Under development: AskClass.net

Charlie Balch at Arizona Western College has been working on a simple, web-based question system for networked computers and hand held devices.  AskClass.net currently functions as a poll tool, allowing the creation of multiple-choice, single-answer questions that can be used in a variety of educational settings and as a consensus building tool.  It’s still very much under development, so while it’s not possible at the moment to specify a correct answer, this and other functionality may emerge in the future depending on user feedback and viability.  A simple marking system would make this an extremely useful tool for both classroom and remote teaching support.

AskClass is written in ASP with a MS Access backend, although Balch is considering making future versions in PHP or Java with an XML backend to increase portability.  Other applications may be integrated with the tool over time.  This is intended as a learning aid, therefore security and multiple voting are not addressed in this version.

Contact details for requesting source code and suggesting features are available on the site’s FAQ.

JORUM learning resource competition results announced

Congratulations to all the finalists and prize winners in this year’s JORUM learning resource competition, the results of which were announced at this year’s ALT-C Dinner last week.

The standard of entries was excellent, with the winner – LearnHigher’s Making Group-work Work – being an outstanding example of the innovative, engaging and effective resource the judges were seeking.  This extensive resource features a series of video ‘episodes’ following a group of five students as they work on a group project and covering many of the issues such activities involve such as personality clashes, reluctance to seek help from their tutor and what to do about the mysterious sixth group member who never turned up…  Each episode is supplemented with notes and activities that users can interact with as they choose, and the whole resource is appropriate, reusable and a great deal of fun.

Runner up, Introducing English as a Lingua Franca from the York St John University, and third place Delivering Student Workshops also from LearnHigher, are also well worth checking out. Congratulations to all!

JISC resources on MUVEs and gaming in education

JISC have released several new publications recently looking at ways in which multi-user virtual environments and alternative reality games can be used in education.

Alternate reality games for orientation, socialisation and induction by Nicola Whitton of Manchester Metropolitan University reports on the experiences of the ARGOSI project, with which our own Scott Wilson was involved.  The project aimed to support student induction in university and acquisition of required library and information skills using a range of resources such as character blogs and supporting websites.  Student participation in the activity was disappointing, although consistent with participation in such games in general, and the report is possibly most useful for its analysis of where things did not go right – for example, the this is not a game aesthetic  that is fundamental to ARG design may actually be rather inappropriate in a resource designed for students who are already in an unfamiliar and potentially challenging environment.  The lessons learned from this project, and the extensive resources produced by it, make this a very useful study.

Second Life is the undisputed MUVE leader in terms of uptake both within and beyond HE,  and three JISC publications look at how newcomers and the more experienced can develop their practice within the system.  Getting started with Second Life offers exactly what you’d expect, a guide to everything new users need to know from how to register and log in for the first time to some guidance on teaching and course design, some advice on how to address institutional concerns, and a few useful pointers to further reading.  One significant omission is the lack of a list of relevant educational sims (impermanent though they may be) and support systems such as the SLED and Virtual Worlds mailing lists – as the guide itself observes, loneliness and the inability to find interesting locations are two of the biggest factors underlying SL’s massive new user attrition rate.

Modelling of Second Life environments reports on the MOOSE project based at the University of Leicester, which looks more deeply at design and delivery issues around learning in MUVEs and identity and socialisation issues arising from the use of avatars in virtual worlds.

Finally, Open habitat: multi-user virtual environments for teaching and learning points to the Open Habitat magazine, an attractive report on how MUVEs were used with students of art and design and philosophy to understand the nature of virtual group interaction and community building.

All these reports provide valuable information and insights into using MUVEs and aspects of gaming in education, and help to demonstrate the increasing significance of both in current educational practice.

Turnitin win copyright decision in US

A group of students have finally lost their case against plagiarism detection service Turnitin with the judgement that Turnitin does not breach students’ copyright by retaining copies of submitted essays.  In particular, The Chronicle reports that

the district-court judge said Turnitin’s actions fell under fair use, ruling that the company ‘makes no use of any work’s particular expressive or creative content beyond the limited use of comparison with other works.’  He also said the new use ‘provides a substantial public benefit.’

While the reasoning is clear, I have always felt a bit uncomfortable about the tension between the undoubted benefits to be gained from Turnitin and the fact that, as a commercial company, Turnitin’s parent company iParadigms is undeniably profiting, albeit indirectly, from other people’s intellectual property.  However, institutions frequently claim IPR rights to their students’ work, and understandably see considerable benefits from requiring the submission of essays to Turnitin.

Plagiarism is undoubtedly a serious issue facing HE, but I think my biggest issue with this is the way in which so many institutions choose to use Turnitin exclusively as a tool to detect and evidence plagiarism.  There is an assumpation inherent in this approach that all students may attempt to cheat.  Retaining papers once they’ve been checked for plagiarism for adding to the database also suggests an assumption that students cannot be trusted not to pass their work on to others.

