Monday, November 8, 2010

Narrow views of broadband possibilities

Why would you need high-speed broadband in education? That's the question I've been asked a few times over the last couple of months.

At first I had no ready response - I thought it was obvious - clearly it isn't.

The context is the NBN rollout in Australia by 2015 to provide infrastructure that will deliver the bandwidths needed by 2030 and beyond. Tasmania is one of the early 'regions' where work has already begun and the first few towns are now connected. But many are still questioning the expense to the Nation and the need for 100Mbps - particularly for education.

Why do we need high-speed broadband in education?

Current bandwidth (and cost) is so inadequate that schools:
  • restrict bandwidth (shaping) and volume (quotas) for users
  • block rich media sites (for part or all of the day)
  • can't effectively use video (a 2 minute video can take 5 minutes to play)
  • can't use participative media due to tiny upload limits (asymmetric service)
  • have established practices to keep file sizes and internet traffic as small as possible - creating a culture of limitation
  • are limited in the online services they can provide to students off campus
Further discussion with some of those who question the need for high-speed internet connections to schools and homes for learning begins to reveal some deeper implicit assumptions:
  • ICT is an add-on and not required for effective learning
  • the Internet for learning is about email and occasional searching for information
  • most 'content' on the Internet is irrelevant and even harmful for students
  • most students won't use much ICT for further learning or in the workplace - and if they do they will be trained when required

There are many effective ways to use high-speed broadband for learning.

One way to illustrate how current bandwidths stifle learning is to consider video. Video is useful for demonstrations, tutorials, evidence for assessment, communication and story telling. At the moment however any online use of video has to be:

  • short
  • small window size
  • low frame rate
  • low resolution

The use of video becomes counter-productive when you can't clearly see what has been filmed - assuming the video plays without so many pauses that users give up in frustration.

When students produce videos that can be viewed online their work reaches an audience outside classroom walls. This makes the work authentic and meaningful. It raises the students' own expectations for quality and effectiveness. It provides avenues for feedback from and participation with local and global communities.

Video production provides engaging opportunities for learning a wide range of digital media skills. Video production for an external audience makes real for students many other complex issues such as copyright, ethical practice and terms of service. Video production that addresses community challenges such as cyber-bullying or de-forestation help to empower students to be active local and global citizens.

And that's just video. And just the video we know now. 3D video has already arrived in some homes. What bandwidths will we need by 2015 nevermind 2030?

How can we not have high-speed broadband?

What do we do in education until 2015?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Portfolio of Questions

Reflecting on day 1 of the thought provoking #AEC2010 - Australian ePortfolio Conference...

Several speakers noted that ePortfolios are another 'disruptive technology' challenging and sometimes transforming existing learning, teaching and assessment.

I also wonder how they are challenging ICT service provision and support.
Learners and teachers can now find ICT services beyond institution walls and with the increasing availability of 3G wireless access and broadband at home they are choosing from a wide range of ePortfolio options.

In addition ePortfolio systems themselves are evolving as learners and educators look for new features that support user control and customisation. Some learners are also opting for solutions used by professionals in their chosen career area - particularly when seeking feedback from external audiences or establishing a professional online identity.

These rapidly changing technology and educational landscapes (including ePortfolios) are leading some institutions to a 'perpetual beta' culture - particularly in ICT service provision. This can be very positive if it promotes agility leading to increased responsiveness to educational needs. But it is also very challenging and sometimes disruptive to established ways of delivering ICT services within educational institutions.

A few speakers noted the successful use of - or need for - ICT sandpits for innovation. We need to think about sustainable frameworks and processes to deal with the emergent perpetual beta culture.

Because I'm preparing for a presentation ('Wicked' NBN Services for Education) for a Broadband in Society Summit I'm also wondering what the ePortfolio space might look like after the NBN & VEN has rolled out in Tasmania, and then nationally. Perhaps ePortfolio provision is another wicked problem?

What will be the impact on ePortfolios of ubiquitous high-speed connectivity? Will it mean

  • less concern about storage?
  • higher resolutions for photos, audio, video?
  • easier upload of any video format?
  • much greater use of video streaming from on and off campus?
  • video journals and comments - speech converted to text and searchable?
  • integration with immersive environments - 3D virtual worlds?
  • learners set up virtual world galleries, workplaces, offices, simulations?
  • intelligent agents take visitors on tours of ePortfolios 24/7?

I think perpetual beta is here to stay - no use putting our heads in the sandpit :-)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Building a Sustainable Polyverse

How do we build, maintain and innovatively grow a virtual campus that learners, teachers and the community will find easy to navigate, useful and inspiring?

Previous models of ICT provision have focused on a shared services model that provides a walled garden within which learners, teachers and administrators can enjoy reliable, secure and controlled access to computers.

