One to watch from the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

23 10 2008

Supported by the JISC Collaborative research into curriculum delivery project, the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education (DCE) are implementing the Cascade Delivery Project, which aims to “properly explore implementing the technologies that can transform a learning experience across the whole of the Department”.

JISC invited institutions “to transform how they deliver and support learning across a curriculum area through the effective use of technology, in response to a particular challenge faced by the discipline(s), department(s) or institution(s) involved“, the challenge in the DCE’s case being the Government’s withdrawal of funding for students studying for a qualification lower than one they already hold. There’s an interesting interplay of policy here, JISC’s Collaborative Research project being prompted by theĀ  Leitch Review of Skills and the World Class Skills implementation plan, which place further emphasis on employer-targeted learning, while the DCE faces a withdrawal of funding for ‘lower’ courses, more than likely undertaken by people re-training or studying for pleasure.

While the work produced by the DCE will no doubt be as exciting as ever, the message from the government seems to yet again be that education is training for work, rather than for pleasure or personal enrichment and that once you have set down a path in your education or career, the opportunities to change it are going to be limited. If the government’s intention is to ‘put employers’ needs centre stage in the design and delivery of training‘, then what becomes of the needs of the people undertaking that training?

I saw Obama in my Wii the other day…

17 10 2008

The US Presidential election is the media’s second favourite hobby-horse, after the impending apocalypse-like recession, so it’s nice to see thatĀ  the Obama vs McCain race is throwing up some interesting material relevant to information literacy and educational technology. As reported by this BBC news article, in the Democratic corner we have Obama’s campaign team using video games to display advertisements for early voting, while in the Republican corner McCain’s campaigners appear to be attempting to bypass YouTube’s content policies by using copyrighted material in their campaign videos. The purpose of the video game adverts is to capture the attention of notoriously ambivalent 18-34 year old male voter demographic, an age range which coincides with the age of many students in higher education. Being able to produce educational technologies that translate to popular gaming platforms could well be a key way of engaging with students, particularly as the internet connectivity of many consoles is blurring the line between PCs and Playstations as mediums for accessing the web. On the McCain/YouTube front, well, it just goes to show how a lack of info lit skills can bite even the supposedly great and the supposedly good on the bum.

Merry Isthmus

7 10 2008

The Isthmus Project is an undertaking by Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, supported by JISC, to create a service that integrates the features of the Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) used in higher education and the web based applications used by students in their social and academic lives. It’s an interesting and forward thinking step and, importantly, a well-reasoned one. There seems to have been a lot of talk about joining education and library services with web 2.0 and social technologies, but most of what I’ve encountered has been rather knee-jerkily reactive and piecemeal, whereas Isthmus looks to be a considered attempt to bridge the gap between educational applications and what the average student uses day to day on the web. The name’s fiendishly clever as well. The project’s objectives are to:

  • Research the best way to integrate user owned technologies with current institutional practice.
  • Create a prototype solution to facilitate the integration of user-owned technologies with educational technology systems.
  • Pilot a prototype solution and evaluate it
  • Provide guidance and transferable models to support other institutions contemplating the use of similar technologies.
  • Allow learners a more personalised learning experience through the use of user-defined tools.
  • Disseminate knowledge gained to inform concurrent and future JISC initiatives.

Synergynet: not, in fact, making the evil robots of the future, but multi-touch interfaces for schools

23 09 2008

My first thought on reading the name was that the name sounded suspiciously like SkyNet (who are best known for building homicidal kill-bots), but Synergynet are actually responsible for developing the SynergyNet Multi-touch Desk system, a touch-based user interface aimed at schools. It looks rather impressive, allowing users to use both hands and all 10 fingers to grab and manipulate on-screen content. It appears to be completely intuitive and the interface style should be familiar to anyone who’s used an iPhone, the difference here being that the touch screen could make IT accessible to people with no experience of the standard keyboard/mouse style of interaction with computers. In terms of higher education, touch screen technology could provide greater accessibility for students with physical or learning disabilities, whilst also providing an interesting way of letting students interact with visual or collaborative lesson content. Here’s a demo:

There’s a better video here on Lumin’s website, if you can forgive the budget-Pet Shop Boys backing music.

First we had bloodlust, then wanderlust, now: technolust

16 09 2008

Technolust: ‘an irrational love for new technology combined with unrealistic expectations for the solutions it brings’ according to Michael Stephens in Library Journal. It’s a term I’ve only recently become aware of but it’s something that could be very pertinent in terms of using new technologies in education. Michael J Buega is critical of so-called ‘Hoopla-dites‘, broadly speaking people working in H.E who uncritically purchase and implement technologies on the basis of them being new and exciting rather than genuinely useful. Buega’s article Could you be a hoopla-dite? in The Chronicle of Higher Education lays out his critique of such types, most interestingly pointing out the cost of failed technologies to institutions and, by association, to students and their families. The flip side of technolust is technophobia, luddism 2.0 if you will. Stephens offers a 10 point plan for implementing new technologies whilst negotiating technolusters and technophobes in this article in Reference and User Services Quarterly. It’s long but worth a read; I particularly liked his emphasis on using beta versions and involving users in the creative process.