When looking at new technologies that have the potential to impact on learning, it needs to be recognised that though research and understanding is important, we also need to be realistic that this on its own does not necessarily change things.
Research allows us to understand the implications and the affordances of a new technology. What we need to be aware of when introducing a new technology of the main issues and barriers that could be faced.
What we must take note of is that research on its own does not necessarily cause change.
Most researchers I have met appear to prefer to build on existing research rather than embed practice based on research. That of course is fine, as they are researchers. It takes a different kind of approach to embed the results of research into mainstream practice.
Another aspect of research based practice is that due to the way it is funded, it often only looks at a small section of an institution, usually a single group from a single curriculum area. I don’t then blame people who look at this research and decide that the best way to move forward is to repeat the research with a different group. The end result is lots of small research project outcomes that are very similar. That is certainly the case with research into Second Life.
Wholesale, holistic mainstream change doesn’t happen because of research, that change comes about because of people.
Good people base decisions on good research, they will recognise the implications of that research and think about how they can use that research to influence and inform strategy to change practices and processes.
Last Thursday saw me venture down to the University of Exeter for the JISC RSC SW Annual Conference. I have been to all of the conferences and presented at many of them, keynoting at last year’s with David Sugden.
This year I was just a normal delegate, which was nice and different. I rarely go to conferences as just a delegate these days.
I also took the chance to try out just using my iPad as my main note taking, blogging and twittering device. It worked out just fine as you can read here and here. Following on from my earlier blog post on using the iPad at a conference I can see the iPad now replacing my laptop at these kinds of events. For longer events such as ALT-C or Handheld Learning I will take my laptop with me, but leave it in the hotel room so that I have use of it in the evening for video editing or audio editing.
Well back to the content of the conference…
I didn’t get much from the two opening keynotes, they were interesting, but didn’t in my mind inspire me to change my practice. Others though did find them more inspiring.
The opening keynote talked about the enterprise culture at the University of Plymouth and how it was changing what they did.
The second keynote was on Business and Community Engagement, which was by JISC.
The first session I attended was on Social Enterprise and how many business organisations now have a social motive over a profit motive. The second session was from JISC TechDis on engaging with SMEs. Gloucestershire has a large number of SMEs compared to somewhere like Bristol and often they can not “afford” to send their staff on training and staff development. In an interesting discussion we looked at the issues and challenges facing SMEs in the South-West and how FE providers (and others learning providers) can engage them and use technology to meet these challenges and break down invalid assumptions. One of the key conclusions was that there are cultural barriers both in the SMEs and in learning providers that need to be broken down before we can really provide solutions.
After a good lunch and lots of networking, it was time for the afternoon sessions.
I (with a little reservation) attended the session on Second Life by Bex Ferriday from Cornwall College.
She gave a very entertaining and informative trip through Second Life, lessons learned and some really good ideas on how to use Second Life for teaching and learning. I liked the idea of how it can be used with some groups to break down barriers and enhance communication – and once Second Life goes browser based I think this could see much more use being made of Second Life.
I also liked the idea of the underwater art gallery that contains student art that couldn’t exist in real life.
After more tea, it was Vicky Weavers from Weston College and their VLE Bronze, Silver and Gold standards. In many ways their standards are similar in concept to the five stage VLE model I put forward in an earlier blog post. One aspect of their model I did like, was that you only gained the standard if learners actually used the VLE.
What I was also interested in was the implementation, the carrot and stick approach. Weston College like most had tried the softly softly approach with limited sucess. The enthusiasts had certainly used the VLE effectively, but the use was sporadic and whole areas were not using the VLE. The college did feel, from student feedback, that access to online resources and learning was a “student entitlement” and that provision of such was patchy and lacked consistency.
By using a combination of clear standards, senior management, quality, other college processes and importantly middle management; the college was able to increase use of the VLE by staff and to increase use of the VLE by learners.
Some good ideas to take away.
I then popped to see the Futurelab demonstrations, some nice new technology there.
