Friday, 31 October 2014

3D Virtual Worlds: A Catch Up

My SOLSTICE Fellowship work was based on 3D Virtual Worlds, and included things such as running introductory staff development sessions, collecting a list of relevant research to help researchers and teachers get started using the environments,using it as part of a course for online role play and practicing risk assessments including preparing students to use the environment, and writing up a report on the financial costs of taking the next steps in moving the use forward in the institution.

Since 2011 when that Fellowship ended, there have been some major developments. There has been further growth in the use of OpenSim as an alternative to Second Life (SL), and Linden Lab decided to reinstate the educator discount, possibly in response. Linden Lab also announced a 2015 beta release of a ‘next generation’ virtual world “that will be in the spirit of Second Life" although they will keep Second Life running at the same time. They have also enabled some use of SL using the Oculus Rift, which seems an appropriate development. Finally 'SL Go' was released to allow access on mobile devices. In this post I wanted to explore these things further, answer some of my own questions, and consider what the changes means for use of 3D Virtual Worlds at the institution.

Firstly why might you use OpenSim instead of SL?

Hypergrid Business have an intelligently written article comparing the two. The key things that come out of it are that OpenSim costs less and therefore allows you to use more space, and the open nature gives you flexibility. SL will offer stability though, and the large community there has created a large amount of content that you can buy. On an individual level you would have to consider your budget and what space you need for your activities. On an institutional level it would depend on the amount of use you were expecting.

What do we know about Linden Lab's next generation platform?

It will be a creators platform like SL, but one that appeals to a larger audience. They've taken on 40-50 people to build it, and it should be about of beta by 2016. Finally the work on Oculus Rift integration might mean that it is going to allow something more like a Virtual Reality experience. I'd say that currently SL has limited uses in the institution, but a new platform that looks really good, that appeals to a larger group of people. and that works with virtual reality headsets might be worthwhile investing in at an institutional level.

What kind of experience do you have in SL using the Oculus Rift?

Phobos Jamberoo has posted a video of what SL looks like through the Oculus Rift which gives us an idea of the experience. SL is usually used in 3rd person perspective and much research has been done about your relationship with your avatar. As David Burden points out '5 key differences between virtual worlds and virtual reality', virtual reality makes sense in a first person view, and therefore you are reducing the importance of the avatar and possibly reducing use of camera controls.

What kind of experience do you have in SL using SL Go?

I've not tried it myself although it's only 70p to try it for an hour so I might as well have a go. Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins has written about the experience and was very impressed by the graphics, but less by the controls.

Monday, 15 September 2014

MmIT 2014 Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the first day of the MmIT 2014 Conference last week. It's theme was "Sound and Vision in Librarianship: Going Beyond Words and Pictures" and it is primary audience is librarians; as I was speaking on our experiences of using Augmented Reality I got to crash the librarian's party and enjoy a day out at the University of Sheffield. The social media activity from the day has been brought together using Eventifier.

iTunes U

Graham McElearney was the first keynote speaker, sharing the University of Sheffield's experience with sharing content on iTunes U. For him the key driver was the university's ethical responsibility to share knowledge with the world, followed by it being an opportunity to market the university, and its departments, disciplines and people. It's quite inspiring to hear the drivers put in that order.

On the question of "Why not use YouTube?" he explained that they also release content on that platform, but they find that iTunes U tends not to be blocked where some of YouTube is. Also resources on it are downloadable, and YouTube can provide distractions in a way that iTunes U doesn't.

He also shared what you might need to do to get started using it at your own institution, noting the importance of starting with a senior manager who Apple with deal with, the need to look at steering groups, content strategy, copyright consent and IPR, and visual identity.


Penny Andrews from the University of Sheffield spoke about LibraryBox. This was created by Jason Griffey as a fork of the PirateBox, and is a way of setting up an open low powered webserver that can server just the files on an attached pen drive.

The LibraryBox consists of a compatible router, a pen drive holding the Public Domain or Creative Commons licensed files, and a power source (a normal wall socket or a portable mobile phone charger could both work).

Users would connect their device to the wireless network SSID named LibraryBox, and access files using a web browser. All pages will redirect to librarybox.lan/content if you are connected.

As I understand it LibraryBoxen (as we were informed the plural should be) have been used for outreach events to share books and resources with digital divide issues in mind, for example where people have a mobile phone but limited or no data. They have been used where there is no internet in rural Ghana to help teach children to read, or in countries where the internet is heavily filtered. Penny noted other potential uses such as in hospitals where there is no Wi-Fi. I wonder if this sort of tool could be used on field trips where you are out of range of any mobile networks, to share resources with the students.

