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.

Challenging times, challenging curriculum(s)

The fact that we are living in increasingly challenging times is becoming ever more apparent. With the release of the Browne Report on HE funding and student finance, and the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review imminent; we are faced with radical changes to the current models of funding for our Universities. This is raising fundamental questions about the nature of teaching and learning provision, the role and relationship of students to institutions, the role and relationship of institutions and government and how institutions work with industry (in the widest sense of the word). It was in the wake of this complex backdrop, the current JISC funded Curriculum Delivery and Design programmes held a joint programme meeting last week Nottingham. The projects in these programmes are all grappling with issues around effective use of technology to enhance curriculum design and delivery process and provide a range of more flexible, adaptable curricula.

The meeting began with a very timely keynote from Peter Finlay from the QAA. Dispelling some of the current myths around the point and processes involved in QAA audits, Peter illustrated how inter-dependencies of what he described as the “triad” forces (State, Institutions and National Agencies) influence the quality assurance processes. The triad tends to work in a cyclical fashion with the interactions and developments of each stakeholder oscillating between extremes of autonomy within institutions to extremes of regulation from the State. The later most noticeably enforced by QA procedures. Peter highlighted how forward thinking institutions can use the QA process to create and foster institutional cultures of enquiry, based on informed reflection which should allow planned enhancement strategies.

The work of both the curriculum design and delivery programmes is already helping the institutions involved to take this approach as the projects are fundamentally about transforming course delivery and the course design and validation processes. Peter encouraged projects to promote and enhance the work they are doing. The current political context is unpredictable. However, by being proactive, institutions can influence the practice of QA. Peter finished by restating that he felt the programmes, and the work already highlighted within the Design Studio, is of great relevance and a major asset to the wider community.

The rest of the first day was then divided into a number of breakout session centred around some barriers/drivers to institutional change. Notes from each of the sessions will be available from the Circle website later this week. The day culminated with the Great Exhibition Awards Ceremony. Each of the Delivery projects set up their stall (you can get a feel for the stands from the pre event adverts for each project in the Design Studio ). Delegates had time to visit each stand then vote. The two runaway winners were Springboard TV (College of West Anglia) and Integrate (University of Exeter). Both teams thoroughly deserved the thoroughly outrageous chocolate prizes.

The second day started with another timely keynote, this time from Professor Betty Collis. Betty’s talk focused on her experiences learning from a workplace perspective -in particular through some of the key trends from her experiences of working with Shell. Taking us on a journey through some of the stages in the development of task orientated, work-based learning activities, Betty explained how they had developed a culture change from “I learn from myself, through to I learn with my group, to I learning in order to contribute to the learning of others throughout the enterprise.” Quite a leap – even for highly qualified, professionals. Shell had identified that their new graduate staff (even those at PhD level) had little experience of multidisciplinary, high pressured team working situations. By introducing a framework encapsulated by three verbs “ask, share, learn”, Betty and her team fostered the notion of coaching and effective organisational knowledge sharing. The use of a wiki as a common platform for knowledge sharing was fundamental to this process.

Betty encouraged the audience to think about formal education settings in a similar way by designing more cross discipline activities to help develop sharing/coaching and team working skills and to start thinking of e-portfolios not just as individual collation tools but as shared learning resources. She also challenged the programmes definition of design for learning which “refers to the complex processes by which practitioners devise, structure and realise learning for others” and reframe thinking to ask is it ultimately the task of formal education to fosters methods for learners (and teachers) to work with others to become more mature members of a learning organisation?

A number of the breakout sessions again highlighted some of the inroads projects are making in a number of these areas. Student engagement was high on the agenda and Integrate project from the University of Exeter has some excellent examples of students acting as real change agents.

The meeting finished was a panel session, which unsurprisingly focused on many of the issues the Brown report highlighted – particularly around fees and contact hours. Today’s education space is more complicated than ever. At a sectoral level we need to get politicians to understand the complexities, and we be able to provide accurate, update information about courses at a range of levels for a range of stakeholders. We are of course making good inroads with the work of XCRI in particular, but we need to do more and think more about how we can harness the principles of linked data to share information internally and externally. Peter Finlay also highlighted the need for greater clarity about when students are part of the learning partnership and when they are more service based customers i.e. paying for halls of residence as opposed to choosing a course of study. We need to ensure that students are able to commit to a learning partnership, as co-creators of knowledge and not just passive recipients.

