Sunday, December 24, 2006

New year greetings!

I would just like to wish everyone happy holidays and of course a great new year (already 2007!). I'll be taking the remaining days of this year off, but have no fear - I'll be back in the new year with fresh ideas and thoughts :)

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Painful e-life

Today I came across an interesting story on Reuters: Popular gadgets may make painful Christmas presents, which reminds us about repetitive strain injuries (RSI) that can be caused by high-tech gadgets. And gadgets are no longer used just for fun; they are now an integral part of our everyday lives and are now increasingly present even in learning (which is something I even try to promote). And here I wonder - do we, as e-learning enthusiasts, give enough thought to health problems that new technologies might be causing? We all want to use the power of modern technology, but how often do we talk about its proper usage, the importance of taking breaks during work or proper sitting or typing positions? Are our students aware of these problems at all? Why aren't we talking about this in our schools? And actually, I'm writing this post while wearing a wrist band because of the pains I got after a few days of intensive at least 8-hours long typing plus of course "leisure" browsing.

So, what can we do about this "disease of modern times"? I think that as educators we should be talking about this with our students when discussing new technologies and letting them know about safe and healthy technology usage. And also we should take better care of ourselves and take regular short breaks from work if we have to work with computers for a longer period of time. The best way to fight something is as always to learn about the enemy, so here are some useful links about this topic:
... and of course a lot more can be found on Google.

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

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dear Browser, I wish...

Dear Browser, I wish you could help me keep track of my browsing in a better way. What do I mean? Well, lately I'm just finding quite some opened windows/tabs and had no idea where they come from or why I opened them. How does this happen? The usual process: in the morning I open all the feeds that have new posts, right click - open in new tab on those that seem interesting, quickly read through them, click on a few links, and then if I'm still too sleepy I grab a cup of coffee that of course wakes me a bit, so I decide to minimize all opened browser windows and start doing something else - writing, researching, reading.... And an hour (or even more) later I remember those minimized windows and realize I still have some posts to read. Cool! I read the most interesting posts more carefully, and then... hm... why do I have this window opened? It was in one of the posts I read... but which one? The one I just closed? Hm... Yep. You can see my point. And this is really getting irritating. I know, I know, it's all my fault, I should try to do one task at a time etc. etc. etc.

But anyhow! I do think that our dear browsers could help us a bit in such situations. How? Well, I'd give anything (well, not my Mac ;) ) to be able to click on something that says "How did I get here?" and that could show me the link I clicked to get to the site I'm viewing right now. And I'm not really picky - put it in any menu you want, make it available with a right click, add a toolbar... anything! But I don't want it as a separate program and I'm too lazy to re-open and search through my browser's history. I just think that this would be a really useful browser feature for people that get lost between links like I sometimes do and that want that option available without having to go a certain site or turn on anything :) It would just be there, available when we need it. Some sort of log, but presented in a user friendly way with clear connections between sites.

And you know what else would be really cool? If we had an easy, simple way to share the "How did I get here?" info. Why? Well, I think it could be used in education. Just imagine this situation: you give your students a task to do Internet research on Christmas trees. Your students of course go to a search engine of their choice, type in the keyword they think are the most appropriate, and then click on the search results they think are the most relevant. Of course, you can make your students write a written report on how they performed their search, but wouldn't it be great if there was a simple (browser integrated) way to share and compare the browsing activity? And of course be able to produce readable and easy to understand report (they could even be visual, in form of sideshows for example).

Of course there is also a commercial application of this function - I think many companies would be interested in seeing how we browse and especially how we get (or fail to get) to their sites. Here of course I think it should be up-to the users to decide if (and for how much ;) ) they want to share this info.

So, this is my biggest feature wish for my dear browser. What features do you wish your browser would bring you in the next version? :)

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Search and education

I've just finished reading The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture - a book by John Battelle. As the title promises, the author presents the (hi)story behind search engines (where Google is of course a major player) and the impact the search technology is having on our lives.

While reading the book I of course started to wonder how search is affecting our learning. I already blogged about the importance for educators to be present on Google (read post) and the same of course applies to schools/universities as well. I think that a lot of students choose and value educational institutions based on their web presence and being on the first page of Google results will become increasingly important.

So, it is clear that both educational professionals and institutions need to be "hot" on a search engines, but leaving the institutional aspect behind - what role does search play in formal and informal learning? Well, I admit that whenever I want to learn something new (or remember something I forgot about), I go to Google or Wikipedia and search. And the same process applies to my research work - Googling a term is almost always the first step when trying to learn something. And what does that mean? Does it mean that the web or the search can replace traditional study materials? That we no longer need books because we can search for almost everything on the web?

I still love to read printed books, flip through pages, feel the paper - but on the other hand I would love the ability to do an easy search through all the books I have to be able to find just that information I once read about and I need to quote it in this paper I'm writing about or I want to use it as an example there... Yes, the fact that it is much harder to find specific information by "physical" book search is a problem, because we're isolating all those great resources from our daily life. The new way to learn is to search, to search with a few keywords through a digital user-interface. And that is also changing our thought patterns. For example - I got so used to Spotlight that I sometimes really wonder why I still organize files in folders. With a few simple keystrokes I type the keyword I'm looking for and bam! here's the file I'm looking for and I don't care where it is saved anymore.

