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email is dead, long live Web 2.0

You wouldn’t necessarily know it was a wiki either, rather it is a shared document held online with secure access by a group of people collaborating on a complex project.

The roles are well-defined, as clear as those on a film production team (with similar titles):

  • Senior Production Manager
  • Production Manger
  • Learning Design
  • Designer
  • Developer

and so on

New to an e-learning office I find I am permanently online adding to a massive, collaborative wiki which is the e-learning course with its plethora of inputs.

Email rarely comes into it, why should it?

Wikis are lean production, they operate ‘just in time’ with each cell responsible for picking up their task as it best suits them.

The Open University provide an OU Student Blog platform, which you are required to use for some modules to build up reflective practice, they also provide a portfolio called MyStuff in which to dump stuff.

As portfolios either system can be used to aggregate content that can be shared, offered with restricted access or kept private.

I have been on the Masters in Open & Distance Education (MAODE) for two years, we have to give blogs, portfolios, wikis and other tools a go.

The interesting thing is to see how it plays out in practice during these MAODE modules.

I can cite failures as well as extraordinary successes.

Like learning to do anything new people/teams need to accept that at first they are getting into the sandpit to play.

Letting go of inhibition is tricky, academics in particular find it very hard to touch the words of another person.

The trick, I find, is to think of myself as a writing team, that the words that appear as text might just as well be a conversation around a meeting room table. Over time the ‘script’ will be bounced around.

Some tricks:

  • A wiki needs to be ‘populated’ with some text, ‘seeded’ by someone just so that there are some ingredients to get started on.
  • Don’t fuss about spelling, grammar or even the accuracy of ideas that you present. Indeed, the rougher the initial input, even the presence of easy to fix mistakes, the more likely someone will dip their toe in the water and fix the obvious. The polished whole should be the product of the group enterprise.
  • The magic isn’t the finished result, but the ability with current tools to trace back and forth through the ‘narrative’ of changes. In Google Docs you can contribute using different colour text which makes this ‘animation’ all the more easy to read. I found I got a fantastic sense of the thinking process, the logical changes, the ebb and flow, the occasional false trail corrected.

Have a go in Wikipedia

I was surprised how easily I signed in as an editor, found I subject I knew something about and jumped in with text and images. This felt like the first time I swam in a 50m pool.

My conclusion, shared amongst fellow students, is that the ‘modern’ blog platform, such as WordPress offers all of this, as in a wonderfully simple, bulletin board kind of way the OU’s own blog offering.

Six categories of eportfolio:

1) Assessment – used to demonstrate achievement against some criteria.

2) Presentation – used to evidence learning in a persuasive way, often relate to professional qualifications

3) Learning – used to document, guide and advance learning over time

4) Personal development – related to professional development and employment

5) Multiple owner– allow more than one person to participate in development of content

6) Working – combine previous types, with one or more eportfolios and also a wider archive.

Three kinds of e-portfolio (Matt Villano):

  • Developmental
  • Reflective
  • Representational

(A note on blogging. Spurred to say something about wikis based on my current experience in an international e-learning business with 70+ offices around the world I refer to the OU Student Blog I have kept since February 2010. Amongst its 1000+ pages there are 23 tags to wiki, or I can search ‘wiki’ in the blog. This reaches out to any notes I have taken during the FOUR modules I have thus far completed, where wikis, amongst many Web 2.0 tools are carefully introduced and discussed at length drawing on academic papers, the course content, input from out tutor, my student group and from the student cohort on this module who contribute to the vibrant asynchronous conversations in the various social learning environments offered).

Email is a snowball fight, a wiki is a snowman … I guess a blog is an ice-sculpture

Fig. 1. A massive snowball fight

I’m taking copious notes from Collaborative Learning in a Wiki Environment: Experiences from a software engineering course. Minocha and Thomas (2007)

I made this note at the bottom of the third page:

  • Email = snowball fight
  • Wiki = building a snow man.
  • Blog= ice-sculpture

What do you think?

Requires a cold climate. I like any metaphor to do with working online to the water cycle … oceans, currents, clouds, precipitation and so on. Why not snowballs and showmen?

I’ll share my notes in due course. I consider this to be a significant paper for H800, indeed for the Masters in Open and Distance Education.

