Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pre-launch - Lunchtime

Just to say firstly...the Research presentations yesterday went fine. A couple of interesting points that were raised - I''ll just jot down:

- how do you research those that do not normally respond to research?

- importance of fast feedback and bite-size research

The Qualitative vs Quantitative thing came up a little and there was a bit of debate on this.

Two representatives from Hewlett were there and seemed friendly and constructive. Talked to Sarah who is the liaison person with Hewlett and was pivotal in building the relationship and helping to get us the project. She was quite excited about the launch and I felt the buzz myself despite that kind of restrained English thing.

This morning we had a briefing about the event tonight. K gave a briefing to the team about how to be good hosts/ambassadors etc. It felt a bit like the type of staff briefing you would find in an episode of West Wing. Much of it was straight out of Dale Carnegie, "How to Win Friends and Influence People". There were some bits that made me feel slightly embarrassed or that I don't quite agree with but I will certainly go along with the spirit of the thing.

In terms of being aware of all the things to do with the project the area of weakness for me is probably the Creative Commons license...I shall try to get to understand this better. I think I can pretty well remember the funny numbers/targets

-900 by launch date - looks like we've made this
- 5400 in two years
$4.45m with $4.45 pending
$1m from OU

9s seem to dominate these numbers

Labspace - got a feeling this is 5100 but cannot remember

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

OpenLearn Launch - Penultimate Day Part 1

Tomorrow it is time for the launch - with the big event in London - although the site is already up. This afternoon we are presenting as a Research unit to the representatives from Hewlett...the funders for the project.

I only have to do a ten minute talk and have prepared a power point presentation. I am reviewing the results from the initial trials. Likewise my co-researcher Andreias is also presenting. Don't feel too nervous but a little coldy. It might be just a slight sinus thing.

One of my concerns for the launch proper is monitoring the statistics. It looks like we shall have to use Moodle itself to do this. Patrick today has emailed me a load of info on this but I shall have to wade through it after this afternoon's presentations. If I can get it to work fine....I feel it is important, no vital, to monitor the first few days, weeks whatever. This is an area that has concerned me all along but has not been my responsibility. There seem to have been some problems relating to stats and the site particularly with regard to getting VBIS going. ...this however does not monitor internal traffic within the OpenLearn site, but rather where people go to from the site.

Anyway, I'll see if I can get something off the ground later

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

First tool trials and just in time

Yesterday we completed our first set of trials on the tools. This was not particularly easy to set up since:

i) there was only a short amount of time to set it up

ii) the site was not initially ready or in a 'just in time' state

iii) there were a lot more complex preparatory issues especially relating to equipment

iv) we have had about a day to feedback information from the trials to the team

v) I had underestimated the preparation involved.

These trials were more difficult to organise and complex than the first set by an order of magnitude. One of the problems related to getting hold of equipment. Some of the equipment is not necessarily readily available e.g. one cannot guarantee a digital video camera, there were not enough head sets in the IT resources department. It is my view that researchers should where possible be fully equipped with their own personal set of equipment including:

audio recorder
digital camera
digital video camera
microphones necessary for job
laptop computer
data collection and analysis software

Much equipment tends to be located in an IT central area....this is OK for general use but researchers need to have equipment readily available, when they want, and at short notice...therefore it is best to equip them individually. I am not complaining about our own IT section here but simply talking about the need for big projects to self-equip their researchers. I will bring this issue up in our section and am sure it will be sorted. I was asked before the project what equipment would be required but decided to wait and see.

In the end, despite the difficulties I felt the trials went really well and that we gained some good data. Our set of participants have really given us some good data.

By the way the tools we test were FlashMeeting and Compendium

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

First Trials

Well, the first trials of the OpenLearn site have been completed and I am pleased to say I think they went well. My special thanks to those who volunteered, Anesa, Rebecca, Cling and Rob and also to Phil the IT support person who is from our department. I cannot sing his praises highly enough.

The OpenLearning part of the site is at this stage is very green and full of absent bits and bugs etc. Of course it would be at this stage but it is still possible to see what potential it might have. So what are the outcomes of the trials? Well I have not fully analysed all the detail yet and not even decided on the best form of analysis. It is certainly easy enough though to bring out important points. Many of the technical details would undoubtedly be corrected in due form but I have tried to summarise five positives and five negatives below to give a flavour of the feedback from the trials:

Five positives

All candidates were interested in the site and said they were very likely to return.

The discussion tool allowed interesting discussion and gave potential for learning. The journals were also appreciated.

The site seemed clear to the students and they found it fairly easy to use.

Two of the users found the subject content (B700) interesting.

All the participants enjoyed the French quiz despite the lack of video to which it referred.

Five negatives

Lack of interactive activities

Divorcing of tools from content.

Security and privacy concerns

Some navigation issues (sense of where you are).

A sense of being welcomed as an individual (personalisation).

Let's pick up on one of these areas - divorcing tools from content. In this trial the participants worked with a Business unit (there was not really any other unit for them to work with at this stage). Embedded within the unit were a number of activities for the participants to reflect on including tables which they have to imagine filling in (they are not able to physically fill these in and this was raised in the feedback). Consequently the participants made notes on paper. The journal tool which could potentially be used for note taking was divorced from the content and there was no quick way to navigate from one to the other. There needed to be some way of linking from the content to the this stage of the process this facility does not exist. Ideally, with tables, it would be best perhaps to fill in the tables directly.

