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E-Learning I, II & III – the Picasa Albums of the MA ODE

Fig.1. E-Learning I covers FIVE modules of the Open University Masters in Open and Distance Education

E-Learning I – MAODE Modules, include innovation in e-learning, professional practices, open learning and ‘creativity, innovation and change’.

E-Learning II Research Practices in use of technology in learning

E-Learning III The Networked Practitioner

Google offers a myriad of ways to share content, whether images or words, from galleries to entire conversations. with circles and hangouts. Unwittingly I’ve been part of their ‘game’ since the outset, an early adopter of Picasa having migrated from Flickr. I’ve not invited much in the way of sharing though I now have over 175 ‘albums’ some of which contain a thousand images (the album max). Many of these albums are closed, or linked only to key family members or friends as they contain family snaps or holiday pictures. Some now contain an archive of deceased relatives (a grandfather, father and mother no less). Others are concept boards or scrapbooks, not just of OU work, far from it … but a place where these snippets of ideas and moments will be for decades while the hardware changes or breaks down, or hard copies, albums and scrapbooks, get lost, or damaged (or both).

I have THREE e-learning album galleries of screengrabs and photos, graphic mash-ups and such like spanning the three years and nine months I’ve been on the MA ODE.

This current E-learning III album is taking everything from H818. It is in every respect an OpenStudio platform – if I chose to share its contents then people may, with various copyright permissions (creative commons) use and re-use the content – though plenty of it I grab as a personal aide memoir and is therefore of copyrighted material.

The value of these becomes greater over time – it is a short hand back into a topic, and in time, indicative of how swiftly things are moving. These platforms are leaking out into formal learning contexts; there could be a  tipping point, where someone or something happens that galvanises massive interest, say the ‘Stephen Fry’ personality of Twitter, or the Arab Spring of Twitter where J K Rowling or Tracey Emin open their galleries to the world. Meanwhile, without meaning to be unnecessarily derogatory, OpenStudio is the ‘sheep pen’ while Picasa Web Galleries or Google Galleries are the ‘market’ – the sheep pen is closed and local, while the market is global, open, virtual, connected and online.

City Stories: city guides for the Web 2.0 empowered

Fig.1. CityStories for mobile

City Stories are files of content, like popdcasts with text and audio, with images and video, linked to a map that spots each ‘talk’ and tracks your position.

Fig.2. Where the walking starts and ends

Reading about this online and taking a look is one thing. Going to London to walk the talk is another experience entirely. The immediate and obvious point is the context. You aren’t looking or listening to this content at a desk at home, but on the move. I get my bearings at a Patisiere Valerie in Holborn then head down the road to Queen’s Square and a hub of hospitals that have been growing up here for centuries.

Fig.3. Where’s the value in information that already exists?

There’s no longer any excuse to get lost in London? And not more call for a GPS tracker?

Fig. 4. Where am I?

I put on headphones and become another pedestrian lost to the world, though probably taking more interest in my local surroundings than most. 

Fig.5. Queen Square Gardens

I start in Queen Square Gardens. I find the audio guide somewhat eclectic though. It is sponsored by the Wellcome Foundation and has a medical theme, but the narrator sweaps up random historical tidbits from far and wide – we go from the first houses and first hospital in the square, with quotes from letters or diaries and then it is mentioned that a Zeplin dropped a bomb in the square during the First World War and that people sheltered below the square in a shelter during the Second.

Fig. 6 Where a Zepllin dropped its bomb on 8th September 1915

It harmed no one, though it left its mark.

And this commenced my search for this plaque to the Zeplin bomb, which I finally located, under dust and leaves and barely legible having by now found so much more that I wanted information on that this audio guide didn’t provide. Of the 32 garden benches in the square only one does not have a dedication on it: most are to residents, some I would understand were treated in one of the several hospitals around the square, as well as memorials to former consultants, doctors and nurses. Poignantly, one to a person mudered in the London bombings. 

Fig.7. One of the more poignant of some 28+ plaques commemorating those with a connection to the square – this is where ‘pinned’ augmented media can tell a story.

