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Marco Koene

E-learning.

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Guest ChristineS

Earlier Pauline suggested it could be difficult for a non-British reader to fully understand the terminology. I would like to say as a British teacher I can’t! That is because I am only just slowly being introduced to e-learning and am not yet even sure what it is.

I guess it would be tedious for experienced e-teachers to add a little glossary to posts which would – briefly, please – explain the terms they use and the environments/resources they are discussing? Marco referred to an EUN community too.

Why is blackboard being spelt with a capital letter? Is it not the traditional, ordinary blackboard and chalk? What is WebCT?

I now think I vaguely understand the term ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ thanks to the information David and Dan offered. It doesn’t sound that useful for the effort it requires.

If we want to learn e-learning techniques that could be useful and which may be blended (nice expression: blended learning), surely we could learn a lot from places like NZ and Australia who are developing e-learning environments at Primary level to support pupils and an adult educational supervisor who may be on-site with pupils and parents, working under supervision with a distance teacher?

Does my habit of setting up a simple forum using Hotmail’s free facilities for my A level students count as e-learning? We use it to support classroom learning and their independent study through on-line discussions, sharing work and resources with each other, posting homeworks and putting up worksheets etc for them to access at home - some functions of which I am hoping to move to the school website when it is extended this year.

Pauline – it is by no means given that British students have access to computers to support their learning. In our 11-18 school the ratio of students to computers looks excellent – but the computers are all in constant use by the ICT and Business Studies Departments, and we only actually have one suite of 30 computers and the occasional use of another 20 or so for the remaining students (1600 in our school) to use per lesson! It takes weeks to get a class into the bookable computer room!

Indeed, only a third of teachers even have their own computer in their teaching room and less than that have a projector installed (although that is slowly being changed).

We will be getting a new building in a few years and one of the options under discussion is that instead of building and equipping bookable computer suites, we buy every child a laptop which may be used in any room since each could be built with the relevant facilities. Now that is genuinely exciting.

I am well pleased with some of the sites being suggested here as they look as if they will give me ideas and open my eager but untaught eyes to what might be done by a motivated teacher who has a simple projector attached to a web-accessed laptop, such as I have recently acquired! Nice one!

I am really looking forward to John’s later information on how students can be producers too. Do flag it up very clearly so I can find it, John! I have recently had my appetite wetted by seeing an OU site for English teaching which created multi-media resources, but also had students create them. It can be found here It may or may not be what you mean, but I am very curious as to how the children can produce relevant materials as it seems an excellent learning technique.

Now I am off to read the sites suggested here more thoroughly.

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I am really looking forward to John’s later information on how students can be producers too.  Do flag it up very clearly so I can find it, John!  I have recently had my appetite wetted by seeing an OU site for English teaching which created multi-media resources, but also had students create them.  It can be found here  It may or may not be what you mean, but I am very curious as to how the children can produce relevant materials as it seems an excellent learning technique.

I have posted two articles about this at:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=170

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=169

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A few comments about learning, e-learning, schooling and life.

I recently decided to take up photography. I found a great website, DP Review which is basically some guy in London who reviews digital cameras and built some discussion forums for discussing cameras, technique, computers in their relation to "digital darkrooms" etc. Well, since Jan. 1999 these forum have had (and I'm taking this off the website now... 222,504,066 posts. Talk about a learning community this discussion board must be receiving 100s of posts an hour on all kinds of topics 24 hours a day every day. Now here's something interesting. If you go in and start wading through some of the posts, and if you know anything about the topic, you'll see that there's a wide range of contributors from people who haven't a clue what they're saying but say it quite emphatically to people who are arrogant and obnoxious to people who give highly technical information to people who are kind and supportive to people who actually answer a question and more. And the dear reader is left to sort through this and make sense of it.

Now what I find interesting about this is that its a great place to learn quickly and its a great place to pick up lots of mis-information.

In fact, this is the general problem faced in the 21st century. The real problems we face today are not of the nature of ... what is the definition of bit or byte or e-learning... the real problems we face today are which camera should I buy at least as a metaphor for... how do we stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and waste, how to have a meaningful life, how to manage our environment while satisfying our desire to have an easier life which lasts longer, how to end injustice and inequity when the money spent on buying iPods will keep half the world's population free of malaria if the money was otherwise spent, who is right, Kilroy or Osama bin Ladin and how do we prove it to people who feel the opposite, etc (I'm sure you know the litany). In other words, the problems in real life we face are how to make sense of a chaotic and confusing amount of conflicting facts and no clearly discernable ways forward.