The final keynotes were on cloud computing, specifically Google Apps. I can see many FE Colleges moving over to Google Apps as a way of both enhancing student provision and saving money.
Overall a very information and interesting conference with lots of useful stuff to take away.
I have never been a big fan of Second Life. I have discussed this before, here on the blog and in various conferences and events, such as the JISC Online Conference. I have been to Second Life and I am actually in this screenshot from the 2008 JISC Online Conference.
Many proponents of Second Life have been saying for a fair few years now how “next year” will be the year of Second Life.
However this year they may well be right.
This is the time for Second Life to make that breakthrough that it needs to be accepted as a mainstream technology for learning.
If it doesn’t do it now, in my opinion it will never do it.
So what is making the difference this year?
Well first the bad news, Linden Labs the people behind Second Life are laying off 30% of their staff in a restructuring. This includes closing the UK office.
These cuts are possible as Linden are going to take Second Life in a new direction, one I think gives Second Life the potential that has been talked about for years.
Linden is going to work on making the virtual world accessible from a web browser. In the past you have needed to download software, install it and open various ports.
As the press release says:
First, the company aims to create a browser-based virtual world experience, eliminating the need to download software.
Now installing software was always a barrier, especially if you were trying to do so in an institutional environment with IT departments often wary or unwilling to install the software. The other major barrier was the technical requirements for Second Life, most of the cheap beige boxes (ideal for word processing and spreadsheets) were pretty useless for wonderful 3D environments. There are still possible issues if the browser rendering requirements are high, though at this time we just don’t know.
If Linden are successful they may also move into mobile browsers and this will open up more possibilities.
I am less sure about the following though.
Secondly, Linden Lab will look to extend the Second Life experience into popular social networks.
Read “popular social networks” as Facebook. Other companies have tried to “move” into Facebook, some with success like Farmville, but others less so. Similarily can you see how Second Life and Twitter work together! Tweets abounding in a Second Life environment perhaps.
However back the browser, by making Second Life more accessible, this is the one opportunity that Second Life has in becoming a core learning technology that many people use day to day, rather than where we are at this moment, with many people having tried it, or more likely attempted to try it and some keen enthusiasts. If a browser based Second Life doesn’t take off, I can’t see it ever taking off.
This new direction from Linden will provide many opportunities for practitioners and learners to experience and use Second Life on a more regular basis and as a result come up with useful and exciting ways to use it to enhance and enrich learning….
Do you know what life will be like next year, in five years, in ten years?
Over the last year or so I have been doing a few keynotes and presentations entitled the future of learning. I do start with a caveat that I don’t know the future for sure and that no one can really predict the future…
Though as a reflective person I do look back at the work I have been doing on mobile learning and I think there are lessons to be learned about the journey I have travelled.
This is me in 2006 based on work I was doing in 2004 and 2005.
This work came from mobile stuff I was doing back in the late 1990s. Back then I worked for an organisation called at-Bristol, a hands-on science centre in the middle of Bristol.
One of the projects we started working on was with HP looking at how we could use an HP Jornada on our then fledgingly wireless network to allow visitors additional and enhanced information on webpages about the exhibits. One of the key questions at the time was how we got the URLs into the devices at the right place. Then we decided to use HP’s Jetsend IR technology to “squirt” the URL to the Jornada. Of course since then the technologies have moved on and importantly so have the public. Today you would probably let the visitors use their own devices and smartphones. You would use QR codes, Bluetooth or more probably in the future RFID to find out where the visitor was before sending them the information (or letting them access the information via QR codes). If the attraction was outside then GPS could be used. The key though was not the technology but the concept of enhancing a visitor’s experience with additional content through a mobile device.
After leaving at-Bristol and joining the Western Colleges Consortium, I continued to work on mobile learning; at that time there was no funding available.
When I was working on mobile learning all those years ago, the reason was that mobile phones and mobile devices were becoming more sophisticated and more useful to consumers and business. I knew then it would only be a matter of time before they become useful to education and importantly a focus for policy and funding.