These are many interesting human stories here, non of which are explored. 

Fig.8. Another local resident remembered

Such this memorial to a cat, as well as assorted other memorials, few of which explain themselves and none of which are mentioned in this audio tour.

It’s as if the guide was written without actually standing in the square, looking around and as a radio broadcaster would do, give some colour and background to what you can see as you turn on the spot, or follow the path around the square. To miss something out is to say something, just as it says something to put it in.

My interest and disappointment here is that I thought there would be a set of QR codes around a trial of 3 miles and at each one I’d call up the link to information that would, if I looked around me, would inform me of what I was seeing and what is going on behind the scenes. It could offer a soundscape of a different era. Memorable insights. Something to encourage me to start a journey, to want to find out more. I didn’t. I expected more on the Great Ormond Street Chidlren’s hospital but got less than I’d get from a quick Google to Wikipedia or YouTube. It did take me to Thomas Corram’s Foundling Hospital

Fig. 9. Thomas Corram’s Founding Hospital Museum 

CONCLUSION

The opportunity to create highly relevant, engaging, memorable, award-winning mobile learning exists. The above was created using the open software from WordPress. The research needs to go beyond the obvious, beyond the everyday guidebook or wikipedia. You need to knock on a few doors, get some local colour, hear from people who live in the square … or lived in the square. And if you want to do a ‘drama reconstruction’ then get the investment for a proper soundscape, actor(s) and script. Leaving questions unanswered is fine – it is easier enough to research further.

Most fundamentally, who is your audience for this?

There are three kinds of people in this part of London: UCL students, patients and visitors to the many hospitals and those working in the hospitals and universities. Many will have a smartphone. IF they know what a QR code is then I’d expected to see this placed in opportune spots like miniature versions of those blue plaques you find on houses.

Fig. 9 Plaques today, engraved QR codes of NFCs tomorrow?

Isn’t Google running something with Google Maps where you can pin content, audio and video, to a GPS location?

Google GPS navigation

20130821-065324.jpg

For two days we get caught out by and even lost on the freeways around San Diego – our car hire company did not provide Sat Nav and there are no road maps to speak of – I bought two. They lacked detail and didn’t even show Ocean Beach where we were staying. Resistance to localising our Sim cards and we try the new Google Maps GPS system. A wonder. We nickname the British voice ‘Simon’ as in ‘Simon Says …’ Unlike the human navigator or back-seat driver he is extraordinarly patient if you insist on going the wrong way. Overnight we develop a dependency which ensures that more than one phone is charged, a battery-block is charged too and we even buy a bluetooth linked portable speaker.

Our week in Sausalito becomes an adventure as we drive ‘like natives’ from one end of the county to the other … and beyond. Farfrom being slaves to the technology it frees us.

We marvel at the precision navigation – for the most part. We are ‘rescued’ several times from what I would call Freeway Purgatory – finding no way off the freeway and losing any sense of direction. We trust it rather than my gut to take us everywhere. So far the only foible has been the choice of exit from Golden Gate North to Sausalito as ‘Simon’s’ choice is to drop down the steepest most windy road to our accommodation rather than taking the longer, and more appropriate main road in.

It is a Beta version. Whilst a sense of fun has me dreaming up all kinds of variations to the character and tone of the voice, and its granularity my only additional requirement is for the occassional prompt during a long stretch to say we are doing OK.

Of course, losing the signal or a dead phone is now a bind. So far I will take screen grabs and yesterday with the phone about to die I took photos of the route and directions which my daughter then read out as we set off – necessary as even getting from one side of a freeway to the other may require what feels like an odd choice of route, not over or under, but along and back.

Walking a trail in Muir Woods, when we had a signal, I could, within reason keep on track. Not accurate enough to allow me to close my eyes, but one day could this support the blind? Could we turn ‘Simon’ into an educator as well as a guide? Do we want some or any journey ‘annotated?’

Life is not a game and we are more than merely players

The act of playing chess, and the process of thinking it through is the joy and the learning.