I sometimes enjoy watching CNBC, a cable channel here in the UK (and elsewhere) which has lots of interviews with CEOs and top-line management. I always hear the same things. They want creative, independent, self motivated work forces where people are able to take initiative and yet be good team members, where people have to know how to play their role and yet have the courage to speak up when things are going wrong and where people move from position to position because more important than being specialists (a 1940's need) they want people who can innovate and think outside of the box. Lastly, they need people who can sift through a mountain of information, separate what's relevant from what's less relevant and out of a maelstrom of competing factoids, ask insightful questions and develop meaningful answers.

Does this sound like the kind of people we're educating in our classrooms? I think not. Our model of education lies somewhere between the factory system for mass production popular in the 18th century and the tutorial system reserved for wealthy elite prior to mass education. Sure I believe in studying the classics. Of course I believe you have to crawl before you walk. But take them out of the context of human life and all you have is a boring assembly line designed to march people through a system which favours some personality types and disadvantages others.

I taught 10 year olds when I first started teaching. At some point the school I worked for encouraged me to take students back-packing and on wilderness trips including hiking and canoeing. It really taught me something. Many of the compliant young girls and boys who were so likeable in the classroom, who always did their homework, who had nice readable handwritings and knew how to write a good essay were suddenly hot and sweaty and kept saying... "Are we there yet" and "I'm hot" and "ooooh, there's a bug" etc. And some of the kids who were a real pain in the class, frequently boys who were hyper and couldn't sit still, couldn't spell well and didn't do their homework, these same boys were gently pointing at plants and naming them, were gathering wood for our evening fires, would set up the tents in no time in the pouring rain, etc. OK forget the political incorrectness of some of the characterisations, my point is that ...school is not real life...

Someone earlier in this forum mentioned that they saw e-learning as a bunch of kids who sat at home in front of a flickering computer screen with no social interaction. Sorry, but that's not the only option for e-learning and its a limited view of its potential. In fact, if there's any system which keeps us from developing good social skills its the walk in two lines, sit quietly in class, walk quietly in the halls 4 walled buildings called schools. Freed from the tyranny of the box, we could develop all sorts of paradigms for learning, socialisation, social responsiblity, caring, etc.

What elearning can do is help break down the walls of schools which as Ivan Illich posited is the enemy of learning. Schooling in a box formalises knowledge in a way which makes it something to master rather than a tool for living. Currricula have their place but to my mind they have become the point instead of a tool to help in the education of an individual to face the world they live in.

Far from e-learning being kids sitting in front of a computer turning sallow from lack of sunlight, the computer should be freeing us from the tyranny of the box, letting us work and learn in a multifasceted way which includes formal lessons, real work experience, mandatory service to greater society, helping others, working in teams to solve undefined problems, etc.

No longer relying on local resources, students can work with various teachers throughout their days even teachers who don't live geographically near them but who are doing teaching on something that is important to them just as I learned a massive amount about photography from Photo.net one of the greatest learning resources for photography.

Sound too idealistic to you? Are you thinking... yeah, sure, Eric, you must have had some unique kids because the kids in my school are bored, unmotivated, disrespectful, and only care about sex, drugs and rock and roll. IMHO these are the real effects of the factory model of education and this is where e-learning comes in.

With tongue only partially in cheek I would love to see the government sell off all school buildings in the major cities for development into trendy flats. What a windfall of profit we would have. Plus the environmental benefits and traffic flow benefits of removing the whole set of problems centering around the school traffic phenomenon. Instead, I'd take that money from selling off the schools and not having to build ever more roads and put it into a series of programmes of local computer centres staffed by subject specialists supported by university students and local parents for more formal learning, then find activity centres which would be hubs out of which students would work on socially relevant tasks like helping old people do their shopping, keeping the environment free of trash and litter, working in hospitals, etc.

If you're not familiar with the successes of the home schooling movement you may find all of this fanciful but it is possible to have another type of learning system which is more structured towards the individual, which better prepares students for the kinds of skills needed for the 21st century rather than the 18th century. And maybe one result of such a system change is that when people leave formal education they wouldn't be so keen to stay away from learning, being susceptable to easy manipulation by tabloid newspapers and entertaining themselves to death sitting on sofas while downing massive amounts of bad food while the world around them falls apart.

end rant ;-)

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I sometimes enjoy watching CNBC, a cable channel here in the UK (and elsewhere) which has lots of interviews with CEOs and top-line management. I always hear the same things. They want creative, independent, self motivated work forces where people are able to take initiative and yet be good team members, where people have to know how to play their role and yet have the courage to speak up when things are going wrong and where people move from position to position because more important than being specialists (a 1940's need) they want people who can innovate and think outside of the box. Lastly, they need people who can sift through a mountain of information, separate what's relevant from what's less relevant and out of a maelstrom of competing factoids, ask insightful questions and develop meaningful answers.

