Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Learning Objects -- What do you think?

What is a learning object? I have been working on this question for over three years now. Constantly, two points of view get in focus: one from instructional design perspective that is concerned about “learning”, and another form computer science perspective that is concerned with concept of object as in object-oriented programming practice. A lot of definitions are available, but I am not happy with any of them. Current definitions in literature appeared to me to be concentrating on design of didactic instructional sequences rather than on design of educationally useful, technology-empowered material. I found this to be limited and I asked a broader question: what kinds of material are educationally useful and how technology enables creation and educational application of this material? Through this question I derived classification of learning objects:

1. Information object – any information can be educationally useful if appropriately used in learning tasks.
2. Conceptual model – interactive, visual and often illustrated representation of specific concept form any discipline. These are not just informative, but they can be used as external tools to help us to make decisions, solve problems and learn new things that require that conceptual knowledge.
3. Contextual representations – these are “vehicles” used to deliver certain authentic data to student so that they work with this date, reason about it, investigate it, and draw conclusions. Huge potential for this type of objects is Web 2.0 API for Mashups, eg. use Google Map and local weather condition to provide contextual representations for students for explore weather condition.
4. Practice objects – these allow learners to practice certain skills, drill certain answers, or check recall.
5. Simulation object – allow students to learn how to operate certain machinery and tools, and explore how things work
6. Presentation objects – these are the traditional didactic instruction objects (those which most of definitions of learning objects promote) and any other objects (e.g., PowerPoint presentations) developed with intention to transmit certain body of knowledge to students (who are passive receptors in this context.

Here are some examples (can you classify them in different types): http://www.juicygeography.co.uk/weatheruk.htm
http://www.froguts.com/flash_content/index.html (go to demo and select frog)

You can examine some repositories of educational material such as Merlot (http://www.merlot.org) or look at my own collection at Learnactivity (http://www.learnactivity.com/lo/) to see if any new category emerges according to your understanding.

So, is this classification and complete, comprehensive enough and useful to designers of learning material as well as to teachers to plan their educational use. I usually get suggestion that games or game objects can be another category of learning object, however, somehow I arrived to believe that games are just an another form of practice objects. Intention behind games is to allow practice however underlining rationale is that this practice will be supported by extrinsic motivation triggered by the game itself. Are there is any other type of learning object that can be included? Do you think that my classification includes something that should not be there? Comments and contributions are welcome.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Reflection of Middle of the Module Feedback

Results form the feedback in certain way place pressure upon me to step away form my own pedagogical principles which I abide and which I developed for last 15 yeas as a classroom practitioner. On the same evening and the day following the feedback, after examining the results I was ready to cancel the last task on the “Rain Drop” as a number of students indicated that there is too much work in this module. Someone asked me “Do you think that there is too much work for MSc students in this module?” Two days later, I asked my self “What are all these tasks that I am setting up for students and how do these contribute to their learning?”

My major objective is to provide students opportunity to develop understand of theory through application (not application through theory) and also to develop certain skills in line with their own capacity, that will be useful in context of their own work and further independent or formal studies. The initial tasks in the module were designed to take students form developing understanding and some skills in designing visuals with user-friendly tools, and then to progress into making these visuals a bit interactive. I understand the last task to be critical as “mind teaser” to get students to deeply consider and appreciate importance of their own knowledge when designing, as well as to deeply think about interactive elements that might bring static images into dynamic and manipulative tools of communication and learning. If I cancel this last task, I would deny my student the final step on this learning progression. In this context, my decision is to keep this task, even though some student might be further annoyed by perceived “heavy” workload. I examined digital portfolios of students (blogs) and I noticed that most students are progressing well. Form a perspective of a teacher, I am pleased with this progress.

Just some remarks about work load. In the MSc programmed I believe that in general students are expected to carry out module work outside class to the equivalent of a further 6 hours of study per week. I wander if this is practiced in other modules?

I would like to hear more from students about their thinking in relation to workload. In particular, focus should be in the workload is useful and leads to learning, in the thinking contribute to more useful understanding and if the workload results in useful skills development or is it just unnecessary. I would also like students to examine results of the survey and to describe any other pattern that they can see in this data. The survey results are given in THIS PDF file. Please contribute.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Educational Value of Blogging

Judging by quality of submitted outcomes of the last week’s task, I notice that the students begun to bring much stronger ideas about use of visual representation. Also it appears that blogging has done some benefits. However, this is still early stage and I am looking forward to seeing how things develop further. I would really like to get some ideas form the class about their perception of blogging. Guys, please comment, add link to any educaitonal blog, and we all appreciate your contribution!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Copyright, Plagiarism and Use of Visuals