And in 2007 along came MoLeNET, millions of pounds of capital funding with a focus on mobile learning in FE.
There is no way that I would call myself a futureologist, but from an FE perspective I am looking at how new technologies can enhance and enrich everyday life, as before long these technologies will enter education.
So the big question is what am I working on now? What do I think will have a real impact in education, not just for learners, but also for funding and projects.
Well I am not working on Second Life or MUVEs. These do have some great application to learning, however until consumers start to use these technologies a lot more, than we won’t see a big change in their use in education.
Social networking and Web 2.0 are very big in the consumer field at the moment, Facebook is everywhere and corporate and entertainment use of these tools is now much more widespread than it was just a year or two ago.
As a result policymakers will start to think about how these tools and services can be used in education. And where thinking starts, funding usually follows…
So what about next year or the year after?
Well for me the “next big thing” is e-Books and e-Book Readers. These will hit the consumer market big time over the next three years. We will see many more people reading books, magazines and newspapers via devices such as the Apple iPad, Microsoft Courier and other devices not yet on the market. More publishers and broadcasters will start to think about how they are going to use these devices and start offering content on them, think of BBC iPlayer and its availability on the iPhone.
As a result policymakers will start to think about how these new technologies can be used in education. And where thinking starts, funding usually follows…
You see at the end of the day, it will not be how these products are used by educators, it’s how they are taken up and used by consumers and business. Whether that is right or wrong, is not really the case, as more often this is how it happens now, and has happened over the last twenty to thirty years, with most technologies.
So here we are with the official start of the Ascilite 2009 Conference. As I write this it’s late Monday morning in Auckland, but late Sunday evening back home in the UK. It feels weird blogging and tweeting about the conference, whilst people I know back in the UK are getting ready to go to sleep.
With a traditional Māori welcome we then launched into the traditional conference openings from the great and the good.
The first keynote of the conference was form Dr Scott Diener of the University of Auckland. He is an advocate of Second Life and described how he saw how Second Life was going to change education. He was very passionate about Second Life and its use in education. He demonstrated his island live to the audience.
Now I have talked about Second Life before and as you may know I don’t really “get it”.
I either seem to be the technology luddite with the red flag walking in front of the Second Life car, or maybe Second Life is not this life changing and social changing technology that many think it is.
Now it may be just me, for example I can see some real potential and benefits of Augmented Reality technologies, but don’t see similar opportunities with Second Life.
Of course this doesn’t mean I am right, but what do you think?
It has been a very good conference and a good chance to see what is happening in the world of mobile and handheld learning.
Some really good stuff out there, but some sessions no more than a showcase of a product rather than how it impacts on learning.
This is not a research based conference (unlike mLearn) so there are lots of practitioners here talking about what they do, but there are also suppliers talking (or is that selling) their wares.
First presentation I have seen today was Lt Alex Smith who is using PSPs with Royal Navy personnel for learning. Quite interesting in what they are doing in what seems to be a very traditional teaching environment.
The second session was not really my cup of tea, very much about selling a product to schools.
Third session was presented by Jon Trinder who was presenting about connecting the physical to the virtual.
Best quote of the conference so far came from Jon, “Have you got an Innovation Prevention Department?”.
Eduserv have published a report on how Second Life is been used in Higher and Further Education.
As part of their range of Second Life activities, the Eduserv Foundation hired me to do a series of “snapshot” reports, looking at the take-up of SL within the UK Higher and Further Education sector. The update of the first report, containing some new examples of how and where Second Life is being used in UK Higher and Further Education, can be downloaded from the Eduserv Foundation website.
The BBC is reporting on this new development in virtual worlds (which isn’t quite ready yet).
A free tool that allows anyone to create a virtual world has been launched. Users of Metaplace, as it is known, can build 3D online worlds for PCs or even a mobile phone without any knowledge of complex computer languages.