Hey Siri, how am I doing on my course?

Of course if you ask Siri today, her reply is, well it depends…

siri002

Another response to the same question…

siri001

As for tomorrow…. well could it be different?

However for other things intelligent assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now can be a really useful mechanism for finding things out, things you need to do and in many instances fun stuff too.

I have been wondering if we could utilise these technologies and apply it to learning.

We know that most (if not all) people can usually tell when using a chat function on a website when they are talking to a chat bot and when they are talking to a real person.

Could we just not even try and think that the intelligent agent is real and actually play up to the fact it is artificial. Give it a name and even create a personality for it?

This way we could avoid some of those ethical issues about a piece of software trying to pretend to be human. The students know it is not real and it is advertised accordingly.

But could such a tool be an useful thing for students to have access to? One that could learn from its experiences and fine tune it’s responses and interventions?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be voice controlled, users could use text entries.

So what kind of questions could learners ask?

What is the best book for this module?

Where is a quiet place to study on campus?

What other questions could we expect learners to be asking?

Making the move from the radio…

Old Radio

At the recent AELP Autumn Conference I was having a discussion about the challenges that online delivery can be for training providers and employers. Often they have excellent instructors and trainers who work well in face to face classroom situations.

There is often an assumption that is made that because someone is excellent in face to face learning scenarios, they will be able to easily transfer these skills into an online environment, as the scenarios are very similar.

This is quite a risky assumption to make, as though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.

It was and can be challenging for radio personalities to move into television, even though both broadcast mediums, and there are similar programmes on both (think News Quiz and Have I Got News For You) the skills for the different media are quite different.

In a similar vein, many stars of the silent cinema were unable to make the move to the talkies. Those that did, certainly thrived, those that couldn’t, didn’t!

If we are to make the move to a truly digital apprenticeship experience for all apprentices, then we need to ensure that the instructors and trainers involved in the delivery of learning have the right capabilities and skills to deliver effectively online.

Having the digital confidence, capacity and capability is something that often needs to be built in those staff who may already have excellent skills in delivering learning in face to face scenarios. Certainly there are many things which are transferable, but the skills in facilitating a classroom discussion are different to those in running a debate in an online forum.

So the question is, how do we build that digital capability? How are you building digital and online skills? What are you doing to ensure the successful transition to online delivery?

Image Credit: Old Radio by idban secandri CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I know where you are…

My phone knows where I’ve parked, why couldn’t my phone know where I am on my course?

My phone knows where I’ve parked

I recently upgraded my phone to the most recent iOS and have been interested to note that my phone, which can connect to my car over Bluetooth has now been giving me updates on where I parked. I usually know where I have parked and am able to find my car quite easily.

There are times where I think this could be useful, such as parking at the airport (but then I usually use my cameraphone to record the bay details).

parking bay

Or when I am attending a meeting, an event or conference in a city I don’t know and then afterwards don’t recall the way back to the car park. I can recall at least twice in the last twelve months when that may have been useful, once was in Wolverhampton. Though most of the time I really need to know which level I am on in the car park.

So the notification of where I have parked my car isn’t as useful as my phone thinks it is. Maybe the day when I really need it I will think more highly of it.

The technology behind this though is somewhat clever. My phone has GPS so knows where it is and where it has been. It has Bluetooth which connects to my car (mainly for audio streaming, but also occasional hands free phone calls). There is importantly a software layer that enables the recording of the information and the notification.

This is only a simple aspect of what is a quite complex software layer. The software often tells me how long it will take to get home, and what roads to take (hasn’t quite worked out that I usually use the train). My phone knows where I am and will suggest apps on my location.

So from an educational perspective, if my phone knows where I’ve parked, why couldn’t my phone know where I am on my course and provide contextual information about where I need to go and what I could be doing.

It would need a software layer that uses the same processes as it does or parking and travelling. The software layer would need to know as a learner who I was, where I was studying, what subject I was doing and where I was on my course. It would need access to a detailed learning plan (scheme of work) and would also need to have algorithms and access to data, so that it can direct advice and content appropriately. It would also need to be able to overcome that annoyance factor that we get with the “I know where you parked your car!”

Jisc are currently running their Co-Design 2016 challenge and this concept fits into the Intelligent Campus topic. You can find out more about that on this page on the intelligent campus blog.

So do you think this is something that would be useful, or would it be too complex and expensive to build?

It’s challenging…

…but planning helps!

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One of the challenges of embedding digital tech into teaching and learning is making the assumption that teachers are aware of and are able to utilise the digital tools available to them and understand which tools work best for different situations and scenarios.