We live in challenging times. However, there is a huge amount of experience within these two programmes (and across a range of JISC funded projects and beyond). We need to ensure that the lessons learned about the effective use of technology throughout the curriculum design and delivery process are being used as positive change agents to help us ensure the quality of our sector.

More information about the programme meeting is available from the Circle website and resources from the projects are available from the Design Studio. A timeline of the events twitter activity is also available online.

The headless VLE (and other approaches to composing learning environments)

CETIS conferences are always a great opportunity to get new perspectives and views around technology. This year it was Ross MacKenzie’s somewhat pithy, but actually pretty accurate “so what you’re really talking about is a headless VLE” during the Composing Your Learning Environment sessions that has resonated with me the most.

During the sessions we explored 5 models for creating a distributed learning environment. :
1 – system in the cloud, many outlets
2 – plug-in to VLEs
3 – many widgets from the web into one widget container
4 – many providers and many clients
5 – both a provider and a client
Unusually for a CETIS conference, the models were based on technologies and implementations that are available now. (A PDF containing diagrams for each of the systems is available for download here)

Warwick Bailey (Icodeon) started the presentations by giving a range of demo of the Icodeon Common Cartridge platform. Warwick showed us examples the plug-ins to existing VLEs model. Using content stored as IMS Common Cartridges and utilising IMS LTI and web services, Warwick illustrated a number of options for deploying content. By creating a unique url for each resource in the cartridge, it is possible to embed specific sections of content onto a range of platforms. So, although the content maybe stored in a VLE users can choose where they want to display the content – a blog, wiki, web-page, facebook, ebooks etc. Hence the headless VLE quote. Examples can been seen on the Icodeon blog. Although Warwick showed an example of an assessment resource (created using IMS QTI of course) they are still working on a way to feed user responses back to the main system. However he clearly showed how you can extend a learning environment through the use of plug-ins and how by identifying individual content resources you can allow for maximum flexibility in terms of deployment.

Chuck Severance then gave us an overview IMS Basic LTI and his vision for it (model 2). Describing Basic LTI as his “escape route” from existing LMSs. LTI allows an LMS to launch an external tool and securely provide user identity, course information, and role information to that tool. It uses a HTTP POST through the browser, secured by the OAuth security. This tied in nicely with Warwick’s earlier demo of exactly that. Chuck explained his visions of how LTI could provide the plumbing to allow new tools to be integrated into existing environments. As well as the Icodeon player, there is progress being made with a number of systems including Moodle, Sakai and Desire2Learn. Also highlighted was the Blackboard building block and powerlink from by Stephen Vickers (Edinburgh University).

Chuck hopes that by providing vendors with an easy to implement spec, we will be able to get to the stage where there are many more tools available for teachers and learning to allow them to be real innovative when creating their teaching and learning experiences.

Tony Toole then presented an alternative approach to building a learning (and/or teaching) environment using readily (and generally free or low cost) available web 2 tools (model 3). Tony has been exploring using tools such as Wetpaint, Ning, PBworks in creating aggregation sites with embed functionality. For example Tony showed us an art history course page he has been building with with Oxford University, that pulls in resources such as videos from museums, photos from flickr streams etc. Tony has also be investigating the use of conference tools such as Flash meeting. One of the strengths of this approach is that it takes a relatively short time to pull together resources (maybe a couple of hours). Of course a key draw back is that these tools aren’t integrated with existing institutional systems and more work on authorization integration is needed. However the ability to quickly show teachers and learners the potential for creating alternative ways to aggregate content in a single space is clearly evident, and imho, very appealing.

Our last presentation of day one came from Stuart Sim who showed us the plugjam system he has been developing (another version of model 1). Using a combination of open educational standards such as IMS LTI and CC, and open APIs, plugjam allows faculties to provide access to information in a variety of platforms. The key driver for developing this platform is to help ‘free’ data trapped in various places within an institution and make it available at the most useful point of delivery for staff and students.

So, after an overnight break involving uncooked roast potatoes (you probably had to be at the conference dinner to appreciate that:-) we stared the second half of our session with a presentation from Scott Wilson (CETIS and University of Bolton) on the development of the Wookie widget server and it’s integration into the Bolton Moodle installation (another version of model 1). More information about Wookie and its Apache Incubator status is available here. In contrast to a number of the approaches demoed in the previous session, Scott emphasised that they had chosen not to go down the LTI road as it wasn’t a generic enough specification. By choosing the W3C widget approach, they were able to build a service which provides much greater flexibility to build widgets which can be deployed in multiple platforms and utilise other developments such as the Bondi security framework .