I think you will find the concept of natural learning very interesting!

The Education Forum -> Educational Issues -> Debates in Education-> natural learning

Please let me know what you think!

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I guess it would be tedious for experienced e-teachers to add a little glossary to posts which would – briefly, please – explain the terms they use and the environments/resources they are discussing? Marco referred to an EUN community too.

Sorry you are right! :D

So here it comes:

EUN= European Schoolnet

The community option is a way for teachers etc to work together in a public or open structure. it is free for all to use and set up your own. However it sometimes lacks in speed etc.

Options you have

- a newssection for members to post news

- a bulletin board

- community email

- chat

- a forum

- possibility of having a file archive etc.

In theory a good system however it is hard to find on the internet...at least for some of my members :D

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Guest ChristineS

kiiquu, you seem to me to be asking the age old question: why are we teaching people and what do we expect from that education?

It seems to me that idealism is what keeps many of us in teaching and makes us good teachers. However, we have to be pragmatic. In the system into which most of the societies in this world are organised we find ourselves justifying education as yet one more market force. Put simply, if society by consensus agrees to pay for education for everyone, then 'society' expects some return for its investment: usually in the way of 'citizens' who conform and are useful to society. Of course, most of us in our societies feel it would be unfair to have an education system that does only that; that services industry for instance, so there is a strong strand of education for life in our educational systems. There is always tension between the two.

It is probably the 'education for life' strand which attracts most teachers to the job, but we inevitably find ourselves jiggling our desire to help youngsters develop their full potential as thinking human beings with the 'service' aspects of the job; the need to help them get on in the society in which they live by passing examinations and developing the sort of skills we are told they ought to have.

e-learning certainly has the potential to open education up to much of what you suggest, but will it be used to do so? I doubt it.

I remember reading much sci-fi in the sixties which predicted e-learning. In those days there was a strong feeling that technology would free people up; give them more leisure time and the capability to be fully realised human beings. That hasn't happened either, at least not as fully as was expected.

I don't mean to be gloomy. I do believe very strongly that without what you have called idealism, but which others might call hope, or even just plain high expectations, we would not strive to make what we have to do as worthwhile and as enriching as it is!

Hopefully e-learning will be an enriching experience because of the hard work, enthusiasm and thought that the teachers who are developing it in practice now are putting into it, in spite of the fact that schools will continue to have walls for a good deal while yet.

Thank you Marco for your explanation of EUN. :D

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I suppose I use Virtual Learning Environments quite a lot. I've written about our experience on the E-Learning Initiative part of this forum too.

Basically VLEs *claim* to give pupils and teachers the same kinds of access to each other and to course material as they get in the class. My own assessment is that we're quite a way from that at the moment.

Most VLEs have some kind of chat function (where everyone talks to everyone); some kind of whiteboard (where everyone can 'place' web pages, documents, etc and draw things on it); and some kind of private chat (where individuals can talk - or 'whisper' - to each other). Users can sometimes create their own course pages (sometimes this requires the services of programming experts), and many VLEs have very sophisticated tools for tracking how much individuals use the systems and how often they look at particular pages. There are also often more or less crude ways of constructing tests and recording results. There's often a heavy emphasis on multiple-choice, since a) the Americans go for this in a big way, and they're the biggest market; and :unsure: computers can handle multiple-choice test much more easily than most of the other kinds.

How well and quickly they work depends on the amount of bandwidth you have available, and on the quality and level of sophistication of the equipment you have at each end.

The effectiveness as learning aids and the usefulness to the teacher depend quite a lot on the teachers (and others) who put content into the VLEs. The norm, in my experience, is that VLEs are bought by IT Departments, with very little input from end users. Subsequently, only the enthusiasts use them … and even they give up after a while!

IT technicians seem to think that the Windows 'tree structure' is a smart way of organising information … which is my explanation for why the 'navigation' structures of so many VLEs look the way they do.

I'll put up another post in a while talking about what I've done with VLEs.

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So … on to my personal experience of VLEs.