Though, the thing I am really starting to miss is the ability to apply tags to my files (both documents I produce and documents I use as a resource) and consequently to browse files by tags, not folders - just as I do with my mail at Gmail. And I think the same principle could (and actually should) be applied to learning materials in all forms (digital, printed, text, visual, audio...). We need to start thinking about how we can tag study materials and make them easily found - or better said, be easily searched for and then used. I think that is something that current learning management systems lack - their search is usually just one of the many features that are there, but that people usually just ignore. I think that it'd be really useful if students could for example add their own tags to the study material they have in their LMS - why shouldn't we let students decide which words best fit our material?

I really am wondering - why are we ignoring the power of search in education? Why don't for example institutions offer their students powerful search engines for ALL study materials (including printed) that is made by their faculty or students? Why don't LMS have the possibility to tag materials? As it often happens, educational institutions are in my opinion a bit too slow to catch up with the search phenomena, and I can only hope that is about to change in the near future. So I hope that we'll all start thinking a bit more intensively about how we can use search in formal education. In our personal lives and in informal education we've already embraced search, so why is formal education lagging behind? What can we - you, I - do about it?

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

Monday, December 11, 2006 - at last!

Yay! Today is a good day! We finally managed to open all content of the site to the public! is an attempt to establish an online community of Moodle users in Slovenia, so anybody from Slovenia that is reading this post and is a Moodle user is invited to join the community ;) (By the way - the site is exclusively in Slovenian language, so if you're looking for a Moodle community in English I suggest the official Moodle site.)

And what can be found on the site? So far we created a database activity where users can add info about their Moodle sites and a database activity where users can post their favorite teaching/learning links. We also opened a general discussion forum and prepared a course for teacher/tutor discussions that is available to registered users. In this course we created Wiki-based instructions for teachers on how to use Moodle (version 1.6.2) that users can freely edit, and opened forums that focus on teaching with Moodle. (If you don't speak Slovenian and would like to know more about our content, feel free to contact me.)

Today we also sent out invitations to Moodle users that are listed on the Moodle site and now we are anxious to receive feedback from the first users that will be joining the community. I really hope people will like and accept this idea and that the site will become a place where we'll share ideas, experiences, and construct new knowledge :)

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


M-learning (short for mobile learning) is another form of learning I'm really interested in. As a matter of fact, I've been a real fan of mobile phones for a few years now - which is funny because when they first became popular I didn't want to have one for quite some time (that was because I actually don't like having phone conversations much). I think my love affair with mobile phones was born when they started adding extra features like e-mail reading applications that suddenly made me feel like I can connect to the Internet! And nowadays we have even better access to the Internet and many other features that don't have much in common with telephony. For example, I recently got a new mobile phone (Sony Ericsson Z610i) and I'm just amazed at what this small beauty can do - the web browser can pick up RSS feeds (that's something even Internet Explorer didn't do until recently!), it has a special RSS reader, the memory card can be upgraded upto 1GB, the phone connects with computers through USB and can charge its battery this way and even work as an USB storage key, it supports java applications, video calls, direct picture blogging (to Blogger), quite comfortable browsing speeds in the UMTS network, and I can use it to listen to podcasts! With these advanced features that make mobile phones much more than just phones - they are now slowly transforming into small portable computers - I see a lot of learning possibilities both for individuals and for educational institutions.

A practical example - when I was an online tutor last year, there were days when it was not possible for me to get to a computer and so I simply used my mobile phone to log in to our virtual classroom, read new posts and reply to the most urgent ones. Surely, doing that on a mobile phone takes a bit more time, but when you're waiting for an appointment or traveling on a train you are actually happy to have something to pass time with :) The greatest problem I see is the fact that virtual classrooms are made for big desktop screens and working with them on tiny mobile screens can be a bit frustrating. However, I think that this problem could be solved in a number of ways - maybe by providing a mobile friendly version with less graphics or even by having a java application that just collects new content (like the Gmail mobile java client - I just installed it today and it looks great!) and perhaps even saves new content on the phone so that it is available when the network signal is low or in a foreign country where the connection costs are too high. Nowadays the technology enables many things and I really hope that LMS providers will start thinking about mobile devices as well. After all, why shouldn't we have a "large screen" and a "small screen" version of the same system?

But of course - I think mobile phones can be much more than just a supplement to web learning. I think that the specifics of mobile phones could be used to connect and interact with other people and the environment in new ways - especially by using location based services. And that's something I'm patiently waiting for mobile providers to develop. Much of the technology is already at hand - we just need great ideas to transform existing technology in services that connect people and allow new forms of interactions and knowledge construction.

(Footnote: For anyone looking for more resources on m-learning - here's an interesting blog about mobile learning that I found today during my morning news reading routine :) )

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

To be on Google or not to be?