What will be the point as or once all the answers are online?

Where we let algorithms and the Web provide the answers?

Does this mean that anyone can be a doctor so long as they have a smartphone in their pocket and a good connection?

Knowledge acquired is how learning occurs.

The learning process is necessary in order for the brain to make sense of it (or to make nonsense of it)

The key is in the memory making.

We learn, each of us, in a unique way.

Less so because of when or where we were born,

But because we were made this way.

‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’.

Our DNA is unique and the brain it constructs also.

Not hard considering ….

  • There are some 98 billion neurons in there.
  • And every neuron has some 10,000 connections.

It is this mass of interconnections that makes us both ridiculous and smart,

Able to think in metaphors, provide insight, solve problems, conform, deform and inform.

And fall in and out of love.

Enthusiasms bubble up like farts in the wind.

Is life  like a game of chess?

Are we  its players and pieces whether we like it or not?

It is surely the sense of participation and control that makes life worth living?

Which suggests that absolute machine power – Google-eyed algorithms – could be no better than prison.

Life is not a game,

And we are more than merely players.

There is no need to strut and fret our hour upon the stage.

Unless …

It is a story we tell, defined by our actions and responses,

A rollercoaster of our own making.

There is no need for noise and tension, where we can be cool in war and love.

 

What is the point in playing chess if you let a computer give you the answers and all you do is move the pieces?

The act of playing chess, and the process of thinking it through is the joy and the learning.

  • What will be the point as or once all the answers are online?
  • Where we let algorithms and the Web provide the answers?

Does this mean that anyone can be a doctor so long as they have a smartphone in their pocket and a good connection?

Knowledge acquired is how learning occurs.

  • The learning process is necessary in order for the brain to make sense of it (or not)
  • And we do so, each of us, in an utterly unique way.
  • Less so because of when or where we were born,
  • But because we were made this way.

‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’.

Our DNA is unique and the brain it constructs also.

Not hard considering considering:

  • There are some 98 billion neurons in there.
  • And every neuron has some 10,000 connections.

It is this mass of interconnections that makes us both ridiculous and smart,

Able to think in metaphors, provide insight, solve problems, conform, deform and inform.

And fall in and out of love.

Enthusiasms bubble up like farts in the wind.

Life is like a game of chess

We are its players and pieces whether we like it or not.

It is the sense of participation and control that makes life worth living.

Which suggests that absolute machine power – Google-eyed algorithms could be no better than prison.

Life is not a game though

And we are more than merely players.

There is no need to strut and fret our hour upon the stage.

Unless …

It is a story we tell, defined by our actions and responses

A rollercoaster of our own making.

There is no need for noise and tension,

where we can be cool in war and love.

 

The communismization of knowledge and Open Educational Resources

Fig.1. I like spirals. Thirty years ago this was just a photo. For me it is an expression of what learning looks like. (I think this is St.John’s College, Boat House – or is it Balliol?)

At the base are the undergraduates, the first years, as you climb the steps you find the second and third years, then the middle common room the MA and D.Phil students while at the top are the lecturers, senior lecturers and professors.

And when you die they raise a flag.

In 1983 (or was in 1982?) this was the epitome of ‘closed learning’ – the Oxford College boat house.

Not so much ‘dreaming spires’ as ‘dreaming spirals’.

  • It was a privilege, but like many of these I’ve been either in denial or trying to shake them off for the best part of 25 years.
  • ‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’ (Jacques Prevert)
  • And there’s no going back.

I was up at 4.03am. Back to bed at 6.15am. Then up again 20 minutes ago.

  • My body was tired, my head continued to buzz.

Regarding ‘Open Learn’  what’s all this fretting about process for?

Have we all forgotten the purpose of research????

Not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’

Why? Why? Why?

We are seeking answers, not trying to construct a bridge across the English Channel with chopsticks and bendy-straws.

Not to get the process right, but to get answers to problems, to find better ways, to understand and share what is going on so that we can act, or not act on it?

Sometimes I read an academic paper and it is all about the process.