Pat Parslow, University of Reading, then followed with a demo of Google Wave (model 4) and showed some of the experimental work he has been doing incorporating various bots and using it as a collaborative writing tool. Pat also shared some of his thoughts about how it could potentially be used to submit assignments through the use of private waves. However although there is potential he did emphasise that we need much more practice to effectively judge the affordances of using it in an educational setting. Although the freedom it gives is attractive in one sense, in an educational setting that freedom could be its undoing.

We then split into groups to discuss each merits of each of the models and do a ‘lite’ swot analysis of each of them. And the result? Well as ever no one model came out on top. Each one had various strengths and weaknesses and a model 6 taking the best bits of each one was proposed by one group. Interestingly, tho’ probably unsurprising, authentication was the most common risk. This did rise to an interesting discussion in my group about the fact that maybe we worry too much about authentication where and why we need it – but that’s a whole other blog post.

Another weakness was the lack of ability to sequence content to learners in spaces like blogs and wikis. Mind you, as a lot of content is fairly linear anyway that might not be too much of a problem for some:-) The view of students was also raised. Although we “in the know” in the learning technology community are chomping at the bit to destroy the last vestiges of the VLE as we know it, we have to remember that lots of students actually like them, don’t have iphones, don’t use RSS, don’t want to have their facebook space invaded by lecturers and value the fact that they can go to one place and find all the stuff related to their course.

We didn’t quite get round to model 5 but the new versions of Sakai and Blackboard seem to be heading in that direction. However, maybe for the rest of us, the next step will be to try being headless for a while.

Presentations and models from the session are available here.

New (Facebook) group for anyone interested in pedagogic planners

As part of the past two LAMS European conferences, James Dalziel and the LAMS team have provided an opportunity to bring together a group of people with an interest in developing pedagogic planning tools. During each meeting it has become evident that there is a burgeoning community developing around pedagogical planning – not least from JISC with the Phoebe and LPP planning tools. There has also been a general feeling of how can we continue these discussions? So, in an attempt to do just that, I’ve set up a facebook group called Pedagogical Planners. If you or anyone you know is interested in this area, please join the group and share your projects and ideas, events.

Pedagogy planners – where next?

A meeting was held on 4th March to get some ‘real world’ input into how the development on the two pedagogy planning tools in the current JISC Design for Learning programme should progress.

The audience was made up mainly of teaching practitioners, most of whom have an interest in staff development and e-learning. Introducing the day, Helen Beetham (consultant to the JISC e-Learning programme) outlined some of the challenges around the changing economic, technical and pedagogical issues that face the teaching and learning community today. The role of planning teaching and learning is becoming of increasing importance as is the recognition of the need to share and represent practice. Although technology offers tantalising visions for the potential of shared learning design practice, the tools we have available at the moment still seem to fall short of the vision. Very few (if any) tools can capture and delivery the myriad of teaching practice that exist. So, is it time to start thinking about a set of teacher tools and services instead of trying to develop more one size fits all tools?

During the day participants had a the opportunity to have “hands-on” time with both Phoebe and the London Pedagogy Planner (LPP). Grainne Conole (0U) has already written about the day and reviews of Phoebe and LPP. The projects then presented their vision of how someone could use Phoebe to create an initial design, look for case studies and exemplars and then export that design into LLP and start ‘fleshing’ out the plan with actual teaching contact time etc.

While both prototypes offer a different (but complementary) approach to planning, they are both very much at the prototype stage. A key question that keeps arising is what is it that they actually produce? XML output allows a level of interoperability between the two just now but this needs to be extended much further so that there is a useful output which can relate to other institutional systems such as VLEs, CMS etc – “where’s the export to moodle” button was heard a few times during the day:-) During the feedback sessions it was clear exporting and importing data between systems will be crucial if such tools are to have any chance of having take up in institutions.

Creating an “architecture of participation” – thoughts from JISC Learning Activities and Resources Conference, 22 January

One of the comments that seemed to summarize the myriad of discussion that took place at the JISC Learning Resources an Activities Conference yesterday in Birmingham was that in the development of learning activities and resources, what we need to start exploring is ‘architectures of participation’ (I think this phrase came from Fred Garnett, Becta).