Over the last decade however 'classrooms without walls' have become 'institutions without walls' as learners and teachers became more comfortable using external web services, mobile devices and 3G wireless access on and off campus. Open source solutions hosted on external servers began to appear and have been used by some learning teams (FL & WFS) to provide learning environments and/or services not available from shared ICT services.

More recently learners and staff have increasingly turned to campus libraries (learning centres) for ICT assistance which has become more complex with learners using a larger and more diverse fleet of campus desktops/laptops/netbooks as well as their own mobile devices. In addition learners are utilising a range of external web services and are accessing learning resources almost 24/7.

So... how do we sustainably build and support a coherent virtual campus described in the previous post? Available human resources include
  • Shared ICT Services staff
  • Teaching and support staff
  • Students - as IT trainees, as learners, as content producers
  • External web and hosting services - helpdesks, forums, service contracts

Students are a largely untapped resource. IT students can provide substantial IT helpdesk services in many forms - physical helpdesk, online assistance and library support. Other students are skilled in using specialist applications or services within their course and can offer additional ICT services through a community of practice and/or project-based models. For example creative arts students can produce components required for a virtual world or graphics for an LMS.

In addition students participating collaboratively in different regions of the 'Polyverse' produce digital content that meaningfully adds to available learning and teaching resources.

In order for this new structure to work as an effective, reliable and sustainable whole, new guidelines will be required. Ideally the whole 'Polyverse' would be more than the sum of its parts - a coherent virtual campus with new affordances emerging to support new ways of learning, working and being together.
Whether a student is on a large city campus or isolated in a remote location they should be able to seamlessly access learning resources, equally participate in some aspects of campus life, and hopefully experience a sense of belonging that has been shown to be so important for continued engagement.
Time now to think about the guidelines needed to build and maintain a sustainable 'Polyverse'...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Imagining the Polyverse

More thoughts on the virtual campus...

A virtual campus that connects students/teachers/mentors/community and provides opportunities for engaged learning, creative innovation and active citizenship will have

  • learning & training spaces - wide range of supportive learning environments
  • design & innovation hubs - stimulating creativity and facilitating innovative research and development
  • social & professional spaces - social commons, performances and exhibitions
The virtual campus will be designed and built by students/teachers/support staff/mentors/community to nurture and inspire the whole person - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Educational processes will enable holistic learning and assessment, encourage self-directed learning and focus on the principles of adult learning for the post year 10 sector.

The virtual campus will

  • organise the online environment for easy navigation
  • provide for learner, teacher and subject centric education as required
  • connect the local to the global, the physical to the virtual, the personal to the institutional
  • be playful and surprising, user created and allow user customisation
  • adapt to change and be proactive with agile development

The virtual campus will be built, serviced and accessed through a diverse range of evolving technologies meeting the needs of learners, teachers and the wider community - a kind of poly-meta-verse or 'polyverse'.

How do we integrate different services to provide users with a coherent and navigable online experience of the polyverse?

How do we build the polyverse so that it is meaningfully and usefully accessible through a range of devices? And in what ways can we blend the physical and virtual environments so that each provides windows and ports to the other?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Virtual 'Solutions'?

This presentation attempts to map various (mostly current) ICT services in the Polytechnic that support learning with a view to making some sense of what we might mean by a 'virtual campus' or 'virtual learning environment'.

Can we even talk about a coherent virtual campus? Should we expect to be able to integrate the diverse range of services used by learners and teachers? How do we support legacy systems (and legacy pedagogy?) still used by a significant proportion of users while also supporting clear directions in new ICT services for learning, teaching and assessment?

To what extent do we opt for new 'solutions' when it is clear that they will have a short lifetime in the continuing climate of rapid change and increasing diversity in pedagogy and ICT systems built to meet new needs?

What is the balance between hosting organisational systems with full internal support and providing organisational guidelines for users to choose external services with external support?

What will be the impact of the increasing number of learners using their own ICT devices on campus (sometimes including broadband access) and the emphasis on personalised learning and learner centred approaches - and the high proportion of learners and teachers learning and working from home?

Can organisations provide services that enable more openness - open education resources and open courseware - in a climate of security, ownership and isolation?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Avatar Make-overs and Ghosts

Avatars are going through makeovers in Tourism and Hospitality classes at the Hobart Campus. New bodies, new make-up and hair, new wardrobes... are being developed as avatars find their identity and expression. Avatars then have their photo taken to go in their blogs.

It hasn't all been easy though... Some network issues still need to be resolved that are stopping teleports - no-one can get to the mall yet to do shopping! :-) We have learned that if you become a ghost (white cloud) and lose your body you can replace your outfit from inventory to get your avatar to become 'real' again.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Polytechnic 2.0

... will help us become more informed, responsive, innovative and learner-centred...