Too often I write an assignment and it has to be written to be marked – not to generate ideas. In fact, my finest few hours, a total End of Module Assignment rewrite was a disaster for a set of marks but is my theory and philosophy of what learning is. It was the culmination of months of work, years even. Expressed somewhere like the School of Communication Arts I would have had the attention of eyes and ears.

Fig.2. Submitted as the hypothesis for an End of Module Assignment the grade was catastrophic – it is of the module, but the examiners didn’t have a grid filled with the appropriate crumbs that would permit them to ‘tick the boxes’. (I did submit more than the image, 6ft high and drawn on a sheet of backing wallpaper).

Creativity doesn’t fair well in a process driven system, either in research or in marking assignments.

This isn’t an excuse regarding a grade or the need and value of process drive, guideline controlled, parameter set research, but rather a cry for some ‘free thinking’ the ‘parcours’ of mental agility and expression.

Fig.3 The cliffs below Roche de Mio, La Plagne

There is value in going off piste.

It isn’t even the democratisation of education and knowledge either, it is the Tim Berners-Lee rather than the Google approach to knowledge – i.e. give it away for free.

It  is ‘communismization’ – which is a word, however horrible it sounds, I just looked it up.

This moves me onto dwelling on Creative Commons.

If the idea of openness is to give it away for free what is the reward for the author? Recognition as the author. However, I get the feeling that unless it is published some readers think they can help themselves to the ideas and words of others and claim them as their own.

There will always be theft, but as children aren’t we told that for someone to copy your ideas is a compliment?

We need to behave like the children we still are.

But does even that matter in an open society – theft of intellectual property I mean?

If the spreading of the word is all important should any of us give a fig?

If we have a roof over our heads, food and water, electricity to charge the iPad, the BBC  … a health service like the NHS what more can we want?

  • Better schools.
  • Better roads.
  • Better weather.

‘Peace on earth and good will to humankind’.

A better word needs to be found for what is meant by ‘communismization’.

Is is just ‘communization’?

  • Is it simply ‘open’?!
  • ‘Open’ might do.
  • Free
  • Open

As the air we breathe …

P.S. I worked the season in Val d’Isere in my gap year and returned a decade later and stayed in La Plagne from December to May researching a book and a couple of documentaries for Oxford Scientific Films. None saw the light of day, though after several weeks thinking about it I came down that cliff face. I made a big mistake by slowing down at the edge and nearly didn’t have enough distance to clear the rocks. I no longer have a death wish. And it wasn’t even fun. It focused the mind though. In fact, the best way to stop yourself thinking about other stuff is to take such risks. Racing Fireballs in the English Channel has its appeal  – I  have a tendency to end up in the spinnaker or under the hull though.

Learning in extremis

Fig.1. Three years later

“Emergency Home Birth!” my wife exclaimed pointing at a book on pregnancy and childbirth.

My wife went into labour at 2.30am, we’d planned a home birth (this is her second) however our hospital was some 37 miles away and our allocated Midwife was another 20 miles beyond that.

I got her on the phone and she spoke to my wife between contractions – she wouldn’t make it.

‘Call an ambulance and I’ll be over in due course’, she said.

Chapter Six, ‘Emergency Home Birth’ looked like it needed half an hour to read and at least as long  again to digest; there wasn’t time.

Thankfully om the facing page of Chapter Six the editor had laid out the essentials in clear bullet points – towels, scissors and string are the ones I remember, probably because I required all three, these and the warning that the umbilical cord can get caught around the baby’s throat. I needed that too.

Just in time learning, delivered just in time.

And so it was, at around 3.20am, my wife on floor holding onto the  the end of the bed, towels in place that our son was born.

First his head, the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his throat. I eased this over his chin and around his head, surprised at how thick and tough it was – then one,the both shoulders and he fell into my arms like a muddy rugby ball out of a scrum. My wife rolled around and sitting at the end of the bed she took him into her arms.

A few minutes later the midwife arrived, thought everything was going well and went to run a bath. In due course she showed me how to cut the umbilical cord then took my wife to the bathroom.

Learning in extremis?

