I’ve been thinking of ways to include worked examples and hints in Blackboard VLE quizzes. Cognitive Load theory has something called the Worked Example effect, whereby learners who receive direct instruction in the form of worked examples perform better than those who don’t. The reason is attributed to providing novice learners with an approach to solving a problem that they can replicate, thus alleviating the working memory load while solving a problem. There’s some more on worked examples here.
I think the start of my teaching career coincided with the rise of the VLE. Early on, I remember being told about these new learning environments and the array of tools that would help student learning. Encouraged, in the nicest possible way, to upload material and use the institution’s expensive new toy, many lecturers complied and uploaded course materials, support papers, practice questions and so on. In this ideal world, the students couldn’t have had more learning resources at their fingertips. Learning was going to happen.
In reality, this has not been the case. The DRHEA e-learning audit (2009) reveals some disappointing figures across the Dublin region. Students regularly log into their VLE, but mostly access it to access course materials (lecture notes). This makes VLEs a very expensive version of Dropbox or other online repository.
This is also reflected in the UK. In my own subject (chemistry) and in physics, the Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences Centre review of student learning experience showed that e-learning came bottom of the pile when students were asked to say which teaching method was most effective and most enjoyable.
For most lecturers, e-learning is not part of their day to day practice, perhaps because of lack of confidence, probably because of lack of awareness. Mention e-learning, and the discussion quickly moves to whether to use PowerPoint and whether those notes should go online.There may also be subtle fears of replacement – that if learning can happen online, perhaps it can happen without lecturers at all! (Of course, anyone who has taught online knows the truth here!). And as the DRHEA survey shows, if academics engage with the VLE, it tends to be in the form of mimicking what they do in lectures, rather than supporting what is done in lectures.
Institutions, bless them, are concerned with e-learning from a perspective of usage and branding – how does their toy compare with next door. There have also been subtle and not so subtle undertones about how e-learning can provide cost-savings in the future, which is a naive viewpoint. Institutions need to be protected from themselves. If, as a community, we don’t consider valuable uses for incorporating into our practice, institutions will want to fill the vacuum, just as was done previously with pushing content online. Lecture capture, a spectacular waste of tax-payers money, is looming large and is already catching on in the UK. It looks good, makes for good PR and students “love” it. The fact that there is little or no evidence to show that it helps with learning is disregarded. As a community of educators, we should be concerned about this “innovation” being pushed on us [I recommend reading this for a fuller discussion of lecture capture]
Students, well bless them too. Students are clever, articulate, funny and they are our future. But they are also sometimes a bit stupid. Students will always want more – more notes online, more resources, more quizzes, self-study questions, more more and more! In the relaxed days several months before exams, they mean well and plan to engage with all of this material. But all the evidence points to the fact that students rarely engage with the material until it is too late, just before exams. At this stage, they find the nature of the content, often not even re-purposed for an online environment (substitution of what they have rather than supplemental to help them understand what they have), useless for their learning.
Finally, we have my very good friends, the learning development officers, who try various strategies, sometimes against all the odds, to assist lecturers in incorporating e-learning into their teaching. Locally, their help has been of great value to me, but reading about e-learning on blogs and on The Twitter Machine, there is a sense that the ideas and conversations within the learning development community does not reflect what is happening on the ground. There is perhaps a false sense of advancement, buffered from the great unwashed of PowerPoint debaters by early adopters and innovations in the literature. This can lead to a disconnect in language – acronyms, gadgets and tech jargon which results in the lack of confidence among lecturers who may wish to change. The term “learning technologist” does not help, as it immediately imposes a (false) divide between learning and e-learning.
So, what to do? The high participation rates in VLEs indicate that this is a place where learning opportunities can be provided. Students are hungry to engage, if material is there. One of my favourite authors in the literature on e-learning for practitioners is Gilly Salmon (Gill-e-Salmon?). A core component of her approach is for practitioners to ask themselves: “What is the pedagogic rationale for implementing any proposed change?“. I think this is a very powerful position – it speaks in language all perspectives can understand, or at least appreciate (institutions I am looking at you). Lecturers, identifying problems or issues in some teaching practices can consider how to integrate a change, perhaps harnessing technology, into their teaching. Because there is a need; an underlying rationale even; the implementation has a value and a role to play in the module delivery. Lecturers may refer to it, and better still integrate it into their class work. Students are now presented with specific, often bespoke learning materials with specific purpose of supporting their learning at a particular stage of their learning in the module. Instead of just representing lecture information all over again, there is a reason at particular stages in the module, to interact with these reasons – they have a value. Learning development officers can offer their considerable expertise in supporting lecturers in developing the resources, so that they are fit for a purpose. And institutions are happy because students are happy and access statistics look good. In our own work here at DIT, we have enjoyed some success at the micro-level employing this approach – moving away from mass content upload (“shovelware”) towards specific learning resources tailored for and incorporated into specific modules. It takes time and is harder work, but the value of what is produced is greater for all.
