RSS for Learning

Eva Kaplan-Leiserson, gives a good overview of RSS [that’s "rich site summary" and/or "really simple syndication", defined for the last time on this blog] for learning in Learning Circuits. She brings together the recent work of Stephen Downes, Amy Gahran, Mary Harrsch, Robin Good and others. Many readers will have seen some of the referenced articles, but Kaplan-Leiserson’s piece will be a good introduction for those new to RSS, or if you need a current summary. Here’s the business rationale (for a very short elevator ride) for RSS:

Rather than collecting content in a central repository, requiring an expensive software application, the RSS model distributes content across the World Wide Web, allowing access piece by piece.

Free Online review of Low-cost Videoconferencing Tools

On Thursday May 13th, Robin Good is offering another free review of technologies. This time he has selected over ten interesting and emergent low-cost videoconferencing technologies. After his brief analysis of those technologies selected from a buyer’s standpoint, the floor will be opened to participants to ask direct live questions to Robin or to anyone representative of the tools being showcased.

Conference starts at 1:00 PM Atlantic.

What do instructional designers design?

Don Morrison has made available his speaker notes for a presentation on “What do Instructional Designers design?” Much of what he says resonates with my own experience and perspective. First, that traditional instructional systems design cannot address the multitude of alternatives available to us today – such as knowledge management, performance support, blogs, workflow learning, communities of practice, etc.

Morrison also says that Google is a learning tool [I agree, it’s how I learned HTML], and that it favours information over instruction. This is an interesting point. A few years back, I had a conversation with the design team at Tecsult-Eduplus about their learning programs for astronauts. They recounted how they had initially designed some courses which adhered to the “standard” rules of using only 7 points of information per screen. The feedback of the astronauts was that they wanted not only more information, but the maximum information possible per slide. For these bright students, time was of the essence and they couldn’t waste it by clicking on the next button. I have noticed that medical school students are the same in their learning style – they absorb information like sponges, and later reflect on it. Speaking for instructional designers, Morrison says:

That if Google is being perceived as the best learning tool ever, it’s because it has developed relevant notions like adjacency, weight and PageRank, implemented them in a smart, innovative process which is embedded in a lightning-fast, user-friendly interface.

What LMS, what LCMS, what competency engine, what third-party or custom course library or curriculum, what instructional design theory has done anything close in terms in responding to today’s learning needs?

I think you and I both know the answer. Not one.

In comparison, our response has been linear, turgid and unimaginative.

Morrison goes on to discuss a number of design models, including some more advanced models (and lesser known within many instructional design teams) such as vanMerrienboer’s Four-Component Instructional Design Model, as well as more general Cognitive Load Theory. The whole text is worth a read, and worth the effort of reviewing or researching Morrison’s references. This text should also be read by anyone in higher education where educational technology is taught, to show that there is a heck of a lot more to learn than how to put courses online.

Wikis – pushing the envelope

So you think that the idea of wikis is a bit confusing? Still trying to get your brain around blogs and RSS? Well folks, check out Lion Kimbro’s Wiki Proliferation article on how we should really be using wikis to create the public web. This is not for the faint of heart – and not what you’ll find on the Wall Street Journal in the near future.

I found out about Lion via Seb.

ATutor 1.4 soon to be released

ATutor has announced the latest version of its open source, standards compliant LCMS, which should be available in a couple of weeks. The new version 1.4 includes:

Templates for creating your own custom look-and-feel
Roles & Privileges for students to create teaching assistants or additional instructors
Automatically marked tests
Search the TILE learning objects repository, and import content packages directly into ATutor by entering a URL
Evaluate content with the content editor accessibility checker to ensure learning materials conform with international accessibility standards
Visual Content Editor (currently disabled) format content without knowing any HTML
ACollab Groups for running group activities within ATutor courses, as well as file sharing, managing assignment submissions, collaborative document authoring and archiving, and more (also available as a standalone)

I will be putting the standalone version of ACollab through its paces in a short while, and will provide a detailed evaluation of this platform as we go along.

Moving soon

This blog will soon be moving to the LearnNB site. This site is hosted by the NRC and will be an excellent portal for learning in the region. Unlike TeleEducation, which no longer exists, the LearnNB site will not be linked to any specific organisation. This means that if this community closes, the LearnNB site will remain for new initiatives and groups. It will be our “one stop shop” for the long run.

