Friday, January 26, 2007

Search skills

Today I've finally managed to put together a draft of a brief introductory manual on effective search that could be useful to all of our students. That's something I've actually wanted to do for quite some time as I really feel that search skills are very important today. Sadly, search is in my opinion too often oversimplified. It might seem like an easy thing to do - you just type in a few words on Google and bam! here are the most important results - of course right on the first page (nobody bothers to go over the third page, right?). Luckily for us, search engines are quite smart, but I still think that people aren't really aware of how search engines work and how search pages are ranked.

Also, Google does make advanced search really easy - but how many people are aware of that function and know why it can be used? I'm not sure it's so obvious - especially to people that aren't interested in technology, but use computers and the Internet because they have to (either for their work or study).

And writing the right words in Google is just the first challenge - one must also be able to evaluate the quality of search results and especially the quality of single web sites. Can a certain site be trusted? We all know that publishing content to web is now easier than ever before, so how can we tell whom to trust? And then - how can web content be used for school projects, presentations and such? I'm afraid that some of our students still believe that web content is free to use and doesn't need to be cited.

If you're also wondering about similar questions or facing similar issues, I recommend Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial by Joe Barker as a starting point. Of course, there are many other great resources out there, so don't hesitate to use your search skills and find them ;-)

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, January 17, 2007

Why are our teachers afraid to share?

The Time Magazine chose you, me and everybody else that is building the new global web community with collaboration on a scale never seen before the person of the year 2006; but I wonder how many of our teachers really fall into that category?

The Internet offers many opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge, and I'm really happy that there are many teachers around the world that are embracing this technology not just for their their teaching, but also to connect with fellow educators worldwide. However, what makes me sad is the fact that there aren't many teachers in Slovenia that are actively sharing their teaching knowledge and experiences on the web. The main way to share experiences and findings for our teachers still seem to be by attending conferences. Nothing wrong with that, but we're in the 21st century and we have the tools to connect virtually without having to gather together in one physical place (although that still is a valuable experience!). But why aren't we doing more?

Lately, the number of Slovenian companies that offer "e-learning" solutions seems to be growing, but they mainly focus on providing e-learning materials and only a few of them include online teaching or tutoring as part of their solution. And there also doesn't seem to be any online community for teachers in Slovenia! The fact that I know more about how e-learning is being dealt with in the USA than in my own country worries me. I know that many of our schools are playing with e-learning, but I can't find much more about it on the web: no e-learning blogs, just web sites that are telling the world they are doing e-learning, but it's practically impossible for an outsider to know how.

We sensed that gap at our faculty, so we launched - an online community for Moodle users in Slovenia with the goal to bring people together and provide all of us with an opportunity to discuss current Moodle and e-learning issues in our native language (more about the project). Now, a month after the opening, I can say that we managed to attract a decent number of users, but not many reactions. People signed up, took a look around - many of them returned again, but only a few actually posted anything. At this point we practically have no feedback about the site or the resources that were freely provided to all teachers. The only enthusiastic response came from a person that isn't actually a professional teacher, but still uses Moodle to share his knowledge. Ouch. Well, perhaps it is too soon to speak, perhaps we did something wrong - we can't know that because nobody wants to tell us! :-( But I do find it odd that our teachers don't seem to be willing to share their experiences online. So why is that so?

The main feeling I've got (and at this point I can only rely on my feelings as there is practical no verbal feedback) is that our teachers are afraid that someone might "steal their ideas" (that's also a concern we got from some of our students when delivering online courses in Moodle - they were actually worried their classmates might steal some of their ideas!). And that's also a concern I often heard (and actually still do sometimes) when I started this blog. I don't know what that really means: Does it mean that we don't think others are able to respect copyright? Does it mean that we go online just to collect ideas, but are reluctant to share our own for somebody else to collect? Does it mean that we don't believe our ideas are good enough?

I still can't answer these questions. Maybe the true answer is hidden somewhere else. But, what I do believe is that even if somebody goes around "stealing" other's ideas, he/she will have A LOT of trouble turning these ideas into real learning. It takes much more than just an idea to do learning. It takes people that know what they are doing, are passionate about what they are doing and know HOW to really do it - not just in theory, but also in practice. And that's the really, really hard part. In today's digital world there are many opportunities for being really innovative, many resources on the same topic, and although it all seems so great, it usually stops when you've got to do it, not just dream about it. Just an example: we've all been dreaming about Minority-Report-style touch screens for years, but it takes a genius to really bring that technology to the market (compare what Apple did and what Synaptics did - same idea, same principle, but such a difference in the actual product!). Just reading about e-learning doesn't make you an e-learning expert and it doesn't prepare you for all the real challenges of e-learning you will have to face in real situations. But I do think that discussing your ideas, comparing notes, sharing failed or successful experiments etc. can help you to improve your strategies and consequently improve your practical work.
At least that's what I believe. Maybe I'm still too young and too naive; I don't know - I hope you can tell me. I sure hope that more and more teachers will decide to share their knowledge with others and in the process help to construct new knowledge that will make education better and more fun not just for the students, but also for the teachers. No, you don't get any points or awards for doing that, but you can learn many, many valuable new things that are in fact priceless - both for you and for your students!