A confession to start off with … I gave up on the type of VLE with loads of different functions a couple of years ago! The problem I had with them has very little to do with the specific functions of specific VLEs - in my view they all more or less as good, or bad as each other. It was more a question of how they fitted in to the organisations I was working for and in to my philosophy of learning.

To give you an example: the university where I work bought a Swedish system called Learngate about 18 months ago. To create pages on Learngate, you need the services of expert programmers, since everything is controlled by scripts. The result of this is that it's very difficult to avoid the 'standard' design the programmers have decided on … which is fine if you like it. I don't, so I don't use it. It's very difficult to convince IT people that standardisation in the appearance of course materials is often counter-productive. My students need to feel that they're in an environment that I've created.

Our Learngate system has also spawned a work group for the production of Learngate courses. However, they haven't realised that the production of on-line courses is a dynamic process - it's not a question of producing a shrink-wrapped 'product' which can be kept unchanged for a couple of years.

I used to use a really nice Irish VLE, called TopClass … but they don't make it any more …

Nowadays I use two systems: open web pages (our portal page is at: http://www.humsam.hik.se/distans/index.htm), and a desktop video conference system from a company called Marratech (http://www.marratech.com).

The great advantage of open web pages is that my students don't need user names and passwords. This not only removes a great source of worry and irritation at the beginning of a term, but it also means that my students' first contact with the web site is an inviting 'welcome', instead of an impersonal 'enter your password'.

There are some downsides, of course. It's more difficult to maintain copyright, for example, and to break other people's copyright, by using their material without permission. However, the nature of on-line material is that it changes all the time. You can't set it in stone, so it matters less if other people borrow it.

On-line courses for me are also collaborations between lots of different forms of interaction. If you look at some of our on-line courses via the portal page, you would find it very difficult to get a clear picture of what goes on, since a lot of the interaction is student-student, teacher-student and Internet tutor-student.

As you can guess, I'm a distance teacher, so a lot of the advantages of on-line work for me perhaps don't apply to 'campus-based' teaching. I'll post another message in a minute with a few thoughts about why on-line material is good in itself.

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Has anyone experience in using an electronic whiteboard in class?

Electronic whiteboards are used extensively in the teaching of Modern Foreign Languages. We have sections on electronic whiteboards in Module 1.3 and Module 1.4 at the ICT4LT website: http://www.ict4lt.org

Here are some relevant links taken from Module 1.4:

Further information on interactive whiteboards

Walker R. (2003) "Interactive whiteboards in the MFL classroom", TELL&CALL 3, 3: 14-16. Available at:

http://www.e-lisa.at/magazine/tellcall/03_03.asp

Promethean: http://www.promethean.co.uk

Smart Technologies: http://www.smarttech.com

Mimio: http://www.mimio.com

Greenwhich LEA: A useful article entitled "Interactive whiteboards - a luxury too far?": http://www.g2fl.greenwich.gov.uk/temp/whiteboards

Leicestershire Comenius Centre: http://www.leics-comenius.org.uk. Click on IT & MFL on the homepage. This will take you to section containing ideas on using interactive whiteboards, plus a case study.

The Comenius Centre at Trinity and All Saints College, Leeds, maintains a website offering free resources for use with PowerPoint and interactive whiteboards - plus other free resources:

http://www.tasc.ac.uk/depart/comenius/free.../powerpoint.htm

See the index page at:

http://www.tasc.ac.uk/depart/comenius/free...urces/index.htm

REvIEW Project: Research and Evaluation of Interactive interactive whiteboards, University of Hull in collaboration with Promethean: http://www.thereviewproject.org. Supported by NESTA FutureLab: http://www.nestafuturelab.org

Usable Software Company: Develops and sells interactive whiteboard software, including software for Modern Foreign Languages: http://www.usablesoftwarecompany.com

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David Richardson writes:

It's very difficult to convince IT people that standardisation in the appearance of course materials is often counter-productive. My students need to feel that they're in an environment that I've created.

This is one of the major problems associated with VLEs. Around one year ago I went to a presentation of a new VLE designed for secondary schools in a region of the UK. It was a typical one-size-fits-all application. As a modern linguist, I asked the presenter to let us see the French materials designed for A-Level students. In terms of functionality they were about as advanced as the programs that I was writing in the mid/late 1980s. I asked about the facilities for playing back and recording sound – e.g. so that students could hear a native speaker’s voice and respond to it in some way, recording and playing back their own voice to see how they sounded – a useful activity that we have used since the advent of the AAC tape recorder in the 1960s. “Oh,” the presenter said, “we haven’t incorporated that facility into the system. It’s a bit difficult.”