The aim of the day, as outlined by Tish Roberts (Programme Director, E-Learning, JISC) was to provide an opportunity to bring together people and projects involved in creating and using learning resources and activities, discuss challenges and to get an indication of what areas the community think that JISC need to focus their development activities.

Professor Allison Littlejohn (Glasgow Caledonian University) started the day with her keynote presentation “Collective use of learning resources’. Allison took us through some of the work she and her colleagues are doing in relation to collective learning where learners consume and create knowledge and are encouraged to create and chart their own learning trails/paths. Advances in technology mean that these learning trails can be used by other students when they are planning their learning. Using web2 technologies, more connections can be made between the formal and informal systems students are using. This approach should take a rapid development approach with user needs analysis being at the forefront. Allison did concede that this methodology was perhaps more applicable to post graduate students and work based learning courses where sharing of knowledge is a key driver, unlike some undergraduate courses where sharing and providing access to information has more precedence.

After lunch Andrew Comrie (former VP of Lauder College and director of the TESEP project) gave the second keynote of the day outlining his own transformational journey in e-learning and some of the highs and lows he has experienced when trying to drive transformational change. Andrew admitted that the TESEP project hadn’t brought about wholeshale transformation in his institution but it had allowed for pockets of change to occur. For each of the partners the project had been an important step on their continuing transformational journey. It had provided an opportunity to allow staff and students to change their attitudes and behaviours in relation to teaching and learning. Andrew outlined the main principles of the TESEP transformational model being; non threating to staff, preparing learners to take more control of their learning and encouraging staff to spend more time designing learning activities rather than developing more content.

In between the keynotes there were 5 parallel sessions focusing on key questions around developing, sharing, re-purposing, managing and design and effective use of learning resources. The day ended with a plenary where the key issues from each session were discussed. And this is where the idea of ‘architecture of participation’ came to my attention. There seemed to be a general consensus that people were more concerned with developing methods to create and sharing learning designs/activities rather than creating more content (which maybe a bit of a “no-brainer” for some, but it was good to hear this come through so clearly). However there is increasing awareness of the need to incorporate students into the process and how to make use of informal and formal networks and technologies and develop and use appropriate pedagogical approaches. Of course this challenges the traditional approach of many of our HE institutions, who as Mark Stiles pointed out are more interested in maintaining control rather than managing changes in behaviour. To bring about transformational change we need to re-think all our traditional architectures, not just in terms of technical infrastructure but in terms of social networks too and explore the key connections between all of them.

Other key points raised were the need to engage middle management in development of practice. It would seem that we have a strong community of practitioners who are committed to sharing and developing practice but they can be thwarted by lack of support. One possible approach to this is to develop some business cases, but I’m really not sure just how much the JISC can do in reaching this sector. Another message coming through loudly was that IPR and copyright is still a key issues for practitioners, and despite lots of work being done by JISC in this area, people are crying out for good, clear simple advice on where they stand.

As ever it is hard to condense the whole day into one post, but it was heartening to see so many people at the event and we will try and build on key parts of the feedback in a future SIG meeting.

Design Bash: moving towards learning design interoperability

Question: How do you get a group of projects with a common overarching goal, but with disparate outputs to share outputs? Answer: Hold a design bash. . .

Codebashes and CETIS are quite synonymous now and they have proved to be an effective way for our community to feedback into specification bodies and increase our own knowledge of how specs actually need to be implemented to allow interoperability. So, we decided that with a few modifications, the general codebash approach would be a great way for the current JISC Design for Learning Programme projects to share their outputs and start to get to grips with the many levels of interoperability the varied outputs of the programme present.

To prepare for the day the projects were asked to submit resources which fitted into four broad categories (tools, guidelines/resources, inspirational designs and runnable designs). These resources were tagged into the programmes’ del.icio.us site and using the DFL SUM (see Wilbert’s blog for more information on that) we were able to aggregrate resources and use rss feeds to pull them into the programme wiki. Over 60 resources were submitted, offering a great snapshot of the huge level activity within the programme.

