Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Report: InSITE Conference 2007

Yesterday was the last day of the Informing Science + Information Technology Education (InSITE) conference, organized by the Informing Science Institute and hosted by the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana, Slovenia (yep, the city I live in - there's nothing better than having a good international conference at your doorstep ;) ). In the last 3 days I listen to around 25 presentations at the conference, and also presented my paper (yes, that is why I wasn't online as much as usually). How was it? Well, read below :)

I'd like to start by mentioning some of the presentations that I found most interesting and/or valuable (listed in order of appearance at the conference):
  • The Search for the Adaptable ICT Student (Glen Van Der Vyver): This was a presentation of the results of a study among a group of undergraduate ICT students about their adaptability (which is one of the characteristics ICT students should have). The results showed that the students have a high degree of adaptability when personal choices are involved, but not much adaptability related to job change - students like change, but expect their jobs to adapt to their lifestyles, not the other way round. I find these findings really interesting, and I would certainly like to see how adaptable our students are.
  • Advancing Sustainability of Open Educational Resources (Alex Koohang): I found this presentation interesting because it opened some interesting questions and issues related to Open Educational Resources and the sustainability of OER. These are all important topics in education, and I especially liked the fact that Alex stressed the importance of including users' perspectives in further research and development of OER.
  • Of Disobedience, Divinations, Monsters and Fumbling: Adopting a Self-Service System (Bob Travica): During this presentation we learned about some of the issues that emerged during the adoption of a self-service management system in a Canadian company. The presentation got me thinking that we don't really pay enough attention to how our students adopt different e-learning systems, and that perhaps more detailed studies than just the usual multiple choice question "How would you grade the usability of the LMS?" should be performed. Mostly, we just have the quantitative data on how much our students like our e-learning systems, but I don't think we know enough about how they really interact with them, and about what could be done to improve their interactions with the system. Certainly a topic to keep in mind for further research.
  • What Exactly Do You Want Me To Do? Analysis of a Criterion Referenced Assessment Project (Tony Jewels and Marilyn Ford): This presentation provided a critical view on criterion referenced assessment. They pointed out that the practice of using CRA shows different results than the theory of CRA predicts. In their paper, the authors presented some interesting negative feedback they got from their students when using CRA, which in neither surprising nor new. The authors concluded their study with a valuable suggestion: educational institutions should focus more on educating students at an early stage on skills that apply to all subjects and assignments.
  • A ‘Hands on’ Strategy for Teaching Genetic Algorithms to Undergraduates (Anne Venables): I found this presentation inspiring because Anne presented an interesting approach to teaching what at first sight appears to be a complex and unattractive topic of genetic algorithms to undergraduate students in an engaging and easy to understand way using poppet beads. Sounds interesting? It sure is, so I really suggest reading Anne's paper that explains the approach in more detail. We definitely need more teachers like this in all our schools!
  • To TxT or Not to TxT: That's the Puzzle (Val Hooper): During this presentation we heard about an interesting use of SMSes to engage large groups of first year students during lectures. I like the general idea of the presented SMS X-word puzzle activity (see the paper for a detailed description), and although it is at this moment still costly and technical demanding, I liked the fact that they've tried to engage their students in a new way that is closer to what the students use in their everyday life.
  • The Educational Potential of Modified Video Games (Andrew Moshirnia): This presentation was a virtual one (meaning: we watched a PowerPoint presentation with a voice-over explanation of the author), so we weren't able to have a discussion with the author (which would certainly make the presentation even more interesting). Nevertheless, the presentation showed us an interesting example of using a Civilization IV mod to teach American Revolution. I still believe that we're at the very early stages of developing serious educational games, but I think it was good to have this topic presented at the conference.
  • Using Video to Record Summary Lectures to Aid Students’ Revision (Janice Whatley): In this presentation we got an interesting example of using video lectures summaries with text notes to help students with course revisions. Although I like the general idea of these video summaries, I think it'd be better to give the students the ability to create their own video summaries and share them with their colleagues, or at least give the students the chance of posting and sharing their own notes for the video summaries. Still, the presentation did open some interesting questions about the usefulness and the right format of summary lectures, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this project will develop in the future.

I also co-presented the paper Can Online Tutors Improve the Quality of E-learning?. You can check out the slides for the presentation on SlideShare, but I know there aren't of much use without the narration, so if you've missed the presentation and are interested about hearing more about the topic of the paper and the e-learning at my faculty, I can provide an on demand voice-over through Skype (my Skype ID: alja-skype) :)

Speaking of presentations: why is it so popular to share presenter notes with the audience through PowerPoint slides? I had the pleasure to listen to many great speakers at the conference, but unfortunately many of the interesting speeches were disturbed by great chunks of text behind their backs. I personally can't resist the temptation to read all the text on the slides. Unfortunately that turns my attention away from the speaker and the presentation becomes difficult to follow and to remember. A few minutes after such presentations I always wonder what the main point the presenter was trying to get across? And there is no way I can remember any of the slides. I really think these presentations would be better if the presenters turned off the projector and kept the slides full of text for themselves. If you don't have time to practice your presentation and prepare an interesting slideshow don't bother with using your notes on the overhead projector. And also getting all your notes on paper in advance really spoils a lot of the fun; I don't want to know how the story will end! Please, dear presenters: surprise me, engage me!