Unprecedented opportunity to achieve more open, accountable, responsive and efficient leadership...

Once information and learning resources are liberated as key organisational assets, possibilities — foreseeable and otherwise — are unlocked through the invention, creativity and hard work...

These statements are derived from Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0 - an Australian Government Taskforce report calling for public agencies and public servants to engage more using the tools and capabilities of the ‘collaborative web’ or Web 2.0.

This comes at a time when there are calls from within educational institutions in Tasmania to restrict and even block altogether access to Web 2 services such as Facebook.

As the Report states:

Government 2.0 requires leaders to engage with what is for many, an unfamiliar and challenging agenda. Are we up to it?

Though it involves new technology, Polytechnic 2.0 is really about a new approach... the existing culture of hierarchical control and direction must change sufficiently to encourage and reward engagement.

The Report has been released under a Creative Commons 2.5 Australia Licence allowing a new document Engage: Getting on with Polytechnic 2.0 to be derived from it - mostly by replacing the word 'Government' with 'Polytechnic' and focusing on learning and the learner.

This derived version outlines a Polytechnic 2.0 agenda in terms of three pillars:

  • Leadership, policy and governance to achieve necessary shifts in culture and practice.

  • The application of Web 2.0 collaborative tools and practices to the institution as a learning organisation.

  • Open access to leadership and management information and to open educational resources (OER).

Polytechnic 2.0 presents challenges to some well established organisational and educational practices and has the potential to change the relationship between our institution and its learning communities.

Getting back to Facebook there are many educational reasons to question the calls to restrict or block access to this and other web 2 services. According to the 2009 Horizon Report:

“Increasing globalization continues to affect the way we work,collaborate, and communicate. Information technologies are having a significant impact on how people work, play, gain information, and collaborate. Increasingly, those who use technology in ways that expand their global
connections are more likely to advance, while those who do not will find themselves on the sidelines. With the growing availability of tools to connect learners and scholars all over the world — online collaborative workspaces, social networking tools, mobiles, voice-over-IP, and more — teaching and scholarship are transcending traditional borders more and more all the time.”

For more see In Defence of Facebook.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Playing TAG

Many staff and students are using web services for displaying, organising and sharing their work. A number of Creative Arts teachers have been looking at how work might be tagged within these services so that staff and students can search for products created

  • by Tasmanian Polytechnic students and staff
  • in the same course or qualification
  • on the same campus
  • using the same media

In addition to facilitating searching a state-wide tagging system could allow teachers to easily collate student work for quality assurance/moderation across the state.

One issue to be addressed is the fact that students and staff are currently using a range of different web services for the same function. For example photos are uploaded into Flickr, Picasa, Deviant Art... We can create a single RSS feed from multiple web services by using an RSS aggregator that creates a new combined RSS feed such as Yahoo Pipes - rather than mandate a single web service.

We would also like to showcase student work by tagging items so that they automatically appear in RSS feeds within embedded code set up for our intranet, Facebook and public website. This will be archived by creating a Flickr group (linked to a state-wide Creative Arts Flickr account) where students can display their best work. Some of this work will then be tagged for showcasing - as well as being organised into sets and galleries.

This cross-campus tagging can also be applied to web services for video, audio and other media - any services that provide an RSS feed from tag searches.

Some of the thinking behind the use of tagging is presented in the following slides created for Creative Arts staff considering using Flickr for the first time to encourage student comment and reflection. They would also like to use it to facilitate some mentoring and critique from the arts community outside the organisation.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Learning to Walk...

Above you can see teacher Hilary Reader making some final head adjustments before taking her avatar to the hairdresser. On the right on the big screen one of her Tourism students flies over Jokaydia in Reaction Grid while on the desktop a Hospitality student walks her avatar through a forest on the Island Campus of the Tasmanian Polytechnic in Second Life.

Over the last week 4 classes (60 students) have been introduced to virtual worlds - well virtually introduced... we had a few technical issues but we are almost there.

The students are from a range of courses in Tourism, Hospitality and Events Management at the Hobart and Drysdale South Campuses. They will explore and work in both Second Life and Reaction Grid - and perhaps some other virtual worlds.

Evidence for assessment including photo's, movie clips and reflective journals will be displayed in ePortfolios that all the students have now set up in the Polytechnic's Mahara. The students have all joined a 'Virtual World' group in Mahara that contains links to help and tasks, and most have added classmates as 'friends', customised their profiles and made comments on each others 'walls'.

Avatars have been registered and some students have begun to learn how to walk, talk, sit down and fly. After Easter they will learn to eat, dance, teleport and take photo's.

Some technical issues with graphics cards and ports meant that some students used Open Sim on USB memory sticks to practice customising their avatar's appearance. To make the USB world more interesting some of our buildings from the Island Campus in Second Life were copied across to the USB world using the Meerkat Viewer.