In my day job I was supporting the teaching of such techniques at the logistics and distribution group UGC in Oxford.

I didn’t need a book, or a training video and given this was 1996 I wasn’t going to have Google, Quora or YouTube offer some advice.

I’ve had no further need for these particular parenting skills, though it’s been an adventure following two infants through childhood into their early teens.

Learning works best when it is pushed, when there is a challenge of time and circumstances, where it can be applied and seen to work.

How do we apply this to formal education, to studying for exams through secondary and tertiary education?

What is the difference with learning in the workforce, between physical actions on a factory floor, in a mine, power station or warehouse, out on a civil engineering building site or in an office or boardroom?

There need to be exams – from mocks to annual exams and finals.
Essays and regualr assignments are part of this best practice.
And how about tests, even the surprise test, not so much for the result, but for the pressure that ought to help fix some learning in our plastic, fickle minds?

In advertising we often spoke of ‘testing  to destruction’ that nothing beats a clear demonstration of the products power, staying power or effectiveness in memorably extreme conditions.

I like the idea of working Against the clock, of competition too, even learning taken place, as I have heard, as someone cycles around Europe, or drives a Russian Jeep from Kazakstan back to Britain.

I believe in the view that ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ – that you can galvanise a group to rally round when needed and those new to this game will pick up a great deal in the process; personally I loved the ‘all-nighters’ we did in our teens breaking one set then building another in the Newcastle Playhouse, some sense of which I repeated professionally on late night and all night shoots, often in ‘extreme’ places.

 

Someone who correctly sensed what was coming in 2004 might be a person to ask what is due in 2013/1014

In this paper from Grainne Conole she says (writing in 2003, published 2004) that wireless, smart and wifi will have a huge impact … prescient. Can you remember how little of what we now take for granted was around in 2004? I was probably using a Psion and a bog-standard phone. 

‘Technologies do have great potential to offer education, however this is a complex multifaceted area; we need rigorous research if we are going to unpick the hype and gain a genuine understanding of how technologies can be used effectively’. (Conole. p.2 2004)

  • Pedagogical
  • Technical
  • Organisational

‘Academics working in this area need to demonstrate that the research is methodologically rigorous, building appropriately on existing knowledge and theories from feeder disciplines and feeding into policy and practice’. (Conole, 2004)

  • effective models for implementation
  • mechanism for embedding the understanding gained from learning theory into design
  • guidelines and good practice
  • literacy needs of tutors and students
  • the nature and development of online communities
  • different forms of communications and collaboration
  • the impact of gaming
  • cultural differences in the use of online courses

‘much of the current research is criticised for being too anecdotal, lacking theoretical underpinning’ (Mitchell, 2000)

This is what you find in the press, newspapers and magazine always go for the anecdotal and sensationalist view of what technology may do. Has technology yet brought the world to an end? I guess the atomic bomb has always, legitimately, been more scary than other technologies although I dare so there are those who say Google will bring about the end of the world.

‘A more detailed critique of the methodological issues of e-learning research and its epistemological underpinnings are discussed elsewhere’. (Olive and Conle, 2004)

  • A better understanding of the benefits and limitations of different methods.
  • More triangulation of results.

What people are looking for:

  • potential efficiency gains and cost effectiveness
  • evidence-based practice with comparison of the benefits of new technologies over existing teaching and learning methods
  • How technologies can be used to improve the student learning experience.

No surprises that in business use of e-learning is benchmarked with cost and outcomes closely followed – are we improving and saving at the same time? Typically travel and accommodation costs are saved where people don’t have to be away from work and learning times can be cut without loss of information retention on the compliance like stuff – health and safety, data protection, equity in the workplace and basic induction (or as American companies call it ‘on boarding’ which sounds to me like something you do with guests on a cruise liner – or is them embarking)

How do we capture experience in a way that we build it back into design and implementation. (Point 8 of 12 p.8 Conole 2004)

What are the inherent affordances of different technologies? (Conole. p. 8 2004)

‘Only time will tell’. (Conole. p. 17, 2004)

Or as I would say, ‘on verra’.