Other institutions take a more collaborative approach, allowing students to submit their work multiple times to Turnitin and using it as a teaching aid to help students avoid indirect plagiarism and learn how to better develop their essay writing and argumentation skills and understand their relationship to their research sources.  In this approach, all students receive a direct benefit from the software, profiting significantly as learners and writers, and those who may be tempted to intentionally plagiarise may look for other ways to cheat instead.

EduPunk’s not dead?

Having not heard a murmur about that slightly embarrassing EduPunk craze since around the time Sheila blogged about it almost a month ago, I’d kind of assumed that everyone had agreed to forget about it and pretend it hadn’t happened (rather like Cut the Crap, really). 

However, it appears to be alive and well in Wales at least, where Pontydysgu will be hosting a live radio show on Monday night featuring the Manic Street Preachers of EduPunk (that’s Martin Weller, Mike Caulfield and Katherine ‘LibPunk’ Greenhill).  Part of the ongoing Sounds of the Bazaar series, the show will include ‘interviews, music, opinion, poetry and more’, exploring ‘the EduPunk phenomenon’ and whether it’s more than just ‘a ludicrous social construction by white males the wrong side of 40′.  The show broadcasts live from 19:00 to 20:00 BST (20:00 – 21:00 CEST) and should be available to listen to later for those who can’t make that time.

Future imperfect

Following the third Pew Future of the Internet survey and the most recent Horizon report, I came across this Map of Future Forces Affecting Education recently and keep finding myself drawn back to it despite myself.  Though the interactive map itself looks smart, it’s a bit clumsy and impractical to use (somehow I wasn’t surprised that their ‘how to use this map’ video was made on a Mac ;-) ), but there’s a nice pdf version (requires registration) also available for the more Web 1.0 amongst us.

It’s intentionally US-centric, but many of the trends, dilemmas and topic hotspots will be very familiar to educators elsewhere, such as participatory pedagogy, cheap mobile devices, serious games, open content, transformed learning environments and alternative financial models.  The map offers an opportunity to look at these in a wider context of change and under influence from other, competing or complementary, factors.

So why does it make me feel so uncomfortable?  There’s a heavy emphasis on personsonalisation and diversity, yet at the same time there’s a strong underlying perception of ‘Generation Y‘ as a homogenous group, all of whom are highly adaptable (or fickle), socially-orientated, technologically adept and heavily into group activities, and a distinct sense that all the innovations proposed serve a single, extroverted learning style.  There’s the inevitable reference to ‘integrating digital natives and digital immigrants’, yet voluntary and involuntary digital exiles are disregarded, and there’s an apocalyptic, been-watching-too-much-Mad Max feel to some of the predictions which undermines its intention to ‘provide a common framework to explore innovations, new solutions and experiments’.  To be fair, it doesn’t intend to propose a single potential future but rather to act as a ‘conversation catalyst’ based on the assumption that ‘a trend is a reasonable possibility’, and it largely achieves that with only the odd wtf moment. 

SQA licence BTL’s Surpass Suite

BTL Group Ltd have just announced that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) have licenced their Surpass Suite for authoring, storing and delivering eassessments across a range of qualifications and subject areas.  This follows shortly after news that the SQA worked with BTL to convert a range of English for Speakers of Other Languages materials into interactive electronic versions available both on CD and as SCORM packages.

The SQA has taken an interest in the possibilities of online assessment for some time, with the first Standard Grade assessed online in a 2006 pilot and online access to results available to candidates.  Linn van der Zanden and Bobby Elliott have both presented on some of the SQA’s more innovative work at recent SIG meetings.

IMS release QTI v2.1 public draft 2 Addendum

IMS Question and Test Interoperability v2.1 public draft 2 was released almost two years ago.  Since then there have been a number of implementation activities, including the JISC Capital Programme projects demonstrated to the community last February.  Insights and lessons learned from these development activities have contributed to the QTI v2.1 public draft 2 Addendum now available through the specification webpage.  The Addendum incorporates ‘bug fixes and updates to some of the examples, the specification documents, and the XML schema’ and now offers the best version yet of the specification.

Feedback can as always be submitted through the ‘specification problem and suggestion reporting’ section of the IMS website (registration is required so I can’t link to it directly in this blog) or through CETIS.


WebPA: making an impact

Congratulations to the WebPA team at Loughborough University and the University of Hull, whose JISC-funded project has been shortlisted for the 2008 IMS Learning Impact awards.  The awards ‘recognize […] high impact use of technology in support of learning’, acknowledging both technological innovation and educational value.  The WebPA project makes a mature, open source peer assessment system available to the community, and is notable not least because this tool is already in active use in both universities.

Addressing from the start the sustainability concerns raised by other projects and being in the fortunate position of being a longer-term project blessed with useable software from the outset, one of the project’s key aims is to develop and maintain a user community around the software, working in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences and Engineering subject centres to achieve this.

