few more days, and is well worth a visit.

Twitter ye not

Brian Kelly raises the delicate issue of conference wifi etiquette by highlighting complaints made to a live blogger at a recent event with respect to his ‘distracting‘ typing. Kelly supports the use of wifi and laptops, but for ‘purposes relevant to the session’ without suggesting how participants might be policed to ensure that their laptop use is indeed for relevant purposes (or who defines what is ‘relevant’). The notion of strutting, Sally Bowles-like around the conference venue flicking off switches with a riding crop whenever inappropriate use is discovered has a rather alarming appeal, but might not be the best approach to managing the issue.

There’s definitely been a signficant increase in laptop use at events in the time since I joined CETIS, although inevitably there was always a core of laptop users tapping away even in the earliest days. Wifi provision is a significant issue when considering venues, particularly for our annual conference, and people often seem disappointed, or even a bit nonplussed, when we can’t provide it. But why do we set so much store by it? Is that email really so urgent? Will your IRC channel collapse without you there? However did we network before CrowdStatus?

Kelly, Clow and those they cite comment on the value of live blogging, and the invaluable service it provides to people who can’t be at an event. But does it? I’ve followed, and thoroughly enjoyed, Twitter updates on events, but more for the subjective, qualitative impression they give of the event rather than for their information content. Live blogs are useful narratives, but out of context from the event they describe and lacking reflection in the light of the day as a whole and subsequent consideration, how much value do they actually provide beyond slidecasts and podcasts? If everyone’s live blogging and twittering to the world, who’s going to read the blogs – and who’s going to listen to the speakers?

It’s kind of ironic that I learned about Kelly’s post in the backchannel of this year’s Eduserv Foundation Symposium, as I found the live chat system wildly distracting itself. It didn’t help that, owing to a combination of non-Eduserv related factors, I could barely hear what was being said in the live streaming, but I found the activity in the backchannel so ‘loud’ that it completely drowned out what the speakers were trying to say. I’ve found this in the past in – of all things – training webinars where there were no sound problems at all, just a chatbox buzzing with babble and an increasingly demoralised sounding speaker struggling in vain to make his points. Yes, there can be useful information there – such as the alert to Kelly’s post – but it can itself be buried under the rest of the chatter.

Focusing on the technology, however, diverts attention away from the real issue, which is perceptions of courtesy towards presenters and delegates. Only a few people feel it’s appropriate to speak to each other during presentations (and even Paddington’s hardest stare won’t stop the truly dedicated disrupter), yet many people seem to feel that the same standards don’t apply to unspoken communications. Is this because there’s something inherent to these technologies that make their use somehow acceptable, or just because they’re so new that accepted standards of behaviour around their use simply haven’t emerged yet?

World of Conferencecraft? Probably not.

I was hugely excited to hear about a proper, grown-up scientific conference taking place in my second home, World of Warcraft.  Excitement waned a bit when I discovered that it was a) on a US server (which means acquiring a copy of the US version of the game) and b) in the past, both being factors that rather limited my ability to participate, but I was keen to learn more about this intriguing event.

I’ve idly wondered in the past how an event like this might work in WoW, and reluctantly concluded that it was impractical, so I was impressed to see how smoothly it seems to have run.  One of the big problems I’d come up against was the inability to provide a secure, private space within WoW: unlike an environment like Second Life, where sim owners can forbid access to anyone not ‘on the list’, the entire WoW world is open to any player who chooses to go there, making events vulnerable to (intentional or otherwise) disruption.  The conference organisers minimised this risk by selecting locations that would be relatively easy for low level characters to reach but unlikely to be stumbled upon by passers by, such as the sewers of Undercity and the battlements outside Booty Bay.

The conference attracted around 130 participants, who attended sessions on research and WoW, relationships between WoW and the ‘real world’, and the future of virtual worlds.  In sympathy with the unconventional surroundings, the organisers attempted to create a ‘spontaneous and creative‘ discussion rather than ‘the (dreary) experience of traditional academic conventions, where high-status individuals read aloud long papers, while the low-status masses in the audience sit like victims rather than engaging in a more equal debate’. 

Much as I loved the idea of this conference, in both content and location, I’m inclined to sympathise with Giulio Prisco’s comments on the practicality of WoW for such events.  It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, provide such mundane but essential facilities as streaming video or PowerPoint presentations, and the reality of travelling through a world environment specifically designed to be dangerous and challenging is rather more frustrating than simply entering coordinates and teleporting to the meeting location as in Second Life.

WoW has been subject to a great deal of research into its educational aspects, but the real lessons to be learned can’t realistically be applied within the game by educators.  It’s incredibly engaging, but part of the engagement is the rapid early progress that comes from the extensive scaffolding beginning characters receive, with quests designed to introduce them to the world and to the skills and abilities which their characters slowly acquire as they level.   Particularly in the early stages, learning players are subjected to considerable hand (or hoof) holding which is at odds with the free-form, unstructured approach implied by this conference or by this video: what frustrates me about the video in particular is that progress in the game is achieved precisely not by sitting around talking but by acting and doing.  There’s a very real place for theorycrafting, but to support success in precisely defined and structured challenges.

Counting the benefits of eassessment

Another blog post from last month needs updating with the news that the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) have joined the SQA in working with BTL in the transition from paper based examination to eassessment.  AAT offer an range of free online training modules using Flash to supplement traditional training materials, have rolled out an eportfolio system and seem to be committed to extending their use of eassessment in the future following a successful pilot study in January this year. 

Second Life on a mobile phone – part 2

As an alternative to the Vollee mobile phone Second Life client I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, there’s this Samsung mobile phone due out later this year in the US which also claims to run SL.  The Blackberry-style phone and keyboard do seem to lend themselves better to the SL experience than the regular type of phone featured in the Vollee demo, though Vollee does seem to offer more flexibility in general.   It’ll be interesting to see which, if either, of these take off and how well they actually work.  I don’t know, you wait forever for a mobile solution then two come along at once :-)

Assessment meets Enterprise meets Portfolio: three way SIG meeting ahead

The room’s booked, the agenda’s confirmed and lunch has been ordered, so it must be time for another SIG meeting.  This time, the Assessment SIG is joining up with the Enterprise and Portfolio SIGs on 22 May at the University of Strathclyde to look at issues that affect all three domains and areas of overlap between the domains. 

The agenda includes the usual mix of news and updates, project presentations and discussion sessions, plus a special themed requirements gathering session focused on the pressing issue of student retention.  Myles Danson of JISC opens the day with a heads-up on forthcoming Invitations to Tender in the assessment domain, a topic that is always of great interest.  Nicola Wilkinson of the WebPA project, based at Loughborough University, will introduce their Learning Impact Award-nominated system, while Alan Paull will discuss the University of Nottingham’s DELIA project on admissions.

The admissions process is also the focus of proposed BSI standardisation work for the transmission of digital evidence and assessment data between schools and awarding bodies to be presented by Karim Derrick of TAG Learning.

The afternoon will feature presentations and discussions on student retention aimed at gathering requirements, recommendations and priorities for future activities, led by our own Simon Grant and Helen Richardson and building on the work of the STAR project and the National Audit Office.

As always, the meeting is free to attend, with lunch and refreshments provided.  It’s open to all, and we just ask that you register in advance to secure your place.  We look forward to seeing you there!