In our first week of our Trends in E-Learning module, we’ve been looking at the VLE is dead debate. The seed for discussion was Martin Weller’s blog post (now over two years old) which makes the valid point that there are several independent third party (free) applications out there that address most if not all of the needs a VLE does, and do it a lot better because each individual application is that company’s core business.
I’ve been thinking about my own relationship with VLEs as a practising lecturer, and a student, and as someone who has, if I may say, above average capability in PC and web literacy than your typical academic (as well as boosting my own ego, this is important as I’ll mention later). We’ve had a useful discussion over the week (in our closed VLE discussion board) which has given me the opportunity to hone my thoughts.
It is dead.
I like Martin Weller. He writes with a sense of pragmatism and Feet On The Ground and seems to be both someone who thinks a lot about these things and teaches himself, which gives him an edge over a lot of commentators in my book. The VLE was born from a need to create an online workspace for students, to make files available and to communicate with students effectively (Phillips, Cormier and Styles 2008). In reality, it is in the main two things in my experience: a content repository for lecture notes and supplemental notes and a way of administrating a course through the mail/announcement/discussion board communication tools to students registered on the module. Whether its use as a content repository is a good thing is for another debate, but if this is the main use, why do we need one at all? Lecturers could provide a webpage with links to their presentations. This, coupled with having the email address of all the students means that these two uses are obsolete.
VLEs are closed, walled gardens, with the lecturer as gatekeeper to the information within. What’s in the VLE is therefore considered important, because the lecturer puts it there. There are two points to tease out here. The first is that if the lecturer defines the information the students should know, there is pressure on him (I’m male) to keep that content up there and up to date, making sure a range of issues are covered. He spends a lot of time working through the content of the web picking out information from trusted sites, academic papers and interesting presentations as well as links to core texts and placing it online in a nicely arranged manner so students can come into the garden and pick whatever roses of information they want. But when the student wants to learn some information for themselves, they do not have any experience in sourcing information, checking validity, because sourcing information to them has meant logging in and accessing the file the lecturer sourced. Secondly, it is a moot point whether students access much or any of this information at all, unless it is intrinsically related to assessment. If they need it at a future stage, post-module, they can’t get it because they are no longer allowed into that garden. This has been my own experience as a student in modules I have completed in the past.
The alternative therefore is that information can be placed on a website or referral area to all the resources a module needs. Slides could be posted on slideshare, wiki discussions and class activities on pbworks, screencasts on Screenr.com or using the free monthly allowance of screencast.com, or of course YouTube, podcasts on iTunes, pictures on flickr, discussions on an open discussion forum, assessment on… well that needs fine tuning but Google will come up with something soon I’m sure. Or the whole shebang could be placed on Google sites, Facebook or some of the other giants that are getting a taste of this market. What’s the difference between this and a VLE in the traditional sense? Well in this case, neither access nor content is restricted. This area becomes more of a first referral site – a place to start looking – scaffolding learner’s embrace of the information source that is the internet through the language of tags, ratings and credibility. No need for expensive customary VLEs. An additional advantage for the lecturer is that they don’t have to struggle with the terrible interface of VLEs, instead using the simplicity and beauty of something like WordPress, the mass appeal of Youtube and the versatility of compiling interesting information on Delicious.
It isn’t dead.
But wait! I like James Clay too. Full of useful tips and advice and an Eagerness To Share good practice, he has been the one I have followed that makes most sense about what a VLE actually is, and how it can be used. His podcast #40 is really excellent and I recommend anyone interested in a short synopsis of what they can do with VLEs listen to the second half of it, where he outlines a five stage plan for using a VLE. The message coming out of this is that let’s not get too hung up on what a VLE is, but more what can we do with it. His five stages range from uploading content, resources and assignments, interactivity with feedback, discussion and sharing of thoughts to running a module online.