Augmented Reality

At the end of the day I spoke about what we had learned through the Learning Services augmented reality projects over the last 2 years. Have a look at my slides to get an overview.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The History of Learning Technology Development

Our department at Edge Hill University, Learning Technology Development, is effectively 15 years old this year. Audrey Watters was talking today in her ALT-C keynote about the importance of storytelling, and it got me thinking; if I wrote the story of LTD, what would it look like?

It was 1999 when Andrew Sackville, the Head of Teaching and Learning Development advertised for a ‘Learning Technology Designer’; the team grew from there, introducing a VLE, working with innovators and early adopters as they started online courses, and running courses on how to teach online. In the words of William Gibson, the future was here, it just wasn’t evenly distributed.

I started at Edge Hill University in 2003; the base was set up and LTD were trying to upgrade from what is now an ancient version of WebCT (3.1). Personally I worked within the wider TLD department, and also created content for the Fast Forward online course. This meant I had a lot of contact with the LTD team; I liked them and the work they did, and decided I wanted to join them, which I did in 2004.

One of the things that was motivating people at the time was the fact that considering how to teach in an online environment made people rethink how they did face-to-face teaching. I wonder if this is still the case; perhaps it is a major unseen benefit of online learning.

From 2004 we have seen massive changes in the technologies available to us, and in uptake across the institution. We've worked hard to help distribute that future more widely and evenly across the institution. Few people were involved in using online communication tools apart from email in those days, although the research being done at the time at Edge Hill was advanced. Now almost everybody uses online social networking tools regularly. We’ve been fortunate to work through these massive changes, trying to understand them, and communicate the possibilities to academic staff around the institution. We have seen mobile technologies on the horizon; I remember our COMET project running a PDA project in 2004, and 10 years on we are beginning to see mobile devices as a mainstream platform for learning.

We have tried to be inspiring, supportive, partners to the academics and faculties through this long process. On Twitter we have a mission statement - “to enhance learning through the intelligent application of technology”; is that too vague? Perhaps, but over the years we have had to do a lot of different things, most with this aim in mind.

I think that LTD should be proud of what we have achieved. I’m proud that we have been committed over a long period. Technological change and diffusion of innovation are slow processes and we have kept working both on innovative projects and also the dull repetitive ones. Someone pointed out that without a successful COMET project we wouldn’t have had the SOLSTICE CETL, and the internal and external links, conversations, funding and opportunities that came with that project; we should be proud to have been a key part of both of those projects.

Among the things that I look back on fondly is the fun we’ve had as a team; at times we’ve been as tight a team as any I’ve worked in. People who’ve spent time in the team, who’ve led us and who've worked with us – Andrew, John, Mark, Anna, Mandy, Lisa, Paul, Lindsey, and everyone who’s arrived at Edge Hill later on, have brought us this far. Where next?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

ALT-C 2014 Keynote by Catherine Cronin - Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education

One of the things that inspires me most about the area of educational technologies is the possibility for open learning beyond the class boundaries. Being able to connect with people and communities has vastly widened my horizons over the last few years. Things like personal learning environments, personal learning networks, and the original Connectivist MOOCs seem like really interesting areas of work that might offer so much to Higher Education students, and encourage learning to continue outside the classroom and after their university experience has finished.

I don't think that this side of things tends to be a core part of most Learning Technologists day jobs, and so it’s easy to forget what inspires us. For me watching Catherine Cronin’s ‘Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education’ [slides] at ALT-C 2014 was a reminder of the possibilities.

There were a few things she said that prompted questions that I’d personally like to consider further.

  • When is openness hubris, and when is it humility? We need to be prepared for criticism when our work and teaching practices are available to be seen by all. The criticism might be unfair, but we cannot be too proud to risk being criticised.
  • If we see the learning environments as physical spaces, bounded online spaces, and open online spaces, where might open online spaces be most appropriate as part of a traditional course? Catherine mentioned using curation tools (i.e. being used as part of the open online spaces. Perhaps this would be a starting point in looking at tools that staff who teach could use with students.
  • What risks are there in open education (such as privacy, etc.), and how can we prepare staff and students to deal with the risks? I might need to revisit the guide 'Using External Online Tools in Teaching and Learning' to see if it could this be reworked to be something that academic staff could more easily engage with and use?