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So … why use on-line material at all. I was having a discussion with some avid First Class users a few years ago about web-based materials and I mentioned the advantage that you could show pictures easily. The immediate response was "but why would you want to have pictures in teaching materials?"

Advantage no 1 is therefore that you can easily make material in colour available to your students.

I've just been sitting making sound files this morning, whilst the plumber is here at home. If you go to this page

http://www.humsam.hik.se/distans/existstud...ish110index.htm

and click on the Phonetics Exercises links on the left, you'll see what I've been up to.

Advantage no 2 is that you can make things available to your students that either can't be printed on paper, or would cost the earth to find as commercial products.

The last link on the left on the portal page is entitled Novish. It's an exercise from a book that's now out of print. I programmed it in Flash, which took me a while to learn (by painstakingly going through the tutorials that came with the programme). I'm not a programmer by any definition of the term, but this one works for me. I'm working on a series of reading comprehension exercises using Flash too at the moment, where I'm taking the basic programming I did for the Novish exercise and just repeated it.

If you compare my Novish exercise with the one in the paperback book, mine works better, because I don't have to keep writing "don't look at the answers until you've had a go at the exercise".

I suppose this is a variant of Advantage no 2, but perhaps it's a separate advantage in its own right.

How many more advantages can you think of?

BTW, I've used electronic whiteboards in class - they're a great way of showing people web sites, for example.

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The last link on the left on the portal page is entitled Novish. It's an exercise from a book that's now out of print. I programmed it in Flash, which took me a while to learn (by painstakingly going through the tutorials that came with the programme). I'm not a programmer by any definition of the term, but this one works for me. I'm working on a series of reading comprehension exercises using Flash too at the moment, where I'm taking the basic programming I did for the Novish exercise and just repeated it.

This sounds interesting, but I couldn't locate that link. Could you post it again?

Edit: I found it now -sorry - bottom left link from here: http://www.humsam.hik.se/distans/index.htm

I've tried to do similar things and have found Flash a really good tool as you can develop some quite complex things using simple programming. It may well be just asking a little too much of 'regular teachers' to become competent Flash users in order to provide effective e-Learning.

However, I fully understand what you are saying. What the use of Flash - and the Internet in general - has taught me is there are very few barriers to prevent teachers publishing materials. Such materials can be as good and normally more specifically useful for our own students that commercially produced materials.

I find my main barrier to progress is time! The great thing about Flash is that the potential is unlimited - really open and dynamic materials can be produced.

Edited by Andrew Field

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Yes, I remember it taking me a long time to do my first Flash animation. I'd broken my leg, and I was laid up with my PowerBook, so I had the time to, finally, read the manual and do the tutorials. The biggest problem wasn't the actual programming, which is fairly straightforward. It was more getting my head around how Flash animations are supposed to work (I still can't claim to be entirely there).

The very first one I did was a vocabulary exercise about packing terms (crate, bale, barrel, etc) for Business Writing students. A colleague made some line drawings, which we scanned in, and then I created a series of 'pages' where students could guess, then get the right answer, then get a further 'page' with a lot of extra information (such as that bales are often used for soft, bulky materials, like wool and waste paper).

Then we adapted an old Mario Rinvolucri activity: a maze about a hijack, also from a book that's gone out of print (at least as far as I can tell). This time there are a series of decisions to be made (do you negotiate, or appeal to the head of another government, or stonewall, etc?) on each 'page'. Depending on what you answer, you get a whole other series of decisions.

Another adaptation of this particular piece of programming is the Writing the Date exercise that's somewhere in the Business Writing course, where students can click on a number of alternative ways of writing the date and see a short commentary on it (e.g. 02Feb04: this is the way many large international organisations write the date) - useful for Swedes who use the ISO standard (2004-02-02) which hardly anyone else does!

I'm also writing another variant of the Maze exercise with my 12 year-old daughter called 'The Empty House': you're on the way home from skating practice when you hear noises coming from the creepy empty house halfway down your street. Should you call the police, tell your parents, or go in and find out who's making the noises?

Another current exercise is a trouble-shooting exercise for the Swedish Army which involves negotiating with a civilian workshop for use of their equipment when you're on a peace-keeping mission. I'm also using the basic programming I did for the Maze exercise.

As you can see - it gets addictive! The basic principle I try to work to is that the real work happens in the heads of the students using the computer, so I try to include a series of decisions which involve discussion among people, rather than fancy tricks inside the box.

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