Friday, May 08, 2009

Blackboard assimilates Angel

I hadn't heard of Angel, but Blackboard's splodged it. And it seems that these days, VLE=LMS, which seems like a much better TLA.

Lots of commentage and grumbling from the newly subjugated. Much fleeing to Moodle I imagine too.

Search : Blackboard Angel Acquire

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Forgot to attach the file?

Nice. That will be annoying, hopefully, and it's so easily done. Haha! When they refer to it later, they will find the attachment missing. Excellent! If it's late enough they will bring their laptop to a crucial meeting, expecting to refer to the file, only to find they haven't got a clue what's being discussed.

Here's how to make it more annoying, especially if you want to appear helpful (which is nice as you will never be blamed for doing it).

Send a supplementary email including the attachment. Don't include ANY of the information from the original, probably lengthy email. Best of all, call the follow-up something generic, like "oops".

If a message should have multiple attachments, try "forgetting" just one. Never send out the whole lot again. That would be too clean.

A bit more subtle, but it still works:

Send the whole message again, but completely Quoted (it will be blue and quite annoying in most clients, and with luck it will have random line breaks in it). Most email programs do this by default.

See how easy it is to turn email into an Aegean stable? Some further tips:

You can include the attached file anywhere in the new text. Best place is in between the bottom of the quoted text and your newly added signature. They will never look there. Tee-hee!

Again, if you have the chance, change the subject line. That will stop those oh-so-clever types who think they can use message threads to keep on top of things.
Anything you can do to multiply the number of messages the recipient has to handle, or the ambiguity of the situation, is fine. It all adds to data overload, and slows down their ability to do "good work". Some of them even think that's why they're at work!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

mmm, still Delicious!

Here's a video (yes, moving things, on Flickr) explaining without words what happened when lost its dots and gained a layer of logic over its already impressive bundle of features.

I smell funding. Which is great for perfecting an idea, but, as I recall, didn't cause the main ideas in the first place.

Nice, funky, explanation by the way. I want lectures to be like this. Not 1 minute long and with a slappy synth part, but with a momentum that intrigues and delights the audience.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The idea of Seven Things

Seven's a nice small number, so saying only seven things forces the speaker to edit carefully. I like it. That is, I like being on the receiving end of properly focussed communications, but need to learn more about sending them.

Stalking through Julie's Twitter, for likely co-twitterers, brought me to Matt Lingards' link (hello Matt!) to 7 things about twitter, on Educause. And there's more!

So here goes. As an added challenge, I'm going to squeeze down, twitter-stylee yeah?, Educuse's seven-things on two sweet sides of PDF office-friendly format into seven tart sentences.

Seven Things about project planning applications

This is not strictly an e-learning tool, but this is one of my ducks, mmkay?
  1. A Project Planning application is a software application that is designed to define, plan and track inter-related tasks and resources in a Project (meaning finite work with a defined set of outcomes).
  2. Project Managers and allied professionals use PM software (the classic misnomer : software can't manage!) to prepare schedules and budgets for their projects, but you'll also find engineers, developers, general managers and team members in contact with the applications and/or using the artefacts that arise.
  3. These applications generally operate by modelling a project as a series of inter-linked tasks, each with an estimated duration and utilisation of resources; the connectedness, timing and other aspects the project are calculated according to the entered data and shown on charts and tables, such as a Gantt chart, network diagram or resource graph.
  4. These tools are important because more work (development activities and funded research) is organised and controlled in the paradigm of a project (perferably a well-managed one), and project management occurs on the syllabus of many programmes, including most science and engineering disciplines.
  5. A fool with a tool : planning software encourages a microscopic view of task management (one can become obsessed with perfected the schedule) that can sometimes obscure or de-emphasise systemic or relationship issues in a working environment (i.e. it's often better to go round and talk to people, and play around with some sticky notes).
  6. In two directions: applications getting more embedded in corporate workflows (task reminders straight to Outlook) and intranet applications (e.g. timesheets direct to a MS-Project database); on the other hand, a newer breed of lighter, web-aware, collaboration-focussed applications that seem to be focussed on a different constituency entirely (of which a good example is Basecamp).
  7. The former sort of application is part of the expected armoury of a qualified engineer or scientist, whereas the latter type would seem to favour educationalists themselves in working together to produce new courses and tools.

For reference, the pattern is:
  1. what is it?
  2. who's doing it?
  3. how does it work?
  4. why is it significant?
  5. what are the downsides?
  6. where it is going?
  7. what are the implications for teaching and learning?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Problem Based Learning

To the UCL Teaching and Learning Network meeting to hear four speakers discuss experiences of problem based learning. Nothing particularly e-/electronic about this one, quite a lot of eeeeh/curiosity. I went expecting some big theoretical stick to hit me, but it didn't. I'm evidently already doing a good wodge of PBL, and already know a bit about it, and could probably hold forth on Peer Assessment methods in particular more than is strictly necessary (please do contact me if you want to talk about Peer Assessment). UCL readers can explore more in the TLN Moodle, ask Phil Riding for the key if you haven't got one.