Gaining that understanding and confidence isn’t easy and often requires a paradigm shift in approaches to using technology and the digital tools and services available. Just because a member of staff has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

When I was teaching at City of Bristol College, one of the main reasons I started using and embraced technology was to aid planning my curriculum and lesson planning. The way it actually started was using technology to save time. By using, initially, a word processing package and then a DTP package, I would write and design assignment briefs, handouts and workbooks. The reason for using technology in this way was so I could reuse them the following year. Making them digital meant I could edit and update them if needed.

I also started using a presentation package (Freelance Graphics) to create presentations. There were no digital projectors back then, so these were printed onto acetates in black and white and shown via an OHP. This for me was much better than hand writing onto acetates, again for updating and changing.

Though I did write basic schemes of work for the curriculum at that time, it started to make sense to me to start creating a more detailed scheme of work.

When I noticed the web in the late 1990s I realised that hyperlinks could mean I could create a digital (though back then we called it electronic) scheme of work with live links to the digital resources I had created. It didn’t take much to then add lesson plans to the scheme of work with live links to the presentations, handouts and other resources.

A final step was to start adding extra resources and links, in order to allow for a learner to go to the web site and differentiate their learning journey.

I didn’t initially use digital technologies to plan, but what those digital technologies allowed me to do more effectively was to both plan better, but also link everything together. The process also allowed me to easily and quickly adjust resources and plans as and when required.

It got to the stage where I would plan a whole year in advance and have everything ready for all my lessons and courses.

When I spoke about this to people (outside my college) the response I usually got was I plan the night before and there is no way I could plan more than a week ahead. Their explanation was that they couldn’t know how a lesson would go in advance and therefore couldn’t plan more than one lesson in ahead. At the time I did struggle with a response, but now reflecting on this, I realised that I had in fact planned flexibility into my plans. Combined with links to all the resources and additional stuff, it wouldn’t matter if we didn’t cover everything in a lesson, or if the lesson was cancelled (snow closure for example). It was also later that I recognised as a teacher that though I had a responsibility for my curriculum, it wasn’t my job to teach the whole of the curriculum, it was responsibility to ensure my students learnt the curriculum. Some of this would be through teaching, but some could be through reading, or other learning activities. Some would be formal and some would be informal. Resources could be digital, but they could also be analogue.

Of course back then we didn’t have a VLE, so I “created” a VLE, well it was a website with some additional tools (such as a discussion forum). As I had used digital tools for planning and content creation, it wasn’t a huge job to transfer everything to the website. I do remember buying Adobe Acrobat so I could create PDFs more easily, especially I was using a bizarre range of software to create stuff.

A VLE today makes the whole process of planning much easier and I have written before about this in my series, 100 ways to use a VLE.

100 ways to use a VLE – #25 Scheme of Work

100 ways to use a VLE – #26 Lesson Plans

The main conclusion I came to was that planning was really critical to the success of my curriculum and my teaching. Also technology made the whole planning process easier and quicker.

So what tools are you using to plan your curriculum and your lessons?

Image Credit: Lesson Plans by hurricanemaine CC BY 2.0

It’s still not easy…

Classroom

…but confidence helps!

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One of the challenges of embedding digital tech into teaching and learning is making the assumption that teachers are confident in their use of technology. Gaining that confidence is not easy and often isn’t helped if they have previously used technology and it didn’t work. There have been many times I have heard teachers say that they don’t like using technology as the last time they used it and it didn’t work. They lack the confidence in the tools to work.

The way I used to approach that was by asking what they did when it snowed and the building was closed, the campus had failed to work. Someone had used a permanent marker on the whiteboard, it was unusable. There was a room change and we had to move the students, from a seminar room to a lecture theatre. In all these physical scenarios, a good teacher has the confidence to adjust and adapt what they are going to do. With a snow closure, the scheme of work needs to be adapted to allow the learners to catch up. Losing the whiteboard doesn’t mean the lesson has failed, maybe a different medium, such as paper, could be used. Again a confident teacher can adapt what they are going to do. They are also very likely to use the whiteboard again, once it has been cleaned. Similar story with the room change, adapt the activity for the learners.

onlineattendance

I have found that often with technology, that with teachers lacking confidence, this means going into a session with a limited idea of how that technology can be used. If it doen’t work as expected, then it is seen as failure.

Having the confidence to easily adapt and use tools effectively, usually comes with experience, but I also believe that there is more to it than that. Gaining that confidence isn’t easy and often requires a paradigm shift in approaches to using technology and the digital tools and services available. Just because a member of staff has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they confidently know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

Confidence usually comes from experimentation, trial and error and practice. It can be difficult to create a culture where experimentation and innovation is expected, encouraged and applauded. A culture where failure is seen as part of the learning process and is also part of the process of innovation.

So what strategies do you use to build digital confidence?

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