Monday, 1 September 2014

ALT-C 2014 Keynote by Jeff Haywood - Designing University Education for 2025: Balancing Competing Priorities

I can't make it to ALT-C this year, so I'm going to be attending online where possible. The keynotes are streamed through YouTube and there is conversation going on on Twitter, although I'm learning that it is difficult to listen and tweet at the same time.

Jeff Haywood from the University of Edinburgh presented the first keynote where he looked back at where learning technologies had come from.

He started off at noting that educational change is a slow process; patience and persistence is required. I'd agree with this and say that perhaps Roger's ideas on Diffusion of Innovations help illustrate the process; we see the Innovators and especially the Early Adopters getting lots of attention for their projects, and generating lots of hype. However to take the innovation mainstream you have to deal with the other 60-70% of people, who are likely to be far less digitally literate. A lot of commitment is required to make change mainstream.

To structure the talk he had 5 questions:

  • Where have we come from?
  • What lessons have we learned?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How might we get there?
To show where we had come from he looked back 10 years to 2004. He noted that at this point we'd reached a stability, with tools and systems that could be used as a sensible base. Some themes noted were the UK eUniversity, the LAMS model was the main one, VLEs had become mainstreamed, e-portfolios being taken seriously, and RLOs has become fashionable. Strategy of the time was demonstrated through the Lisbon Strategy and the DfES's Towards a Unified E-Learning Strategy.

Since then he noted there have been a massive expansion in tools that are being used, and there has been a maturing of the networks of people who work with the technologies for teaching and learning.

To demonstrate where we are now he looked at:
  • Gartner's Hype Cycle to show the technologies that are reaching the Plateau of Productivity
  • The ECAR 2013 and ECAR 2014 studies from the US that show students and staff are becoming more and more familiar with full online courses. Regarding the increased familiarity with online courses, he points out that this suggests that staff aren't actually resistant to change, and that students are using online courses and so feed positive towards them.
  • The SLOAN survey by Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, which found 33% of HE students were taking at least one online course, and that they viewed online learning more positively than students who hadn't taken online courses. 
  • A GALLUP poll which showed that students saw online courses as offering more options and value for money, while being suspect of the quality of instructors and testing, and the likelihood of employers trusting such a degree.
  • The Conversation Prism to demonstrate the large numbers of online tools that people are using in education. He said that we need to measure the use of these tools.
  • The Horizon Report to demonstrate some more developments that are coming into the mainstream, although he thought that the timescales used were over optimistic.
Moving onto MOOCS, he reflected on the fact that MOOCs are marketing much more slickly than traditional courses, which is an interesting thing to consider. Also MOOCs can help us consider how we can scale what we do.

As for where we want to go, he suggests education that is:
  • on-demand
  • self-paced
  • location-flexible
  • relevant to life/career now & in the future
  • global and local
  • personalised to learning place/style/speed
  • affordable
  • high value-added
in a wide range of subjects. This doesn't mention technology, but complex technologies are certainly required to make this happen.

Jeff admitted to having a top down perspective on this when thinking of how to get there, suggesting that we need:
  • renewed vision at policy levels
  • a roadmap of modest but purposeful steps
  • investment
  • agility
  • determination
  • analysis and evidence-base
Edinburgh started looking at this through their Masters courses, with a small number of MOOCs running now. A strategic decision was made to focus on off-campus. By 2020 Jeff expects all students to graduate having taken at least one fully on-line course as part of their core-modules, and expects all staff to have experience of teaching online. He expects about 10,000 off-campus learners, but not huge numbers on MOOCs, rather the courses will be smaller open ones.

How will we get to that place Jeff describes? He suggests to experiment with things, for example things mentioned in the Horizon Report like digital literacies for all, and to experiment with scaling them in mind. How technologies and techniques are to be scaled must be a key output and focus. It would be interesting to have a think about where we do and don't do that, and to what extent.

Finally he spoke about how we need to capture developing technologies, and interweave them with what we offer. These might include real-time translation tools, and tools to enable equality in digital-physical co-presence.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Google Cardboard and Virtual Reality

I took delivery of my Google Cardboard last week. It cost me £20 for the ready to assemble kit and took about 10 minutes to put together.

If you've not heard of Google Cardboard it is just a cheep case that you can put a compatible Android phone into. It allows to use the free Google Cardboard app to experience something approaching virtual reality, and helps if you want to develop for it.

VR is not likely to impact mainstream HE teaching and learning very soon; Gartner's 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies has it down as 5-10 years before it reaches the Plateau of Productivity. Facebook spent $2 billion on the Oculus Rift headset, with Mark Zuckerberg seeing it as a potential platform of tomorrow and there has also been a lot of interest in gaming and virtual world circles about the Oculus Rift.