I does a great deal more than study wiki best practice, its strengths and weaknesses, blogs get a look in (a wiki, and an e-portfolio are after all variations of the same thing).


Putting Personal Development Planning (pdp) at the centre of things

I had an interview in London that by fortuitous timing ties directly into the H808 ECA (end of course assessment) that I have to complete and upload in the next 13 hours. What is more, every part of the MA in Open in Distance Education with the OU would have some application to the role for which I’d applied. Personal Development Planning (PDP), the subject of the ECA, would be important too, indeed it is a vital component of ‘learner-driven’ or ‘learner-centred’ education. Successful, engaged, pumping PDP is at the heart of e-learning – people must be motivated to take the initiative, to drive their learning while others support them in every way they can with appropriate resources, many of which will be ‘electronically enabled,’ i.e. ‘e-learning’.

I have a draft of the ECA written, the choices of evidence have been made, collated and labelled.

I’ve already uploaded a draft so feel confident that the ETA system will handle whatever else I do.

I had the file, rather more chunky printed out and clipped into an Arch-Lever Folder than on a memory stick or zipped on the laptop so that I could review it on the train journey in and out of London. I like paper; things need to be expressed in other ways that via a QWERTY keyboard. It helps to talk, to discuss, to animate your thoughts with your hands even … as we shall see.

On the way into town I find myself sitting with a friend who is 18 months into the Creative Writing course at Sussex University and was having a second interview with a literary agent; our respective career paths were shared. He is a professional photographer who has an online resource of stock photos targeted at UK Councils. I don’t look at the ECA.

The interview, like so much I now do, is duly reflected upon, though for reasons of privacy not here as an open blog. This debrief, this self-assessment, served a dual purpose, at the front of my mind, of course, is the possible outcome and responses to the interview. And notes on how and where I felt it went well, or not so well, for future reference and to judge what improvements I might make when attending such interviews in future and how to compose my written thanks when I reply.

I recognise the purpose and value of reflection and make the time to do so

At the back of my mind, of course, as we talk, is the ECA.

Coming to the end of the interview process I felt compelled to share this sketch to add conviction to my belief that Personal Development Planning is ‘at the heart of things’.

I did this earlier today to get a handle on how in one shot I now see PDP, not as a self-contained ‘do it and move on unit’ at the start of a course, but at the heart of what you do: at the beginning, the end, everything in between … and beyond. (And yes, you should hear Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) saying it!).

It was somewhat evangelical of me, but I feel passionate about it. I believe it as a consequence of my own personal experience and from others who take this approach.

Reflection with a second person can help; it is natural that my wife would take an interest in the day’s events. This is invaluable, and is a form a assessment. However, where I find I become increasingly animated regarding PDP is that I felt I still hadn’t got it right, that had I seen myself in that meeting what was I doing with my hands? What else was I trying to express? Sometimes recording an interview to look over it afterwards has advantages. You need to be winkling away to find ideas and inspiration.

I’d mentioned life-long learning, that PDP can benefit both your career, how you organise a hobby, even family life.

And then I remembered this:

My interpretation, visualised, of what life-long means from H807.

The problem I have with my sketch of ‘PDP at the heart of things’ is that it loops back on itself, there is no suggestion of improvement, of advancement.

I toss around further ideas like a board game, the PDP process being, for example, what happens every time you ‘Pass Go’ in Monopoly. Then I imagined climbing up a helter-skelter, or fairy-lights around a tree. I thought too about Kolb’s cycle of development … and then, as I was standing up waving my hands about I got it … a great analogy would be of a glider catching a thermal and rising in a series of circles.

‘A load of hot air.’ My wife remarked, laughing.

And yes, I could imagine giving a presentation and a heckler saying exactly that – so I’d have to have a reply prepared. (Be prepared for anything)

With this in mind I set to work.

Earlier this week I threatened to photograph myself standing next to the family washing-line with my evidence pegged out. This is how I said I would make my choices and write the assignment. As it was raining instead I got a roll of wall-paper backing paper and stuck it to the bedroom wall with masking tape; I would draw my washing line. I have just taken this down and taped it vertically.

At the bottom I draw this.

Then I go for this.