I like the idea of interactive text...text that you can leave your marks on whether this is by highlighting, scribbling, marking or annotating. Interaction and feedback means being able to affect change in the objects in the interactive process.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Dealing with uncertainty

In the meeting this morning the issue of whether we would have the 900 hours of course resources available by the deadline date featured predominantly. It appears that we were likely to have 500 hours definitely in the bag and that there were an additional large number of hours. This would take us way in excess of the 900 hours. These however are at some stage along the process, or possibly simply identified and cleared but it was more tricky to give a clear indication of the actual number of these hours that would be available by the launch date. Somewhere along that line seemed to be the best situation available. Of course one hopes that ‘somewhere along the line’ just happens to be at about 900 hours by 25th October.

Other issues raised included the nature of the interactivity that these units would present. It seemed that this would be relatively low at this stage. My own thoughts on this are:

1. interactivity is an important issue although student action in terms of 'doing' is more important
2. interactive tools would eventually be available in MOODLE for students to use e.g. blogs, discussion groups etc
3. greater interactivity would be added to the site at a later date

My thoughts are that there should be something to do other than read content. It is important to also allow the possibility of interpersonal interaction, content interaction, and tool interaction.

The integrity model of transformation does however provide a pragmatic approach in order to aim for the targets.

Will we hit the 900 hour target…I suspect not but there will be a conveyor belt of content coming through…almost as a continuous process rather than a batch wise approach…I estimate 750 hours…let’s see how things transpire.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Open Research within the LapSpace - Moodle and Tool functionality

Today I had a meeting with Alex Little who is helping to integrate MSG (a standin name) with Moodle. Essentially MSG is a chat tool that allows one to one simultaneous chat. I think it was developed by Chris Denham. The chat is also temporal in nature in that it is no longer visible after the participants have logged off.

How might it work?

A registered user of a course will have access to a list of other participants on that course. When the user is online and in the LabSpace they will be able to see if there are any other course participants on line at that particular time. They can then chat with one other participant using MSG if they so wish. Group chats might be possible at a later date but in the short term it will just be one to one.

This tool will be embedded into the Moodle structure and only be available in the LabSpace (in the short term at least). Other tools that will also be embedded include Compendium and Flash Meeting. Alex said that it was very unlikely that other tools would be included at this stage.

I am just thinking about what Patrick has said about Wikis and blogs, although there seems to be some blog capability in Moodle - this appears to be limited to journal like recording. Blogs potentially have the ability to provide a record of student or contributor experience. I think that whilst I am playing around with Moodle on my laptop I will try and copy/dublicate this work within the Moodle Blog environment

Getting Moodle to work on my laptop

Moodle is to be used as the platform for the Open Content initiative. The LabSpace part of the OCI will have as part of it a special space dedicated to researching Open Content. As far as it is currently envisioned this will be an Open Space where other Open Content researchers and Open content users can contribute, keeping within the Open Content philosophy. As part of this one of my tasks is to experiment with Moodle in terms of its functionality and consider good ways that it can be used in terms of our research and research in Open Content generally.

The first thing however....getting Moodle onto my laptop so that I could use it. V-.

The difficulty I had was I believe due to the fact that it was not easy to find clear instructions admist the vast amount of information on the Moodle site....the Moodle site also has a lot of technological jargon-like overheads for a new user. I guess this is because many of the first wave of users are also developers and programmers etc., but also in the way that it is assembled. So what would I advise if you wanted to get it onto your laptop to play around with? (Note: the version that you can play around with is not open to the world at large).

1. Know the version you should be downloading - this is likely to be the Window's version

You will need to scroll down to the bottom of the page and choose the current windows package

2. In the end the clearest guide I found to installing it on my laptop was at,_MySQL_and_PHP

You will need to scroll down the page to the heading Windows and follow on from there.

Make sure you unpack the contents into a folder in the root directory. Make a note of your password if you enter one.

3. When you have set up Moodle and you need to log in type admin in the User box and then the password that you may have assigned.

4. Ask for help if you get stuck - you can do this on the Moodle forums or ask a friend.

I would like to thank Juliette White, Alex Little and Karl Rajangam who helped me finally get it running on my laptop.

Note: You may have to set up a login account to access the above links...I'm not sure on this

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


This blog represents my reflections as a researcher who is involved researching the development and use of the OpenLearn inititative sponsored by the Hewlitt foundation. It should not be viewed as an official by-product of this project but rather as my personal thoughts and reflections in relation to this project and my own work within it. Even though care will be taken in terms of the accuracy of content this is not guaranteed. Also some of the reflections are person specific, i.e. me and represent my subjective interpretations. The blog is a kind of diary of my involvement and research based reflections. In this sense it also represents a kind of ethnographic take on events that unfold

Hopefully I will get people either from within and outside the project to guest on this site or invite them to make comments.

My principle focus within the project is really to look at teaching and learning aspects of the activities and how they are produced? What are the learners experiences? Are we achieving the aims of the project?

The project as a whole is also viewed as an example of Action Research, where we ourselves are all researchers reflecting on the process.