And please feel free to post a comment or write me an e-mail if you've got any additional thoughts, ideas or suggestions regarding this topic :-)

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, January 11, 2007

Reinventing e-learning

(Warning: The following paragraph includes a quite affectionate praise of Apple - feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you are tired about reading about Apple and the iPhone ;) )
Yesterday I finally got the chance to actually see Steve Jobs' MacWorld Keynote during which he introduced and presented the Apple iPhone (the name is still a controversy) and I'm still amazed at what they've managed to create - especially when compared to other related products on the market. In the last years mobile phones have been getting new features and mainly they stopped there. We'd constantly get new features: the ability to play MP3s, video calls, improved browsers, better cameras etc. but little change to the UI or drastic hardware improvements. And "smartphones" with Symbian seemed such a good idea (wow, would you look at all of the features?) but the excitement would soon disappear after actually trying to use one in real life: these phones are frustratingly slow, practically useless if you want to make a quick call or quickly write a note, and also crash quite often. But manufacturers didn't seem to care about that - the important thing was to come out with new features! Until... Apple entered the game and reinvented the phone. And they didn't just try to make a better mobile phone and follow the trends; they presented an innovative new product that focuses on usability! Usability is a key feature that has been neglected for a looong time by other mobile phone manufacturers. Apple iPhone just seems so... simple, yet powerful - just like the iPods. I don't know about you, but I can really see myself using it in real life, real time. And nobody really saw such iPhone coming. There were many predictions for what was coming, but all included separate products - in general we were waiting for a better iPod with video, a mobile phone, some hoped for a tablet computer etc. - but what Apple did was to combine a set of features and devices into one brilliant product that is years ahread from what's on the market right now. And it's clear that they did it for the users.

Ok, so what's all that got to do with e-learning? Well, I think that the situation in e-learning is in some way similar to the one in the mobile phones market that I've just described. We keep adding new technologies - oh! let's do video conferences! let's do podcasts! let's move everything online! etc. - and often ignore what our users (students) really need. They won't learn better just because we'll present a topic with the super new technology - it might help, but it might frustrate learners if used in an improper way. We need to think outside the box, try to focus on the learners and be brave and innovative in ways that nobody can yet imagine! I don't think the winning combination is just adding all the cool technologies that are coming around, but to combine what we have and invent something new in an unique way that will be fun, engaging, effective and that users can relate to. We should try to achieve iLearning (i as intelligent, not just i as internet) for the users and not for our own egos.

And some educators are already doing that by focusing on the learning and not on the technology. And they do that by using technology just as a tool to achieve their goals. But unfortunately, too many people still believe that e-learning means backing up traditional "learning" (I prefer to call that passive transfer of facts) with e-technologies. Just yesterday our faculty received an e-mail from a company (let them remain unnamed) that is offering development of e-learning materials and online courses. I was of course curious to see how they do it and was absolutely shocked to see what it is that they are trying to sell. The first thing that shocked me in their presentation was that they advertised e-learning as a way to lower teaching costs and making teaching easier for the teachers. I definitely don't think this is the case. E-learning can in fact be more expensive to prepare and it definitely is more demanding for the teachers (well, at least if we want to do it the iLearn way)! Which is definitely a good thing! E-learning shouldn't be a tool for the lazy teacher, but should be used by teachers that care and want to engage students in learning in different ways. Then, the second thing that almost made me fall off my chair were the unnamed company's sample "learning" materials. The materials were made in Flash and included a poor PowerPoint-like presentation with cheap graphics and a voice narration by somebody that didn't really care about what was being said, and no way to pause or navigate through the whole thing. You just have to wait for the thing to play through (did I mention the at least 5 seconds long useless pauses between slides?). I of course gave up after a minute or two. And then I went on to check the sample "online course", which basically consisted of a series of "learning" materials (created in the manner I already described) that were indexed by chapters.
Artwork by ISD Group. More info here.