One of the comments to Martin Weller’s post, above, makes the point argued by Grainne Conole that the VLE walled garden provides for a “trusted brand”. In addition, while I might personally be comfortable of using an array of sites and tools, I know a lot of my colleagues wouldn’t, and it would be difficult at an institutional level to provide any support for the variety of tools and sites each lecturer may individually choose. It might also be difficult for students to know what bit of information is where. The two great practical advantages of the institutional VLE are that the students are added by the institution registration procedure, and the gradebook feature allows for students privacy with respect to individual grades to be protected. To go it alone, this would involve a lot of work on behalf of the individual lecturers at what would be a very busy time of the year. While usage at the moment is probably underwhelming, through progressive staff training and development, staff could be introduced to the “stages” of using a VLE, so that over time the true potential could be realised.
Is it dead or not?
What do we want to use a VLE for? In the end, it is to help students learn. So I suppose it doesn’t really matter what we use as long as we are aiming towards that goal. I don’t like the walled garden nature of a VLE. Practically and psychologically, it reinforces an objectivist approach in assuming the lecturer has all the knowledge and students will absorb it all from the VLE. But I do like the structure a VLE can provide, and as a student I like this too – knowing I can go to a particular place to find resources on a topic. The ID and gradebook features are also beneficial.
When I was a student, I worked as a gardener in a beautiful 19th century garden. The main section was the Radial Garden, a walled, with very formal layout of beds and highly manicured lawns. As you walked through this section, you passed through a gate into a less formal, although still structured section and then through a third set of gates, passing through the wall into the Pleasure Grounds, which was a beautiful informal grounds with specimen trees that seemed to go on for ever. The difference between the Radial Garden and the Pleasure Grounds was stark, with the middle section acting as a transition. Both extremes were equally beautiful, equally of interest to gardeners. Perhaps this is a method of introducing material to learners online. Provide them with the structure and formality of a formal VLE setting, but as the module progresses, let the students go and explore. Let them outside and report back what they find useful, Build in this knowledge into the course structure, incorporating their thoughts and your feedback, so that content knowledge is developed in a shared way. It sounds Utopian, but I think there is something there for consideration.
Lawrie Phipps, Dave Cormier, and Mark Stiles (2008) Reflecting on the virtual learning systems – extinction or evolution?, Educational Developments, 9.2.
Since coming across Articulate a few months ago, I’ve made quite a few presentations and loaded them onto our VLE. But a new project on developing open access resources meant that I needed to host the videos myself. This entry explains how I took my Articulate presentation and loaded it up onto a site I set up. In particular (it took me two days to do what should have been a 5 minute job!), I highlight the pitfalls I came across and how I got around them.
The good news is that once you have everything set up, it should take less than five minutes from publishing Articulate to being live online.
Outcomes of Website hosting section:
You will have WordPress installed on your site
You will have a redirect ready to set up so that domain.com will redirect to domain.com/wordpress
You will have your site FTP details
I love WordPress and have recently started using WordPress.org to mange a website. My service provider, Blacknight, facilitates automatic installation of WordPress, so I can avoid WordPress’ scary-looking “Famous Five Minute Install”. I installed automatically, and selected a theme, and hey presto, my new site was live. Some issues:
My website was “http://www.domain.com/” When WordPress is installed, it chooses a URL like “www.domain.com/wordpress”. But I’m greedy and I wanted my WordPress site to come up when I typed just the domain name, without the WordPress. I’ve done this before with another site, just changed the URL in the service provider control panel to “/”. This works, but boy it causes problems!!
The main problem is that this is fine if you are just going to be using the very nice WordPress site admin to upload pictures, etc. But because Articulate presentations involve lots of files and folders, you need to upload them all to the domain server and then link to them from your WordPress site admin page editing. Changing the url to “/” to match with the domain name causes lots of problems. This is a lesson I have learned and will never forget.
Keep the URL as “http://www.domain.com/wordpress” or whatever you want the “wordpress” bit to be.
To make a redirect to upload later, open Notepad and type in the following (replacing “wordpress” with whatever you decide, then save as “index.php” on your desktop (“index.php” may be different on your host – see below).
Below, we are going to upload this index.php file to the server, and this will redirect domain.com to domain.com/wordpress
To move the articulate files from your computer to the host server, you need to ftp them. To do this, you need to get the ftp address. In Blacknight, this is in the Webspace > Website configuration. Note the FTP address (something like 12.34.456.78), the log in and password.