More classes will be joining these students after the Easter break.

And in news just in... We've heard that funding has been approved for the project: Virtually Here by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. Project descrition:

Virtually Here

"To improve opportunities for collaborative interaction and communication for students who are geographically isolated, using the virtual world of Second Life (for adult learners) and Reaction Grid (for students who are under 18 years of age) as the primary learning platforms."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Web 2.0 Exploration

40% of Polytechnic teachers are currently exploring web 2.0 or collaborative web services for learning. Many are using online blogs, photo or video albums for reflective learning or folios for assessment evidence or showcasing work.

The graphic above shows some examples of other web 2.0 services being used by teachers for learning, teaching and assessment. The red lines are indicative of the networks of 'friends' that each service may also bring to the 'classroom' giving an outside audience and increasing the potential for collaboration.

The Flexible Learning Team is now making some recommendations about which particular web service to use for specific learning tasks or desired learning outcomes. This will not only guide those who may be looking for a service to meet their needs but also create a critical mass of users within the organisation that can help each other.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Game on for Learning

Panorama of AppV Games on

Today 60 students were playing networked games as part of the Enrichment Program on the Elizabeth Campus thanks to dedicated problem solvers in ICT Services. Simon and Rob (pictured far left and centre - they were moving fast...) used MS Application Virtualisation (App-V) to deploy 60 instances of legal games across normal student networked computers.

The beauty of this is that the games don't affect the other software running on the network or network performance. While playing the games students have no access to the internet and play time can be controlled centrally.

The test run today proved it worked brilliantly! Game-based learning environments have been used on various campuses before for

  • developing literacy, numeracy and communication skills
  • digital story telling
  • machinima (movies made 'in-world')
  • modding (building games using commercial game engines)
  • character design, AI and scripting
  • 3D design and terraforming
  • problem solving and system thinking skills

Today's session was just about fun and the doors had to be closed after the first 60 students arrived leaving many disappointed!

Simon and Rob's work will mean that ICT Shared Services can provide similar engaging learning environments across all campuses into the future.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Enabling a Learning Commons

Click graphic for full size

Polytechnic Libraries and Learning Centres have been evolving for many years and now bear little resemblance to the traditional libraries that many might remember from twenty years ago.
This evolution is continuing as we plan to meet the needs of tomorrow's learners, teachers and other clients. The Polytechnic Corporate Plan (2009-2010) outlines a 'learning commons' philosophy that further integrates learning and support services for students and facilitates the flexible-applied-connected-supported learning agenda.

In addition the State Library and UTas Library are changing to meet client needs. The national Re-Imagining Libraries Strategic Plan is indicative of the directions many libraries are taking:

"In collaboration, the National, State and Territory Libraries of Australia and New Zealand will become leaders in empowering people to create, discover, use and transform our collections, content and global information resources."

These directions require more open and connected ICT services than has previously. The Polytechnic Library Online Services Project team has been mapping the ICT functionality needed to meet the above agenda.

The above graphic (click for full size) maps the ICT functionality to enable:

  • Information and resources to come into the organisation including Open Education Resources, Open Courseware, RSS feeds... (LHS of graphic)
  • Information and resources produced or added to by students and staff within the organisation including Open Education Resources, Open Courseware and RSS feeds to be shared with others (RHS of graphic)
  • Online access by students and staff within the Polytechnic via normal logon (LDAP) or Open ID (bottom of graphic)
  • External access by school students, mentors, local communities... via open unauthenticated access or Open ID (top of graphic)

These needs will now determine the kinds of systems that will be required. Current ICT systems may or may not be sufficient.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

E-Portfolios for students and staff

E-Portfolios are now ready for anyone in the Polytechnic who wants to use them - staff, classes, groups, individual students... As described before we are using Mahara to provide this service. We have two hosted services arising from different pilot projects in 2009 - one is just Mahara and the other is an integrated Mahara + Moodle installation.

Teacher and user guides (video and text) are available and a community of practice has been established across all campuses. It will be interesting to see how many staff and students decide to use E-Portfolios who were not part of previous projects.

Problems encountered during the 2009 projects will hopefully be addressed with recent changes such as

  • upgrading Internet Explorer 6 to Internet Explorer 8
  • upgrading Mahara to allow for importing and exporting
  • customised help
Mahara isn't the only solution for E-Portfolios. Some staff and students choose to use

A survey of staff at the end of 2009 revealed that 40% were exploring so-called web 2.0 or social media sites for use with students. The attraction of Mahara is that it provides some social media functionality within a local learning environment while still providing student control of access to work including external access via a 'secret' URL.

Students can connect with and share work with classmates or friends as well as teachers and feedback from students in the 2009 projects indicated that this was highly valued.