In this short post I would like to initiate some discussion in relation to copyright issues. Copyright issue is not just about regulations, but to my opinion, it is much about professional ethics and integrity. It is important to understand that it is not appropriate to grab images form other sites and present them as your own creations. It is also not always appropriate to even place an image developed by others in your own image creation even with the acknowledgement (for educational purposes) and permission (in particular if you intent to publish and commercialized). If you change original image little bit that does not protects you from the plagiarism. This is plagiarism (in the same way that copying text and presenting it without acknowledgement is). This module is to be highly interactive, innovative and creative "adventure” for students, and you must exercise this “freedom” to try new things and apply what you know at the intersection of science, art and design. Do not allow yourself to be “paralyzed” by thinking about your own technical skills, just let it go and try creating something, as I said before, even on paper, if you feel comfortable that way. You can scan or photograph it and post online. However, PowerPoint is easy and effective tool to develop visuals and in addition if you need royalty free graphics, there is plenty at Microsoft Office Clipart Library, however, you can use these only within Microsoft applications.

Please comment to these issues.

Here are some links providing information about copyright issues: Fair Use Guidelines For Educational Multimedia Copyright Kid Copyright 001 by Kate Thompson

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Flash Trail Expires in 30 Days

I brought this comment out to the main level of my Blog in other to capture attention of the class in relation to this issue. Christina rightly expressed concern in relation to trail version of Flash and that it will expire in 30 days. What to do? Here is my replay and it would be good that other class members provide some input by adding comments ot my post. Bottom line is, if you guys do not want Flash, we can always do something else. Any suggestion?

Christina, you are right and I thank you for your comments. That is a problem. I am not sure if you can reinstall it after that trail period and if this is “legal” to do on the same machine? Do you have any concrete suggestion about this issue? From my perspective I would just like to be able to hand CD or at least have some options where my students can purchase software at very law price. Unfortunately, I do not have power to influence this and from the University’s perspective (and from perspective of any other educational institution), as long software is available in classroom and labs, this is sufficient for teaching and learning. At this stage I am opting for a lot of free software, such as PhotoStory or Free Serif Software, however, there is nothing comparable to Flash in certain aspects.

As I mentioned earlier, you are not really obliged to use Flash for your project. Interactive visual representations can be developed with other tools, even Excel, however, Flash is powerful as it is the best tool that combines visual powers and interactivity and allows easy deployment on the internet and variety of devices (computer, mobile phones, PDAs, etc.). Before I was using Authorware with my students and they found it powerful an deasy but limited in terms of graphical capabilities and deployment. Interactivity is even possible with paper, as I showed you with examples of Robert Sabuda’s pop-up books (see image bellow from his book).

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Visual Display of Information and Visual Explanation: Visuals as Instruments that Help People to Reason about Information

During the class on “Visual Display of Information and Visual Explanation” I observed that students were generally enthusiastic about this topic. They approached the task on selection of the best display of information about Giant Squid and uncovered important issues regarding effective presentation. Important point that emerged from this engagement was that if a visual representation is given to students for learning than there is a need for a teacher to prepare some additional questions or task that would direct them to seek information presented in appropriate ways (to support development of visual literacy). In this context, these visuals are resources which alone might not be sufficient for learning to take place. Teachers must create additional tasks that would place students to use visuals as instruments that mediate this task completion. This is an important point and I will work more in this in a lesson that will deal with learning objects as interactive visual representations designed specifically for educational purposes.

I noted that all students have created their own blogs and very interesting visual introductions about themselves. I have one point to make here. Design of visual information is much easier when we understand information that we want to communicate. However, design of visual material does not usually work this way. Often, visual designers are given unfamiliar information to work with and present it into visual formats. So what can they do? First, and perhaps most challenging thing is to learn about that information and then decide how can it be presented in most effective ways through visuals. I assigned the student such a task and I am looking forward to see the outcomes of it by next class.

In relation to blogs, my concern is if students would sustain their genuine interest to continue blogging and see it as a useful tool to reflect on their learning and present artifacts of their progress. When I say genuine, I mean, the blog should be seen more than just requirement of the assessment or even burden, but as something useful for learning. At the same time I hope that my students will see and learn about potential of blogging to support learning and serve as a digital portfolio. Once they return to their own school classrooms, I hope that they might try something similar with their own students.

Most concerning issue that emerge form this class is in relation to Macromedia Flash. Although I do not expect student to develop strong technical skills (but to demonstrate innovative spirit and creativity in design of visual representations), I would like to offer them some opportunity to learn certain useful things of Macromedia Flash. I created self-paced material for them to use in their own time and I will also demonstrate some key things in the class, however the problem is with the version of software that we use. In our class we have Flash MX while current version available for download from Macromedia site is version 8. Although the working principles are same, these two versions differ to certain extent in interface and functionalities. Students should try to work with new version, however, thanks to my technical support MX trail version is located and made available to students to download and install on their own computers.