I'm struggling to define exactly what PBL is, and I suspect there's not going to be a clean universal definition, but here goes:
  • students explore a topic through a problem or case study
  • outputs are similar to real-world artefacts (proposals, plans etc)
  • there's an emphasis on application
  • the curriculum (list of knowledge to be gained) is tacit
  • knowledge scope depends on where the students go, as well as the scenario design
  • learning outcomes include transferable skills
There's quite a lot of Problem-based learning going on close to me, for example:
  • MSc Systems Engineering Management case study exercises (Formative only, Groups)
  • Project Management Project Plan Assignment (Summative, Groups)
  • Project Management Case Study exam question (Summative : exam conditions, Individual)
  • Dissertations (Summative, Individual)
  • MSc Space Sci/Tech Group project (Formative!, Groups)
There's also a moderate amount of Peer Assessment going on in the group projects talked about at UCL. A typical assessment structure goes:
  1. Group work artefact: 60%
  2. Individual piece/presentation/viva : 30%
  3. Peer assessment: 10%
I reckon the Peer assessment element is really useful tool to reinforce productive group behaviour, and the fact that it gives a mark that can differentiate students is a bonus. I used to think it was the other way round.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


UCL Teaching and Learning Conference TILT 2008

Friendly enough bunch, though, but, you know. Some of the presentations are a little along the me-too type. The remit is wider than technology though, which might explain the relative lack of innovation. I guess I expect to be constantly amazed at events like this.

Some personal highlights:

  • Was gladdened to hear that podcasting at UCL seems to be just round the corner. Jeremy's got a stack of shiny servers and software (e.g. like Anystream's Apreso, as used by Winyard et al) that do all the mashing and mixing of sources. The talks at this very conference for example. Woo, at long last. Let's hope the efforts don't get mired in endless fretting about IP. UPDATE: the server workflow has eaten its own fingers, so the podcasts are borked, for now. UPDATE UPDATE: they fixed it. Grab them while they are hot.
  • Had fun with the personal response systems. Who wants to be a millionaire poor academic? Let's ask the audience.
  • Felt sorry for those locked into WTS, who can't even get audio on their machines, let alone all this fancy stuff.
  • Looked forward to effectively outsourcing online reading lists, c/w hyperlinks and scanned bits, to the Library where it belongs. Hope they don't make it a wobbly heap of complexity like the exam papers (couldn't that be made look like a plain list, hmm?)
  • Resolved yet again to try and introduce CBM into teaching, probably Project Management to start with.
  • Got the urge to incorporate more Objects, either QT-VR blobs of space hardware from photos (we've got lots of good stuff, but it's all in Holmbury) into teaching, or even art objects (via the print collection? They've obviously got lots of good stuff).
  • Found myself ranting about the empty phrase "the video was good quality". What?? I thought we were supposedly learned grown-ups. There's No Such Thing as "good quality", unless it's understood what the use might be. Puh-leaze read Garvin, or anything about Requirements and then come back and say something meaningful. You are permitted to say "the video was good enough to do X, but not Y". I reckon folk see the moving flashes and are hypnotised into bliss, hence the nonsensical utterances. Take the podcasts of these talks. Yes I can see the head, and the lips moving around a bit, and the big text, but not the little bits, or the texture in the image. I can see how many hands the presenter is holding up, but not whether she's sweating slightly. It's not the same as being in the room. If I'm bovvered, I'll do a dummies guide to video quality, and a checklist of AV qualities, note the plural, that might be relevant to teaching. It'll have to distinguish Functions from Features, and cover image, text, sound, colour and search. It might use metaphors in music performance or some other thing, like the concept of computer-mediated sex, to bang home the point. /rant
  • Watched the Big Fight : some real challenges to the implied build-it and they will come approach to some of UCL's recent branding/mission/strategies. "Global Citizenship" for example. Tom Gretton was the cheerful lad who in this case pointed to the emperor's allegedly draughty arse (Citizen = defined polity, rights etc . Global = nothing of the sort). I much prefer the concept of the metaphoric city (a place of meetings), which being virtual, could be global. UCL as a city of learning that's open to, and for, the world. Hard to fit that in two words though. Maybe that's the point. More on the blog it is officially hoped. Though I doubt it : blogging hasn't really caught fire at UCL. CASA (undescribable, go and look) and John Wells (the non-department of Phonetics) are about the only decent UCL blogs I know of (tell me another, please).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

e-learning briefing at MSSL

Several staff at MSSL took time to hear me speak about my experiences with Moodle and e-learning generally, and also to re-introduce services provided by Information Systems. I think we made some headway into the general problem of best to use technology to support learning. Most undergraduate and Masters students are usually a long way away from where most of the teaching staff are, so it makes sense for us to be on top of the technology. As well as that, we (MSSL) are generally technically adept. However, beacuse of our remote location, we may forget about or never hear of activities and services at the centre. I'm hoping this will change. I also think our main challenges are not technological but to do with the culture of learning in physics classrooms.