I've only played with Google Cardboard so far, and not tried to develop apps that use it. Despite the fact that a smartphone screen isn't designed for low-latency VR and will lead to nausea for most people if used for very long, I enjoyed many of the available experiences.

Currently the Google Cardboard app contains several experiments built in:

Tour Guide - This is a tour of the Palace of Versailles. It is a reasonable attempt at making you feel as if you are there, but it obviously doesn’t give the understanding of space and moving through the palace like a 3D representation might.

Exhibit - 3D models - Allows you to look at and around a 3D model but not as if it was at a certain spot. Doesn’t quite feel right.

Windy Day - Cartoon in a 3D environment. I really like how this feels to watch.

Google Earth - Fly through an environment in Google Earth, controlled by the direction in which you are facing. Quite effective, but was one of the more nausea inducing uses for me.

YouTube - Watch a selection of the most popular videos. Feels a little like watching a cinema screen from too close.

Photo Sphere - These can be taken with devices running Android 4.2 or later, or at a higher quality using a professional standard camera and Photoshop. Quite an effective, fun use, and I suppose you could let people experience your 360 degree holiday snaps.

Street Map - Travel through a city and keep stopping to look at it in 360 degrees. This was the most motion sickness inducing use for me.

There are also a few other experiments to see online.

I'm sure it's not anything like using some of the VR headsets that are out there, but it's much more affordable if you just want to experience something approaching VR and spend a little time thinking about potential uses.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Gartner’s Hype Cycles

Gartner’s Hype Cycles are useful tools for informally thinking about new technologies. They helps remind us that mass hype and ‘inflated expectations’, and then the reaction to the hype and dip into the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’, probably occur with every new technology.

As Learning Technologists we want to try and see through the hype to understand if a technology is going to be useful in their context and at what point in time. We also need to share the insight given us by the hype cycle with the academics and managers we work with. If we don’t we will constantly be working with new technologies that are at the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’, whether they are suitable or not, before dumping them in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ for whatever is the next flavour of the month. Perhaps that is a contributing factor to consider when thinking about why few innovations in educational technology go beyond the pilot stage.

The Hype Cycle can also, to some extent, give us an idea of when technologies might be suitable for mainstream adoption and so what is worth exploring in more detail now. On the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2014 we see Speech Recognition and In-Memory Analytics marked as having less that than 2 years before they reach the plateau of productivity. Marked as 2-5 years away include Gesture Control, NFC, and 3D Scanners. 5-10 years away are Autonomous Vehicles and Augmented Reality. Finally the group of technologies more than 10 years from the plateau include Brain-Computer Interfaces and Volumetric and Holographic Displays.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Some Examples of Twitter Use in Higher Education

An academic at Edge Hill University has been asking me about using Twitter with their class. I thought I'd put together a list of just a few of the many examples of how teachers in HE have used Twitter, to act as a starting point for people looking for ideas.

One important thing that we can take from the work that has been done is not to just publish links and expect students to join in. Twitter (and most social media) is of most value when it is being used for primarily social reasons, and the use of Twitter seems most successful when students are required to take part in activities which get them familiar with using the tool for different purposes, and which get the students communicating with each other.

I remember attending sessions at Edge Hill about Graham Roger's work on Discussion Boards. One thing that he had tried to discourage was long monologues from his students, in favour of shorter messages which carried more social value such as those messages asking questions. It strikes me that Twitter's short form messages invite students to take part in these more interactive discussions much more than Discussion Boards do.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Games for Health UK Conference at Coventry - 14th May 2014

On Wednesday 14th May I attended the Games for Health UK conference, held at Coventry University’s Simulation Centre. This was a satellite event linked to Games for Health Europe, which is an organisation based in Amsterdam.

Jurriaan van Rijswijk spoke first, talking about Games for Health’s vision of using games as a way to change education, promoting active learning and behavioural change. As an organisation they want to help games creators in institutions to share their work more widely. He also said that the ‘Games for Health’ book they had published, which contained proceedings from their 3rd annual conference, encouraged people to take the organisation more seriously.

Next, Sebastian Yuen talked about wearable technology and how this can be used to change patient behaviours. He was able to talk about his own experience using Fitbit and talked about the possibilities around using badges.

Charlotte Lambden who is a Research Therapist at Newcastle University spoke about a game that they had developed to help with the rehabilitation of people such as stroke victims. It is called Limbs Alive and encouraged people to perform a range of movements and tasks, helping the patient see their progress.

