Month: June 2011

Powerpoint for interactive learning


I'm currently working on a branching scenario dental trauma tutorial; students are given a situation and have to choose response A,B or C (actually usually just A or B). Each choice takes them down a slightly different path, the paths diverging through 3 steps. That's a lot of divergence. Designing this in html or flash or some other media would be pretty tricky and time consuming. Fortunately, powerpoint is pretty much perfect for it. 

The slideshow software allows linking between slides using hyperlinks which means that the tutorial is relatively easy to set up. Also, the 4×3 slide inhibits adding lots of text which has to be a good thing. You can even if you like incorporate animations and audio (though it would be better to use camtasia or some other screen capture software for your voice overs, powerpoint's native audio is usually a muffled, crackling mess. Finally, using the slide outline pane on the left of the powerpoint window allows you to easily see the content of each slide and arrange them to better represent the flow of your tutorial. 

Powerpoint has got a bad reputation as the medium for long dull expositions, but needn't be so at all. Indeed, Tom Kuhlmann at the Rapid eLearning blog (sponsored by Articulate) has built a career out of showing all kinds of ways powerpoint can be used to rapidly create dynamic, engaging materials. Mostly his market is corporate training, nevertheless there are many contexts in HE in which his approach will work. 

Here's his post on Powerpoint for eLearning:



Residents and Visitors


In seeking to discover the ways distance learners (older than the normal undergraduate population) conceive of and use web technologies, principally web2.0 technologies, researchers at University of Oxford's Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning project used interviews and questionnaires. They found that the main difference in the way people use technology is not technical savvy (a la digital natives), but in attitude and purpose.

Residents enjoy the 'pervasive social ambience' and see online as a space, analogous to a physical environment, a park is shown by way of illustration, in which you have a presence and can interact with others. Visitors, on the other hand, are instrumental and see the internet as being a toolbox – youTube for videos, diigo for bookmarks and so on. They have things to do and want to get them done in the minimum time to the best standard.  The example is given of Skype: a tool which 'visitors' quickly learn to use, illustrating that they don't suffer from some technical or chronological 

The distinction is wrapped up with people's identities and contexts when they go online: people will be visitors in some contexts (e.g. at work) and residents in others (e.g. in leisure), and so on; the distinction is not intended to be boolean but rather scalar.

Can you see me now?

Online synchronicity remains a fragile thing. Sure Skype’s great for finding out what distant relatives look and sound like this year, but go to it for some last minute pre-dissertation-submission supervision, for example, and discover that it really isn’t all that reliable.

And that just requires two successful logins. Multiply the number of people using such a tool and the possibility that somebody is finding themselves on the outside looking for a way in grows exponentially.

My recent experiences of OSLE’s (online synchronous learning environments) are a mixed bag, but are they typical?

  • Synchronous events that work better asynchronously: I was a sometime lurker on the “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” MOOC of 2011 which featured regular Elluminate sessions. Things worked out more or less OK whenever I managed to make it along, but mostly I caught up with the recorded sessions either online or as an mp3, which meant bus journeys punctuated by plaintiff cries of “Jeff, we can’t hear you”. The sessions themselves felt like lectures rather than seminars, and maybe could have been delivered in better quality as voice over ppt via youtube. But that’s another story.
  • The silent approach: “Crossing Virtual Boundaries – Teaching and Research with Online Synchronous Learning Environments”. Great event, but the breakout session I was most interested in, on encouraging reflective learning, suffered from audio problems that invited ‘this is why I don’t use these tools’ kinds of observations in the chat forum.
  • I’m in a whiteboard room, I can’t see anything: Wimba Pronto appears to make it very difficult to get back to a whiteboard session if you accidentally close it. Since the thing is basically about 5 different windows (at least on a Mac), it seems likely that somebody will close a window in the effort to keep the thing tidy and then wander around some kind of e-carpark looking for the door back in.
I don’t think I’m an old misery guts or slow to move with the times. I love the spontaneity and now-ness of classroom interaction, and have had some pretty successful experiences with Elluminate and dimdim (as was), but I’ve had to grit my teeth through too many frustrating and time-wasting sessions to want to use this as a substantial or critical part of any learning programme.

Welcome Audio Message in Week 1


Was pleased to find an audio hello message in Week 1. Here’s some of the things I liked about it:

  • It felt more personal, friendly and informal than it would have done in writing
  • I was able to listen to it while doing something else (actually a course to do list)
  • It looked both backwards and forwards – in summarising some aspects of where we are and how we got here, I realised I missed out on some reading for example.