Downloads are available from the project’s SourceForge space, and an online demo provides an excellent introduction to the system.

Assessment and Educational Content joint meeting review

Slideshows and mp3s from last week’s joint JISC CETIS Assessment and Educational Content SIGs meeting are now available on the wiki.  It was a lively and interesting day, covering a wide range of topics of relevance to both communities.

Steve Lay of CARET, University of Cambridge, who had kindly offered to host the event, provided an update on the IMS QTI specification.  Steve is co-chair of the IMS Assessment SIG which is responsible for the development of the QTI specification, and provided attendees with background information and an update on the current position of QTI v2.1.  The specification was released in public draft form in July 2006, and it was hoped that the final version would be released in early 2008.  Delays to the interoperability demonstration required before the specification can be released have set back release to later this year, with an addendum to the public draft scheduled to appear earlier.

Steve also described some of the issues around profiling specifications and the role of IMS’s Application Profile Management Group, particularly in relation to the IMS Common Cartridge specification which currently includes a profile of QTI v1.2.1.  His examination of the pressures put on the scope of the specification is particularly useful.

Wilbert Kraan from CETIS complemented this with an update on content packaging specifications, covering OAI Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE), Content Packaging v1.2, IEEE RAMLET and a proposed packaging transcoding service.  CP v1.2 is still in draft stage and will, like QTI v2.1, be released to the public once IMS members have developed implementations and shown them in interoperability demonstrations.  There is quite a lot of updated material in the new version but the lack of current implementations mean that it’s immediate future is uncertain. 

RAMLET is an ontology which enables mapping between IMS Content Packaging, METS, MP21 DID and Atom.  Wilbert raised the particularly interesting question of the applicability of this approach to question and test materials, not just in QTI but also other formats, potentially including html.  Steve confirmed the ease with which content should be able to be transformed to QTI, as well as highlighting the potential value for enhancing accessibility.

CETIS’s Deputy Director Adam Cooper presented a postcard from the IMS Quarterly meeting in Long Beach held the week before.  This was an extremely useful update on recent developments within IMS and current work in progress, which includes Enterprise Web Services v2.0, Learning Tools Interoperability v2.0, Common Cartridge and Common Cartridge Schools (CCK12), Digital Interactive Content Exchange and various ‘odds and sods’ including QTI v2.1.

Moving away from the more abstract topic of specification development to their real world uses, Ross Mackenzie and Sarah Wood of the Open University discussed their experiences with creating Common Cartridges for the OU’s Open Learn, releasing free content under a Creative Commons licence for use worldwide.  Content, largely drawn from OU archives, was transformed into XML, an approach which allows the subsequent rerendering of material in multiple formats.  After hand crafting a small number of cartridges, an automated process was developed which has so far produced around 400 cartridges for download; assessment material has not yet been covered but is of obvious interest.  Issues around certification and validation were highlighted, with proposals by some Common Cartridge Alliance members that costs of up to several hundred dollars would be appropriate for cartridge testing being inappropriate for an initiative which aims to give content away for free.

Cartridge creation tools mentioned included OU Publisher (which it’s hoped will be made available in Moodle at some point), eXe and Microsoft Grava; desktop players include UCompass based on Adobe AIR and a Microsoft development based on Silverlight; it’ll be interesting to see how this particular battle works out.

Assessment SIG regulars will be familiar with the work Niall Barr of NB Software has done around assessment and QTI, including some valuable developer resources.  He’s now moved into the area of working on the IMS Common Cartridge and Tools Interoperability specifications with particular reference to assessment and the QTI specification, and presented some of his work to the meeting.  An mp3 recording of his talk is available and we hope to have the slides available shortly.

Linn van der Zanden of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) closed the meeting with a fascinating look at some of the more innovative assessment activities the SQA have been piloting in recent months.  This particular project, led by Mhairi McAlpine, has introduced blogs and wikis to support assessment of a PBNC in Health and Safety.  This course places heavy emphasis on collaborative work which raises difficulties in assessing individual contributions.  The use of a team wiki enables assessors to evaluate individuals through the use of the history function, with discussion pages providing evidence of debate and dissent.  This approach also helps to identify ‘freeloaders’ who contribute little, and stronger personalities within the group which may take over activities.  Personal blogs support reflective learning, while traditional eassessment facilities support the submission of project plans.  Login requirements provide a degree of authentication of contributions, and students have responded positively to the approach.  The current small scale project involving fifty students in two colleges is likely to be scaled up for rollout on a wider scale over the next few years.

Our thanks go to our friendly and helpful hosts at CARET and to all our speakers who helped to make this such a useful and interesting event, and my thanks go to Sheila, our Educational Content SIG coordinator, for collaborating on the event and chairing the meeting so effectively on the day.  You can read Sheila’s discussion of some of the issues raised by the meeting on her blog.