Paul Canty from Preloaded spoke about a range of games for health. You can explore further on the Games with Purpose and Games for Change websites, but examples were FoldIt, Family of Heroes, The Walk, Dys4ia, Actual Sunlight, and Touch Surgery.

Pamela Kato talked about the future of games for health. She says we need research to help us understand if games work, for whom, when and how. We need quality games, and distribution channels so there are places where people know that they will find high quality games. She also gave advice on making games saying to be precise about what you want when dealing with game development studios, because they cannot do your job as a medical professional or academic. She was keen on people hiring artists to work on the game to make them look better, and including the target group in development at each stage to make sure there is nothing that would prevent that group using the game. Games she mentioned were Re-Mission, and Plan-It Commander.

Jamie MacDonald from Fosse Games shared from his long experience in the Games industry, again pointing out the importance of quality and customer recommendations in making a game a success. He said a key area to look at is innovation. This can be leading in new categories of games, with new audiences, and in using new hardware, but it can also be smaller scale evolutionary innovation within an existing genre.

Finally Adrian Raudaschl spoke about gamification, John Blakely spoke about games to improve the training of Junior Doctors, and Alex Woolner about growing Games for Health UK.

Over all I was impressed by the organisation and its aims. There was a focus on the importance of producing quality games, and on sharing games that have been created. Because of the cost of creating quality games, the reuse and sharing of what has been created seems vital if the use of them is to grow.

It is certainly going to be useful to keep in touch with what is going on in this organisation, to know what sort of educational games are being created and how people are using them in health contexts.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Manchester Distance Learning Network (MaDLeN) Event: Teaching at a distance in the digital age

I attended the MaDLeN event this Wednesday. MaDLeN is an internal group at Manchester University, but they run webinars and events for everyone. It was quite a diverse conference, with people from FE and HE, and about half the 150 attendees from outside Manchester University.

The first talk was by Gary Motteram who talked about his experience of using social media in teaching. All the tools he mentioned are things that most Learning Technologists will be aware of, but he said a few things that might be of interest. He recommended Megan Poore’s book for those new to using social media in education, he talked about how when they used Facebook pages with the students the students had found everything going on in that environment distracting, and he talked about how they still found VLE discussion boards useful – social media tools weren't replacing the use of these. His slides are available.

The next talk was by Learning Technologists, and so is more directly relevant to me. The speakers were Ian Miller (eLearning Manager for the Faculty of Life Sciences) with Ian Hutt (Senior Learning Technologist and Distance Learning Lead for the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and The University of Manchester MOOC Lead). They talked about three tools that are being used widely at Manchester. Firstly Nearpod is being used in the classroom. This is a tool that you can add PowerPoint presentation slides to so that you can add interactions to  it – video, quizzes, diagrams that student can annotate – and students access the presentations on their own devices. The session leader can then share things the students have done with the rest of the class. Quite a lot of work had been done there to check the wireless networks in the classrooms could cope with the loads associated with using NearPod, and they had decided one wireless access point was generally enough for 25 students, although it depends on whether you are using much video and the architecture of the wireless network. Apparently they are also using iSpring a lot, and Softchalk which allows you to add a .ppt file in it too. They created their own presentation slides using HaikuDeck which looked great.

The final session was broadcast from Stony Brook University, USA where Joanne Souza (Lecturer and Director of Biology online) and Paul Bingham (Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology) talked about transforming a F2F course into a blended/hybrid course. They had 570 students on a course and it was difficult to know if their aims were being met in such as large class. They developed online activities on discussion boards with groups of 50 students and asked them to complete activities and take part in discussions to share and develop their understanding of the topics. Graduate teaching assistants would keep an eye on the conversations, and if towards the end of a conversation it wasn’t resolved, or misunderstandings remained, the lecturer would approach the topic in the lecture. They found an improvement in results. Paul says he sees it as a way to teach more students, and that through the social effects of larger groups it is better pedagogy, although they said it didn’t work well with groups smaller than 20 students (which got a laugh as many people are dealing with small numbers of students). They said a team approach worked well for them, with the academics as content specialists and Learning Technologists, and Teaching Assistants involved too.

If you want to follow MaDLeN’s future activity, they are on Twitter, Facebook, and they said to visit Manchester University’s distance learning pages. There are a couple of webinars coming up on Nearpod and iSpring, and their next face to face meet up is in October, on the subject of off-campus student experience. You can book on to these events using Eventbrite.

Update 2/4/14: The organisers have put together a Softchalk based resource with videos and information from the sessions.