JFV PDP Cycle as thermalJFV PDP Cycle thermal close up

In a live presentation I would draw this from scratch on the largest sheet I could find, talking my way through it, seeking input, offering explanations.

As a video-asset I would lock off an overhead camera and draw it onto a sheet of A3 paper, possibly over a lightbox, and then use EFX to speed it up. I would then add a voice over.

There are many other ways to play with it to varying degrees of simplicity (authenticity) or elaboration. Not least by using stock footage of a glider or Condor or some such catching a thermal with labels tagged onto the video archive footage as it played out. Indeed, going from the basic sketch it might be better still to invite course participants to create their own expression of this PDP as an ascending cycle – say playfully spinning around in front of camera with a balsa-wood model glider with the person’s name on it! Fun is good. Originality is good. personalization is good. This makes it memorable without needing it as an APP or an electronic alert.

The conclusion I find as convincing as the process.

The process here includes reflection, blogging, collaboration … and could in due course include video, podcasting, presentation and moderation.

As I was able with ease to add every aspect of H808 onto this simple diagram I felt I had reached an important point, not least vindicating my methodology that might look as if it is depends on technology, but does not. Often the route to get an idea from the mind into the public domain is via face-to-face discourse, a few movements of the arms, then reaching for pen and paper.

This diagram can be draw it up differently depending on the context.

This implied versatility suggests it effectiveness.

PDP as indicated here suggests a set period to repeat or revisit the process … this ought to be expressed to occur every quarter, rather than after every cycle as suggested here with loops that might represent a typical OU unit of two weeks and the activities one engages with along the way.

A productive day then.

This is the e-century, the 21st century things are different, very different indeed.

This is the e-century, the 21st century things are different, very different indeed.It has taken me a decade to get round to thinking this.

In 1999 one of my very first blogs was also the basis of a workshop I gave to ABB Communications Managers on ‘How to write for the web.’

My title was, ‘There’s nothing’s New about New Media.’

In one respect I was right, writing comes in many forms and writing online needs to tailor itself less to the online experience than to the space, time, audience, purpose, just as you would write each of the following in a different way:

• Letter to your mum.

• Christmas Shopping list.

• Footnote to a speech a colleague is giving.

• To camera presenter.

• Voice over presenter.

• Technical ‘how to’.

• Writer’s journal.

• Stream of consciousness on the state of your relationship.

• Dream analysis.

• Geography essay.

• Agitated response to the local planning department who are knocking down the houses opposite to widen the road into a dual-carriageway.

• Threaded discussion on a pop stars dress-sense.

• Notes to a lawyer regarding your step-mother’s claim on your late father’s estate.

  • Notes from a report you’ve read.
  • The first draft of an essay your are writing.
  • The transcript of a council meeting.
  • A short story.
  • An obituary.
  • A commercial selling yoghurt drinks
  • A campaign message from a politician

Keep adding.

Parameters help.

is a writer’s trick. Twitter shouldn’t be the only place to deny the freedom to pontificate in this way without any intention of editing.

Though I’ve slipped up occasionally my rule in OU Land has been 250 words for a threaded discussion, 500 words in the blog and anything more either break the blog up into separate entries, offer it as an attachment or link away to a different site.

1000 words min per entry was a rule some of use early bloggers agreed to in 2002 to cut out those who would put in a line, twenty times a day, to get their page numbers up.

My longest single entry ran to over 10,000 words, written as I travelled 800 miles by train and ferry across Southern England, the English Channel and France 🙁

Guaranteed to stop any reader on the second paragraph.

Though it works broken into 30 pages with illustrations.

So in this respect it worked, all I posted was an early draft. Had I been a co-author I would not have needed to do anything else. And my notes would have been better off in a wiki.

Put everything that has been written, and everything that is going to be written, or expressed in the spoken or written word and put it in the e-blender. This is the web for the first decade. Now add photos and music. This is the last decade. Now add everything else, all moving images, video, every film, every corporate training film, anything and everything anyone ever records, or films, or has transferred or will transfer from film, or tape to a digital format.

Put it in this blender and leave the lid off. If you’ve ever blended the partially cooked ingredients for leek and potato soup you know what is going to happen.

Now look around your kitchen.