My problem here was that I host two websites on my domain hosting package, and the Webspace was set to the other site. Therefore I was moving files onto my server, putting in what I thought was the correct address in my web browser and getting “File not found”. I hate File not found”!! 22 emails between me and Blacknight later, it turned out that I was uploading files to the wrong webspace. This won’t be a problem if you just have one domain on your server host, but if not, check that you have the right webspace selected. In Blacknight user cp, this is found in Webspace > Webspaces (oh it’s SOOO easy when you know how!!). Get the FTP address as described above and the login and password.
Outcomes of Articulate Presentation section:
You will have your articulate presentation (Web output) published
You will learn the wise ways and use .swf and not .flv
Make your articulate presentation. Publish it for Web delivery. It’s that easy!
In mine, I had embedded videos in my presentation which I made in Camtasia Studio. Because I wanted to upload these to Youtube at a later date, I published them as .flv files. But when I got to the end and put everything on my website, it turned out the my service provider didn’t like .fly (something to do with MIME error, don’t know and don’t care), so I reproduced my videos as .swf format (using very handy batch publish on Camtasia) and republished my Ariculate with these.
David Masterson (Twitter = @elearning), a very helpful Articulatually knowledgable person, pointed me to a nice workaround if you were stuck with .flv files. This is to upload them to Youtube and embed web object: you embed a link “www.youtube.com/v/xyz” where “xyz” is the Youtube video extension, the bit that comes after the “watch?v=” in a Youtube URL- see presentation below for details. This works nicely, although does assume that you are willing/able to upload any and all videos to Youtube. I could have also inserted a web object and linked to hosted .swf files on the server.
Add Articulate Presentation to Your Web Host and Go!
Outcomes of this section:
Set up redirect page
Upload your content to the website
Link through your WP Admin Page Editor
The last thing to do is to upload your redirect page (just have to do this once) and your Articulate presentation. I used Cuteftp, which has a 30 day trial. The Articulate FTP option that comes up at the end of publishing didn’t work for me, maybe I made an error. I used the connection wizard in Cuteftp and entered in the details for my site (remembering the point about webspaces above). Once this comes up, you use it like Windows explorer.
To test out your FTP prowess, remember the index.php file you saved earlier? In the left hand pane of cute ftp, navigate to your desktop. in the right hand pane navigate to your root folder, so you are in your domain window. You will see an index file here – this is index.php for my domain host, it might be different for yours (e.g. index.html) – whatever it is this is what you should save your Notepad file, above, as. Drag and drop the index.php file from your desktop to the server domain.
The CuteFTP window, I have navigated to my root folder of my domain to find my index.php file
You can test if this works by typing in your URL: www.domain.com – it should redirect immediately to www.domain.com/wordpress, or whatever you set the URL redirect to be in the code above. If it doesn’t you need to retrace your steps. Check very carefully that you have this index file in the root folder of your host server.
Once you have confirmed you are in the correct folder, you are on the home straight:
Navigate in the left hand window of cuteftp to where you have your articulate projects saved. Click and drag on the folder you want to copy across (the one that contains the player.html and all the other files) and drag it to the domain window on the right hand side of cute ftp – or copy and paste if you prefer. (You can make a sub-folder if you like to be organised).
Navigate to the folder and note down the path to the file player.html. In my case below, it would be: www.mathsforchemistry.info/DMCsimultaneousequations/player.html – this is the link you will be embedding into WordPress.
Picture of Cuteftp where I have navigated to the file on my host server I want to link in WordPress
You can now leave the world of ftp behind and move into your WP-admin, by logging into that. (Usually http://domain.com/wordpress/wp-login.php). Create a new post (or page) and put in your jargon. Now you want to insert the link. In my page, I screenshot a page from my presentation (using PixClip) and made that the link. Publish and bask in the reflective glory of your new articulate online presentation!!
One final little trick:
When I had done all this, it looks great. The only issue is that the webpage or tab title is that of the articulate presentation. If you called it something sensible, then this is OK, but it is possible to change it to whatever you want:
Find the player.html file in the my articulate projects folder of whatever presentation you are looking at,
Right-click on player.html and open with Notepad.
Scroll down a few lines – you will see “<Title> gobbledygook </Title>”
Delete the Gobbledygook and put in whatever you want there. In mine I entered:
Simultaneous Equations for Chemical Analysis | Dr Michael Seery
Save this and upload just this player file to the folder with this articulate project using cuteftp.
You can see the results of all my labours at my website – click on the image!
Looking at things to make the loading of the presentation snazzier – an embedded presentation which expands on clicking. Watch this space!