Apart from some bad uses of PowerPoint slides, the conference was full of interesting topics and presentations. I only wish I could have attended more, and talked to more people. Thanks to everyone that I met at the conference for all the interesting conversations we had, and I hope we can keep in touch. The next InSITE conference will take place at the nearly same date next year in Varna, Bulgaria, so we might meet again there.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

How could we make Second Life more teacher friendly?

A few days ago I was watching Daniel Livingstone's presentation Immersive and Web-Based Virtual Learning Environments, and although most of the things he talked about were not new to me, it did strike me that teaching in Second Life at the moment is no piece of cake if you don't have certain technical skills. Sloodle is an interesting project that tries to make Second Life more teacher friendly, but can you imagine an average teacher (who has already struggled to learn how to use Moodle) installing Sloodle and setting it up with his or her own Moodle site? Or setting up a quiz for students within Second Life by finding and modifying a quiz script? I honestly can't, and I think that until we can make teaching in Second Life as easy as using a web-based learning system like Moodle, I don't think we can expect a lot of existing teachers to do any serious teaching in Second Life (for the sake of the argument let's just say that Second Life (or a similar virtual world) is an environment we want to use in education, and that we want to have our teachers to teach in it). You all probably know that it's difficult enough to explain what Second Life is all about, not to mention convincing teachers to get an account and get seriously involved in it!
Teaching in Second Life can be confusing
So, what would we need to make Second Life more teacher friendly and consequently more student friendly? I think the best way to achieve that would be to integrate some teaching and learning tools right into the Second Life (or any other virtual world) client. Let me give you an example of how that could look like.

First, a quick look back in time. The things we have to do right now in Second Life to set up a quiz or a similar activity remind me of the internet in the middle of the nineties. Back then, internet was a cool thing tool that most people were still unaware or even afraid of. It was really cool to have your own website, but it was not easy. You had to get some server space, learn HTML (remember how proud we were when we managed to use frames? ;) ), and then you had to know how to upload files. Argh. Only the real enthusiasts bothered to learn all that. Compare that with the ease with which you can nowadays create (and publish) a website in iWeb or the wonderful one click web publishing - everything is so easy that even my grandfather was able to learn how to blog in a few hours! And that's just how Second Life should become if we want more people to adopt it. We need better interfaces, more interactivity, and the ability to create content without the need to edit the scripts directly. Everything should be as easy as blogging with the Sloodle Toolbar currently is (well, once you manage to set it up :) ).

What we'd need is a user-friendly tool with which we could manage our courses. The best would be if learning management tools were available right in Second Life - in a similar way that group administration works right now. Can you image how great it would be if we had an extra "Learning" button somewhere in the SL interface? This button could open a list of all courses an avatar is currently attending or teaching. With a few clicks, you could get more info on each of our courses, search for new courses, start your own course etc.. Right now there are already many interesting courses that are being taught in Second Life (not just by educational institutions, but also by individual residents), but no easy way to find them and keep track of them.
Learning and Teaching in Second Life
I think every Second Life resident should be able to set up a course - pretty much like you can create your own group. Linden Labs could charge a small fee to open a course (as it does with groups), and have special discounts for large educational institutions that provide more courses. As a teacher of a course you should be able to change some basic settings, manage the list of participants (students and teachers/tutors) in each course, make course materials and notes available to students, have a list of assignments with deadlines and grades, have the ability to view attendance stats in your virtual classroom (a certain space on a land you or your institution owns), have the ability to set up and rez objects that contain a certain script with a few clicks without having to manually edit the script (a quiz chair for example or and info point for students) etc. Of course, it'd be great if you could connect this teacher tool to other learning environments (Moodle or others) with just a few clicks, and even able to view and edit the content of SL courses on the web. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so let's try to imagine how such a tool could look like:

Course management in Second Life
And then of course, students should in my opinion also get some help to keep track of their courses in the 3D virtual environment. They should be able to view basic course materials, send messages to the teacher and other students (either using the virtual world's IM channels or maybe even send IMs to other chat clients outside the virtual world - Skype, Google Talk, ICQ etc.), get reminded of upcoming lessons (wouldn't it be great if you were automatically offered a teleport to the class location 5 minutes before the start of the lesson?), receive notices of changes, have the ability to upload reports, write posts, answer quizzes, rate courses etc. Of course, the content of all their courses should also be accessible through a web browser and on any mobile device.