This is the web for the insider’s point of view. There’ll be some tastey bits – stuck to the ceiling, if you can reach them.

Now do the same with a vast blender in the middle of the Albert Hall.


Or should I be kinder, and imagine the 21st web to be like visiting the Planetarium armed with my own laser so that I can interact.

The mind boggles; mine does, relentlessly.

What’s the difference between an e-portfolio, a wiki and a blog?

Rather than feeling that I am entering the blog domain to write this I ought to be able to syndicate/allocate or aggregate this as or after I have wrote it by clicking on one of three buttons:

Traffic Light painted on ArtPad




At my behest I am therefore deciding that this is a moment to be shared (but not tampered with), evidence or information that I wish to store/collate (ideally by themes of my choosing), and/or a chunk of information (or offering) as wiki content (initiated or an edit insert).

Simplified and disingenuous, but a starting point.

And on reflection, perhaps, how good learning works: it starts with simple ideas that can be grasped and works outwards. E-learning doesn’t simply work outwards though, it spreads in directions of the learner’s choosing (ideally), like fractals, like a mind-map, as a result of, enabled and speeded up through myelination.

Were I writing a video script on eportfolios, wiki and blogs this might be how I begin, either animating this or going out and filming various traffic lights. I may paint this with water-paints onto laminate card and drop it into an aquarium and film it. My enduring analogy being that whatever we do online are but zeros and ones in a digital ocean, all programming does is remove the chaos and worthlessness of trillions of unconnected binary numbers.

Perhaps I’ve just convinced myself too of the value of Open Source.

And this is only the first idea of the morning. Something must have been breing in my sleep.

Though yet to do justice here to the Opinion piece in the New Scientist something struck me about  the Cover Story on epigenetic changes and their relevance to evolution.


Q. What is Myelin?

A. Myelin is a phospholipid layer that surrounds only the axons of many neurons. The main role of a myelin layer (or sheath) is an increase in the speed at which impulses pass along the myelinated fiber. Demyelination is the act of demyelinating, or the loss of the myelin sheath insulating the nerves, and is the cause of some neurodegenerative autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, transverse myelitis, Alexander’s disease, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Guillain-Barré Syndrome and central pontine myelinosis. Here is a link to a website that tells more about it:

Wiki, blog, e-portfolio …

An OU Blog, Wiki, Forum and E-portfolio should fit like four pieces of lego. They should not only look and feel part of the same family, but their functionality should be very closely matched. In this way, operating to the strengths of each, improved engagement by students would result.

New media, old thinking …

Courtesy of Google and on the hunt for a quote that goes something along the lines of ‘analogies taught the world to think,’ I stumbled across the Quote Garden.

What strikes me is my feeling that the time engaged with the medium of the Internet is not a boast that it is wise to make, that it is counter-intuitive, that the best ideas are more likely to come from someone who got access to a computer with a broadband connection for the first time a few months ago and is bouncing out ideas like a sparkling Catherine-wheel that’s come un-nailed.

Wherein lies the dilemma for every creative working in this field – or pond, or my favourite analogy … in this ‘digital ocean.’

If the likes of Google and Facebook have gone from minnows to sharks, to leviathans worthy of the era of the dinosaurs, when does something new come along like a water-born virus and kill them off?

Or are Google, Facebook, Amazon an eBay vast shoals, even a branded variety of species now that are less vulnerable to such attack?


Faced with three deadlines over the next ten days what do I do? Something else.

I like something else, these sparks.

Where was I?

Working on a piece about wikis. I wish this were a wiki. I like them. They suit me. I will be an engaged participant, a catalyst, a stirrer-upper … though not necessarily an initiator or completer, because serendipity engages me and distraction takes me off again.

What does that make me in this digital ocean?

One of these?

Who are you?

Go fishing and post your fishy-self image in the comment box!

Reflection on e-learning


Coding (Photo credit: Omer van Kloeten)

  • Something happened.

I don’t like the way text is sometimes displayed here. Simple HTML coding. I may have prepared notes in word that I paste here and find large gaps between headings and paragraphs. Hardly a coding nightmare but I resist any attempt to drill into the code because it reminds me of the barrier I hit in 1999 or 2000 creating web pages in Dreamweaver.