My intention is to start our community web presence with a blog, and very quickly add a collaborative work space, including access to a wiki. If you haven’t used a wiki, let’s learn together.

Stay tuned here for further announcements.

Brainstormimg

While I was in Fredericton this week, I started some conversations around the focus of this community. One area of interest is around the sharing of technology. The idea being that the use of common platforms would facilitate collaboration. For instance, if everyone used the same LCMS, then it would be easy to develop a single solution using multiple suppliers. The R&D focus would be to determine what kind of technology would be suitable for co-operation. Simulation tools probably would not be suitable, as they can give a company a competitive edge. Content management platforms might be mnore suitable, as most companies need one, and one does not provide a significant competetive advantage over another. Sharing in the development and implementation of open souce platforms for multiple organisations received some interest (e.g. see this model. For instance, Engage Interactive has developed some add-ons for the open source CMS, Mambo. If other learning companies wanted to use a CMS, why not choose Mambo, where we already have some expertise in the region? Some people even suggest using a CMS instead of an LCMS. hmmm?

Another suggestion, from John Heinstein:

I was thinking about our conversation today and the question of settling on a small-scale project that could bring together members of the eLearning community, and which also championed Open Source as a low-cost and effective alternative to commercial software. I think that one good candidate is: a SCORM test-bed.

This would be an extremely useful service for NB eLearning companies. After having been through the painful SCORMization process ourselves, we can testify to the difficulty of comprehending the SCORM spec, much less implementing it. In fact, I’m still not sure exactly how conformant we are. Having an easily accessible SCORM test bed would enjoin NB companies to marshall around an international standard, emphasizing the importance of interoperability, and provide direct evidence to eLearning consumers that NB is on the leading edge of the courseware industry.

It would demonstrate the feasibility and advantages of integrating Open Source software with commercial software. It would provide a model of how collaboration can be achieved within an industry that is highly competitive. Companies could promote their SCORM-conformant courseware by displaying demos on the website; NB [and the region] could better sell itself as having a coherent approach to eLearning. Wikis, forums, chats, papers, newsletters, blogs, etc. could provide support services for participants.

Commercial consulting services for SCORM-related matters could be offered. Eventually services like EduSource and Knowledge Agora could be integrated into the system. The SCORM test-bed could also be used by schools with eLearning curricula.

KIRA Awards

I attended the New Brunswick knowledge industry’s KIRA awards in Fredercton on Thursday evening. It was a a well-organized event, with comedienne Bette MacDonald as MC, which was a rare treat. There were many deserving recipients, including export category winner Engage Interactive, an elearning company; most promising start-up Ensemble Collaboration; and Christian Couturier, of the National Research Council, who is also responsible for the elearning research group in Moncton.

I still have some difficulties with the term "knowledge industry", especially as it’s used in this region. It seems to be interchangeable with "information technology sector". Many of us can honestly say that we are knowledge workers, and work in a knowledge-intensive industry, without being in IT. Our fascination with technology may take us away from the real task at hand – innovation for the betterment of society.

The inevitability of Laptops

Via Stephen, is this article from USA Today on the use of laptops in schools. It’s getting to the point where the the conservative majority will not be able to argue against students being connected with information technology. In a short time, using laptops will be more economical.

Back in the Dallas suburb of Forney, Superintendent Smith doesn’t know what he’ll do after the experiment with textbook-loaded laptops next year. It all depends on the price, he said.
"A child’s set of textbooks costs $350," Smith said. "If they can get these notebooks down to $500, it gets cost-effective in a hurry."

Global Entrepreneurship

Knowledge@Wharton [requires free subscription] has an article on global entrepreneurship as discussed at a recent panel discussion at the Lauder Institute Alumni Association Global Business Forum in New York.

So what makes an entrepreneur? It seems to boil down to these basics:

Panelists emphasized less the solitary aspects of the entrepreneurial life than the social ones. Forget genius, they said; what really counts most is building a strong network to turn to for help and advice, treating people with dignity, and serving your customers well.

So keep building your network, through personal contacts, work, socializing, writing, blogging, etc.

Another interesting comment, from one of the panelists, especially for those in elearning:

Sectors that are in flux are often particularly rich in opportunities, he advised. “When there’s chaos, the existing relationships are in turmoil. In a slow-growth setting that’s been stable for five years, it’s hard to get a fresh idea to penetrate the existing structure.”