Had the thing been done by 4th graders, perhaps it could be said the materials were cute, but this was created by a group (not a small one mind you!) of adult "professionals" and they are trying to SELL this as e-learning! That made me a bit angry and also sad because of the thought that some school/faculty might actually buy it because they want to try out the oh-so-popular e-learning.

I know that what we're trying to do at our faculty is just a little piece of e-learning, but at least we're trying hard to find new ways (and the focus is on new ways, not new technologies) in e-learning that will not be just a way to advertise how cool we are, but that will actually be relevant to our students. And after seeing that awful example of "e-learning" yesterday I realized that we must try even harder to get closer to iLearning and we must also spread the word about what e-learning really is. Or perhaps we should start using another word for e-learning that isn't just about passive transfer of facts through electronic channels, but that is is about the learners. Yes, perhaps it isn't such a bad idea to start using the word E-learning 2.0 (view my previous post on this).

So, I really think that even in the field of (e)learning we can learn something from Apple products that are incredibly focused on its users and pay great attention to usability and tiny details that solve simple problems (example: the MagSafe Power Adapter). And I'd like to conclude this post by following Steve's example and quoting great hockey player Wayne Gretzky:

"I skate to where the puck in going to be, not where it has been."
In education there are still too many examples of skating to where the puck was in the previous game. Let's all try to change that - bit by bit or with great innovative ideas.

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.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Apple iPhone is (finally) here!

Wow, Steve Job's Keynote at MacWorld 2007 has just finished... and wow is all I can say for now about the new Apple iPhone :-D For anyone who missed the Keynote here's Engadget live report and the first iPhone news. Why the new Apple gadget (much more than just a mobile phone) is called iPhone still remains a mystery (didn't Cisco own that name?).

Anyhow, the iPhone has a really revolutionary multi-touch screen that looks pretty simple and efficient (I can't wait to get my fingers on one!) and it runs Mac OS X so it's much much faster than current Symbian based "smartphones". That is why I really think it'll also be a great learning device (although the price will be quite high for some time). What else is there to say but: keep them coming Apple! Personally I can't wait for an improved iWork suite - hopefully with track changes and cross references ;)

For more info on the iPhone check out the new site:

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.

A list of basic resources on Web 2.0 concepts and tools

These days I'm busy revising and rewriting some study materials for our E-business course. In this year we'll hopefully be adding a chapter dedicated to currently popular web tools and concepts. For this purpose I've written a quick guide to some Web 2.0 concepts and tools (although I think that the best way for our students to learn about Web 2.0 would be to let them create their own study material using collaboration and Web 2.0 tools).

In this post I'm sharing a list* of web resources that were the most useful to me while writing about these concepts. I hope the listed resources might also be useful (or at least interesting) for you.

Web 2.0 defined:
Web 2.0 related concepts:
About wikis:
Some public wikis that might be interesting for our students:
  • Wikibooks (freely available wiki books - for business students there's also a business bookshelf)
  • Wikiversity (learning materials and activities)
  • Wikimapia (a wiki system that uses Google maps and on which you can add info about locations all around the world)
  • Wiktionary (a wiki dictionary)
About blogs/blogging:
About web feeds:

*Do note that this is a very basic list of resources. If you think I've missed any important or interesting links please leave me a comment :)

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, January 03, 2007

Good luck with finding and spreading innovation!

Welcome in the year 2007! The start of a new year is always a time when we try to sort out the past and look forward to the future (if you dare, Google this: 2007 predictions) and so I decided that it is entirely appropriate for my first post of 2007 to be in this spirit.

Today I came across this post: Progress and Innovation in Education, which presents some very interesting quotes made by educators that question the usefulness of certain innovations that we now of course take for granted. Reading these quotes in the year 2007 is certainly quite amusing, but anyone who has ever tried to introduce a new technology in education (or elsewhere) knows that attitudes towards innovation haven't changed much from those of the year 1703. Surely, not all new innovations are useful, meaningful and meant to be adopted, but if we find something that works and that does the job better than ever before - why not? And here we must not forget (as history teaches us) that we can't predict the failure of something just because we fail to see its use.

But how can we fight against those skeptics that seem to be afraid of innovation and progress? One way is surely by showing them the now hilarious failed skeptical prediction (for more material check out the Wikipedia Failed predictions article) and by reminding them (and ourselves) that change is inevitable and constant. And I think the best way to adopt change is by trying out new things - sometimes you just can't see the use of something until you try to use it in real life situations. So, my wish for our new year is that we'd all try many new exciting things and with any luck find at least a few innovations that will rock our world. And I of course also wish everyone good luck with spreading innovation - with some people such luck will always be needed :)

(By the way - if you want to know how to sharpen your own quill or prepare your ink check this site out :) )

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.