  • What happened?

On reaching a barrier rather than seeking a way beyond it, I may give up. A little disingenuous that, I started a producer job in a web agency where coding was done by programmers and there was an IT guy who made sure the computers sang. Code was not my domain. Nor was IT.

  • So what?

Fine in an office, but of yo and your wife work from home you cannot keep hiring in the ‘Lewes Computer Guy’ when something goes wrong. Time was I felt on top of some of the basic fixes, so when did it all become too much? Time was you could lift the bonnet of a car and see the problem, now you need to plug in a laptop and run through the diagnostics.

  • Now what?

Though it hardly makes me tech savvy I am opening up the HTML codes on these pages and deleting lines creating breaks between paragraphs. The patterns are surprisingly easy to spot. Immediately I’m taken back to lines of colour coded commands. My way to differentiate the code.

My wife said I’m the kind of guy who thinks they can run a marathon on day one having done little exercise. She has a point. My impatience can be my later undoing. When I aim too far, or too high and fail I may give up. I may make excuses that ‘this isn’t me and do something else. The answer is to take things in gradual, incremental stages.

  • Conclusion

Is this reflection? Do I need to show ‘my workings?’ How hard can this be to translate into the H808 reflection tasks relating to course wikis and e-portfolios?

On this basis, like it or not, I can tackle a new platform or piece of software from scratch. If I want to be an ‘e-learning professional’ taking command of a variety of tools for my sake, and for that of my clients and/or students, will be crucial.

It also matters that I have in my mental tool-box a simple method of self-analysis that serves its purpose for the MA ODE and its modules, and becomes second nature.

  • Something happened.
  • What happened?
  • So what!
  • Now what?
  • Conclusion.

Collaboration in e-learning with a team divided across three continents

Of the six or seven in the group only four have made their presence known, while three have done all the reading which is meant to be shared across the group. People seem to think it is  easier to get on with the task alone, rather than expect others (strangers) to do their bit.

Whether and when we should populate our Wiki wasn’t decided, or was … and then someone started posting anyway. I then added something and so did another.

Sharing notes with anyone fails, either they are too busy or not reading their emails. In any case, they should be making their own.

A few hours in the dead of night were spent refreshing our Group Wiki to cut out duplications and to create some order in the information.

It matters that you don’t feel coy; whatever you do can be undone and is visible in any case. I liken this to building a snowman,though instead of a family and neighbours in the park together, we are inclined to do a bit more in passing.

I then posted data from two further reports, BECTA and the JISC reports.

The skills you need as an e-learning practitioner

The skills you need as an e-learning practitioner

Training as a TV producer I picked up some skills editing, writing and directing. A project was never too small that a person fulfilling each of these tasks wasn’t required. Indeed, the ‘one man band’ was frowned upon. Some TV crews were still unionised so you had a cameraman, assistant and sound engineer, minimum. Today in TV production a producer may not only direct and write, but operate the camera and edit the piece. To be a TV professional in 2010 you need this variety of skills. I do. I did the courses. Camera, editing … even six months as a sound engineer.

To be an e-learning professional it strikes me that as well as research, design and planning skills, with a healthy foundation from an appropriate course that takes in learning history, theory and practice, that you will also need more that just a modicum of IT skills. IT literacy is a given, but further familiarity, even a confident working knowledge of a variety of 21st century e-learning tools and platforms will be necessary, as well as that 20th century skilling of touch typing.
I have that.
With this in mind I am tackling some software that I have to date resisted. I managed without Outlook, now I’m using it through-out the day. I hadn’t moved away from my original blogging platform of 1999, so have in the last two months started three new blogs in three different places, as well as continuing with the OU blog. I wanted to feel confident I know what these are doing. I signed into Facebook a few years ago but have let it pass me by.
It may feel like the exclusive domain of my children, nephews and nieces, but I am now determined to master it, instead of it having control of me.
And finally, though I have grown familiar with MyStuff and have mine well stuffed … I must decide on a second e-portfolio system to embrace. I want to try one, two at most. I’d like to run with Filemaker Pro as I’m familiar with it, but there is a cost and it won’t be of any use to others who don’t have it installed.
Time to look at the Tutor Group Wiki.


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