One of the main differences between the design bash and the more established codebashes was the fact that there wasn’t really much code to bash. So we outlined three broad areas of interoperability to help begin conversations between projects. These were:
* conceptual interoperability: the two designs or design systems won’t work together because they make very different assumptions about the learning process, or are aimed at different parts of the process;
* semantic interoperability: the two designs or design systems won’t work together because they provide or expect functionality that the other doesn’t have. E.g. a learning design that calls for a shared whiteboard presented to a design system that doesn’t have such a service;
* syntactic interoperability:the two designs or design systems won’t work together because required or expected functionality is expressed in a format that is not understood by the other.

So did it work? Well in a word yes. As the programme was exploring general issues around designing for learning and not just looking at for example the IMS LD specification there wasn’t as much ‘hard’ interoperability evidence as one would expect from a codebash. However there were many levels of discussions between projects. It would be nigh on impossible to convey the depth and range of discussions in this article, but using the three broad categories above, I’ll try and summarize some of the emerging issues.

In terms of conceptual interoperability one of the main discussion points was the role of context in designing for learning. Was the influence coming from bottom up or top down? This has a clear effect on the way projects have been working and the tools they are using and outcomes produced. Also in some cases the tools sometimes didn’t really fit with the pedagogical concepts of some projects which led to a discussion around the need to start facilitating student design tools -what would these tools look like/work?

In terms of semantic interoperability there were wide ranging discussions around the levels of granularity of designs from the self contained learning object level to the issues of extending and embellishing designs created in LAMS by using IMS LD and tools such as Reload and SLeD.

At the syntactic level there were a number of discussions not just around the more obvious interoperability issues between systems such as LAMS and Reload, but also around the use of wikis and how best to access and share resources It was good to hear that some of the projects are now thinking of looking at the programme SUM as a possible way to access and share resources. There was also a lot of discussion around the incorporation of course description specifications such as XCRI into the pedagogic planner tools.

Overall a number of key issues were teased out over the day, with lots of firm commitment shown by all the projects to continue to work together and increase all levels of interoperability. There was also the acknowledgement that these discussions cannot take place in a vacuum and we need to connect with the rest of the learning design community. This is something which the CETIS support project will continue during the coming months.

More information about the Design Bash and the programme in general can be found on the programme support wiki.

The problem with pedagogic planners . . .

. . .is the fact we can’t decide what we want them to be and who and what they are really for. Although this is said with my tongue firmly in my cheek, I’ve just been at a meeting hosed by Diana Laurillard (IOE) and James Dalziel (LAMS Foundation) where a group of people involved in developing a number of tools which could be collectively described as “pedagogic planners” spent the day grappling with the issues of what exactly is a pedagogic planner and what makes it/them different from any other kind of planning/decision making tool.

Unsurprisingly we didn’t arrive at any firm conclusions – I did have to leave early to catch my (delayed) flight home so I did miss the final discussion. However the range of tools/projects demonstrated clearly illustrated that there is a need for such tools; and the drivers are coming not just from funders such as the JISC (with their Phoebe and London Projects ), but from teachers themselves as demonstrated by Helen Walmsley (University of Staffordshire) with her best practice models for elearning project.

The number of projects represented showed the growing international interest and need for some kind of pre (learning)design process. Yet key questions remain unanswered in terms of the fundamental aims of such tools. Are they really about changing practice by encouraging and supporting teachers to expand their knowledge of pedagogic approaches? Or is this really more about some fundamental research questions for educational technologist and their progression of knowledge around e-learning pedagogies? What should the outputs of such tools be – XML, word documents, a LAMS template? Is there any way to begin to draw some common elements that can then be used in learning systems? Can we do the unthinkable and actually start building schemas of pedagogic elements that are common across all learning systems? Well of course I can’t answer that, but there certainly seems a genuine willingness continue the dialogue started at the meeting and to explore these issues more most importantly a commitment to building tools that are easy to use and useful to teachers.

JISC web2.0 online conference – presenations & discussions available online

All this week Tom Franklin and Mark Van Harleem are hosting an online conference on web2.0 and its potential impact on the education sector. Although places have been limited for the synchronous presentations, copies of the presentations are available on a moodle site, and anyone can participate in the discussion forums there ( you obviously have to register first to get access to the forums). So far the issues discussed have covered institutional issues, content creation and sharing and pedgagogy. Overall the live session are working well, with just the occassional gremlin. You can log-in and join the discussion @ http://moodle.cs.man.ac.uk/web2/course/view.php?id=3.