Another EDUCAUSE article that caught my attention lately is Scholarly Reputations: Who’s Got Buzz? (view the HTML or PDF version) by Paul Kobulnicky that tries to remind scholars about the importance of being on the first Google screen when searched for and also the importance and value of having your work available and open online. Of course, the author underlines that having your work published in leading journals in the field is still important, but it doesn't suffice in the age of Web 2.0.

And here I must agree with Kobulnicky - we got used to rely heavily on Google when doing research and I must admit that when I read an interesting article from somebody I usually Google that person to see what else he/she has published and if I can read more from the author. And the best thing that can happen is to see the person's website or blog among the top 10 Google search results. If that doesn't happen I usually forget the author pretty soon, but if I do find an interesting site/blog through Google I usually bookmark it because I want to keep an eye on the author's work and research.

And this was also one of the reasons for starting this blog. My blog enables me to share ideas, opinions, research results etc. with anyone who might be interested in my work or just random people trying to learn more about the topics I write about. When I started my blog I got some concerned views about publicly sharing my work - and usually the concerns involved the fear of having somebody "steal" my ideas. However, I think that people that are interested in stealing ideas and have nothing original to say, can steal from books or journals as well. The Internet can make stealing a bit easier, but it also makes tracing original sources much easier (just ask our students that copy paste from the Internet without quoting - it doesn't take much to figure out where the parts came from).

So all in all I think the benefits of public sharing are much greater than possible threats. And I can happily say that a Google search of my name has my blog on the first results page. And to that I can only say: mission Google accomplished! But of course the work isn't done here, it is in fact just starting: a web presence without content does one no good, so I have to work on providing quality content for the loyal (or random) readers of my blog :) and in such a way add my humble contribution to the vast Internet library of knowledge.

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

No Significant Difference - in what?

Another interesting article I read on EDUCAUSE today was The Myth about No Significant Difference (view the HTML or PDF version) by Diana G. Oblinger and Brian L. Hawkins. The authors argue with the supposed no significant difference (for more info about this phenomena check out the official website or Google the term) that the introduction of technology brings to education by posing the question "Difference in what?" and presenting more detailed questions that should be asked when evaluating and planning the introduction of ICT in education.

I agree with the ideas presented in the article. Judging from our own research and even personal experiences I think that technology by itself can't make learning better or even worse. Technology is just a tool that must be used wisely and our research shows that human support is a more important factor for successful learning than the technology that we use. From my experience as an online tutor I can say that students simply expect the technology to be simple and reliable, because they don't want to waste time on figuring out how something works, but their judgment on the quality of e-learning is based on how they interact with other students and faculty staff. Our students really appreciated and praised the constant tutor support - the fact that they could always ask for additional explanations or information and the fact that they were getting constant feedback on their work and progress.

Also, I think that the possibilities for interaction and collaboration are what make technology so appealing. Of course it's great to use a word processors as they make writing so easy and fast (well, most of the times - at least up to the point when they *cough* Microsoft Word *cough* start having their own weird moods :-] ), but what is really making ICT increasingly popular and appealing is the chance to connect to other users. We don't buy a computer because we want to have a computer, but because we want to do something with it - and in most of the cases "doing something" involves connecting with other people - either by chatting with friends, accessing various opinions, creative expressions, hear news about people around the world, play an online game or do research and learn new things. Whenever my Internet connection is down I really feel that my computer has become less useful, less interesting.

To wrap things up - in my opinion (and experiences) technology doesn't in fact make a significant difference if it isn't used for a good purpose and if it tries to replace or remove human interactions. If people use technology for the right tasks and to improve interaction and collaboration with each other, I believe that it can make a difference - in most of the cases a positive one!

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

The Psychology of Learning Environments

On EDUCAUSE I came across an interesting article by Ken A. Graetz with the title The Psychology of Learning Environments (view the HTML or PDF version) in which he describes some interesting ideas about how to make traditional classroom more collaborative, engaging and even enchanting for students.

Although educational institutes don't always have the flexibility to reorganize classroom and teaching methods, I think that there is always something we can do to make learning environments a bit more student and learning friendly. Speaking from my experience as a student, I think there are few that things more frustrating than obligatory lectures during which teachers have monologues and they think they are making lectures interactive by using bulleted power point presentations crammed with text. And not surprisingly, I rarely seemed to remember the general idea behind the lecture (even though I had no high or low tech gadgets to distract me). But on the other hand I had no problems with attending lectures that were well presented and after the lectures I often went online to learn more about bits that were particularly interesting and for this lectures I can really say that I learned a lot.

So, once again I think that our key question as educators should be: "How can we make learners want to learn this?". If we find ways to engage students learning can be efficient and fun in both traditional and virtual classroom - and the psychology of learning environments can also be a factor in making learning work, but it can't be the only one. If I make reference to the example of an enchanting classroom that was used in the classroom: the Divination classroom surely managed to capture Harry Potter's attention on the first day, but poor teaching methods made him drop out of the class later on ;) So, I think that we should definitely try to enchant students with comfortable learning environments and also with relevant content that will be delivered in such a way that it will motivate students - learning is after a challenging and valuable process when we want it and when we feel comfortable in doing it!

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