I am doing the classic ‘expand and contract’ of problem solving – the problem is finding an area of research I can believe in and sustain for four years. Though for H809 all I need is a title of a research paper. I still would prefer to be narrowing down the areas that interest me:

  • memory
  • virtual worlds
  • blogging
  • spaced education (see memory)
  • lifelogging / sensecam (see memory)
  • Artificial Intelligence (learning companion … see memory?)

Whilst the research question ought to come first, I hope that Activity Theory will have a role to play too.

REFERENCE

Conole, G (2004) E-learning the hype and the reality

Oliver, M. and Conole, G. (2004) Methodology and e-learning. ELRC research paper. No. 4

 

 

Things I wished I’d known when I started the MAODE three years ago (I’ve finished, I’m doing H809 as CPD – already!)

A thorough introduction to the platform and tools as a common 16 hours to all modules.

An afternoon, face-to-face tutorial? Through OU Students regionally if not with your tutor. Perhaps through Alumni support groups in Google Hang outs or some such?

This may sound like anathema to the online, distance learning purists, but I wonder if the OU will have to ‘turn itself inside out’ and have undergrads on campus – not just postgrad doctoral students. As ‘traditional’ universities offer everything the OU and a handful of other distance learning specialists around the world used to have as ‘unique selling points’ they will be able to offer it all: e-learning support for resident students, e-learning for distance learners and blended learning for everyone in between.

Turn the Michael Young building into the OU’s first Hall of residence.

If I go into academia I will want to teach even if my ‘job’ is research. I can think of no better way, intellectually, to master (literally) my art and subject than by supporting others. Knowing some star ‘educators’ in other institutions I wonder if tutors would gain also from greater contact. The weekly tutorial (at a price) is feasible through Google Hangouts.

I digress:

H809, understandably is a module to take once you have several modules under your belt, however, H809 light, say these first couple of weeks, might be an invaluable, even open and free ‘stand alone’. I would have scrutinised more closely, fewer papers had I known what I know now.

These first few weeks has been applied learning – using the OU Library not simply as an exercise. Invaluable.

(p.s. cats were fighting in the street. I got up to survey the aftermath and couldn’t get back to sleep. Why not catch up on H809 as a few postings from fellow students suggests I am getting a tad behind this week).

Don’t get behind. The ‘tick boxes’ on the VLE ‘ladder’ are a blunt instrument. Every exercise deserves a ‘tick box’ too, though I understand why the OU wouldn’t do this – it starts to smack of primary school. It really is the case (like exercise), that a a couple of hours every day is better than trying to do it all at the weekend, or worse, abandoning it for a week/10 days because catching up is a monster. If this happens seriously think about abandoning that week – keep up with everyone else first as learning with them is better than learning alone.

Isolation is a state of mind, or a behavioral issue. The sooner you learn to tip the contents of your mind out on your lap the better. Learning together is a joy.

Make time to get your head into gear in the first few weeks. If you have to give it more time than the course notes suggest put in the extra hours so that you ‘get it’ otherwise you will struggle all the way through. You can’t do much about is as an EMA approaches if you’re still asking ‘but ?’ about weeks 1-3.

There is no need to print anything off! Get an iPad and a Kindle. Get your digital literacy skills up to speed ASAP.

Write it all down. The default button in this OU Blog is private. Use it as a learning journal, portfolio, digital notebook, aide memoire.

Take the initiative. Meet online in week one. Buddy up, agree a time. Nothing beats meeting your fellow travellers. Google Hangouts work. The nuttiest one I remember was a ‘Pyjamma party’ – all above board and ‘propper’ but given the time differences some were in bed and woke up for it. I guess it requires the ‘hyper gregarious’ character in the group to do this.

Don’t get distracted:

Most don’t blog at all … it should fit in to the regular programme.

Contribute to student forums always, even use RSS feeds but get used to putting the next activity first otherwise you can expend too much of the week’s allocated hours discussing the first couple of activities. Enough is enough. Get the other activities out of the way then come back.

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