These are just a few ideas of how I think future teacher/students tools in 3D online virtual worlds should look like. I don't think it'd be a good idea to build an education-only virtual world (some sort of 3D Moodle) that focuses just on education - at least not until our avatars are able to travel between different worlds with all their luggage. In my opinion we need to provide better support for education in existing virtual worlds - education is after all one of the very important aspects of our lives, so why shouldn't it be more visible and better supported in the so called real-life simulations? I hope we will start seeing more tools like this soon, and that providing such tools will make second life easier for both "virtual" teachers and students. As virtual worlds are slowly making their way into mainstream and evolving in more open and connected spaces we now have the opportunity (and perhaps even a moral obligation) to bring out our own ideas about the future of education in virtual worlds and also demand better support for teachers and students in these new environments. That is why I would like to end this post by asking you, dear reader, this question:

What do you personally think should the killer app or tool for teaching in virtual worlds be like if it were to bring 3D immersive environments a step closer to the average teacher and make studying in these environments easier to follow for learners?

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Gotta Get Goals Meme

I admit: I've been a bad blogger lately. I've been tagged for my first blog meme over 3 weeks ago, and I still haven't done my homework :blushes: I'm glad that I can now finally take some time to add my post to the Gotta Get Goals Meme, for which I was tagged by Eduardo Peirano (also, check out his College 2.0 network on Ning), who also wanted to learn about my goals.

I admit it took me some time to write this post. I'm in a way at a turning point of my life - just got my bachelor degree, and now I'm trying to get a full time job and continue with my formal education. And although I'll probably continue in the field I'm already so involved in, it certainly is a good time for me to think about goals, and all the things I'd like to do in the future.
Gotta Get Goals
So, after much thought, I have decided that these are the most interesting goals for me right now:
  • I'd like stay on track with recent developments and best practices in the the field of e-learning, and also in other fields that can help me with my work or are just interesting for me (for example informatics, psychology, communication science, marketing, graphic design,...). My goal is to keep my eyes open for new discoveries, to keep reading, keep asking questions, meeting new people, learning something new every single day, and trying to apply new knowledge both to my professional and personal life.
  • I'd also like to continue with my formal education. My goal is to find a good online master and later a doctoral program connected with e-learning, during which I'll be able to improve myself as an online learner, and of course continue to reflect on my work as an online tutor.
  • I'd like to continuously improve my tutoring and teaching skills, and try to share my passion for my work with my students, colleagues, and anybody else that is willing to listen ;) With that I'd like to inspire people to discover new things that are not necessarily related to a single course subject, and to start viewing the process of learning as a daily activity and not just as part of a formal educational setting.
  • I'm my lifetime I'd also like to learn another foreign language - currently I know English and Italian (although I need to improve my speaking and writing skills in Italian!), and I would once like to learn a language that is completely different from the languages that I already know. Currently, Japanese looks the most tempting for me. Why? Because it is something entirely new, because it'd also give me the opportunity to get to know a different culture, and because it would enable me to watch Japanese anime in the original language :)
  • I'd also to continue blogging and make my blog an interesting place to visit at least once a week :) Although blogging takes a lot of time and effort, it gives back so many wonderful rewards that I certainly hope I'll be able to actively use my blog as my starting point for learning for as long as possible.
  • And at last but certainly not least, I'd also like to continue making the lives of people closest to me (my family and closest friends - you know who you are) brighter with tiny thoughtful displays of affection that show them that I care about them and that they are special for me. By doing this I'd also like to thank them day by day for all their love and support - because that in the end is what fuels all my passions and makes me go on.
Eduardo already tagged some people I'd have wanted to tag, but one person he didn't tag, and I would like to learn more about, is Joan Vinall-Cox.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

4th International Austrian Moodle Conference

In case you missed the announcement at Moodle.org, I'd like to invite everyone to attend the 4th International Austrian Moodle Conference this September in the lovely city of Graz (Austria). The conference has no participation fee and it will be a great opportunity to exchange Moodle experiences, and of course make new friends and get some fresh ideas for the new study year. I will most certainly be attending the conference, so I hope I can also meet some of you, dear readers of my blog, there :)

More info about the conference can be found on the conference Moodle site, where you can also download the Call for Papers (also in German).

See you all in Graz!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

First Slovenian graduate in Media Communications

With joy and pride I am excited to announce that yesterday I successfully made the last step towards my bachelor degree in Media Communications. Yesterday I presented my diploma work (dealing with the role of online tutors in e-learning) at my faculty, and officially became the first Slovenian graduate in Media Communications (the news even got some press coverage). I was among the first generation of this new study, and although being the first to deal with this relatively new subject was not always easy, I'm really satisfied that my undergraduate study is finally over. Despite many problems, I've learned quite some new things, especially about the characteristic of communication, informatics, and graphic design that I will able to use in my future work.
During yesterday's presentation
Now I'm of course already looking towards the future and searching for an interesting postgraduate study program. I'd like to continue to work and study in the field of e-learning and instructional design, and I would really welcome any suggestions of a good postgraduate study in this field (preferably online). Please leave a comment or e-mail me (ialja(at)mac(dot)com) if you know of any - I really need some help here :)

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.