Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My online presence

Bron's online presence
Currently I am engaged in two ePortfolio initiatives. One is the Professional Electronic Portfolio course - where as part of this I have to examine what makes up my online presence, and the other is an ePortfolio community of practice ( EpCoP) where participants are currently sharing stories about their online presence. The  EpCoP has been set up to explore ePortfolios and their uses and to develop an ePortfolio community of practice.  For both these communities, I have thrown together all the web-based sites I access regularly to illustrate how I spend my time online, and the mix of tools I use to create an online presence. Hence the Wordle image.

All the teaching I am engaged in these days also requires me to have an online presence. I develop and use open educational resources, and I use a range of strategies for interacting with the class and facilitating their learning experience. By having an ePortfolio - this blog and a wiki user page - it is very easy to keep my profile and my achievements handy, and to update and contextualize them. Unfortunately, I don't spend enough time on the updating side of things, nor have I been that effective at keeping all the projects I have been involved in linked into my portfolio. I see the wiki as a more static porfolio resource, containing documentation of my achievements and also supporting evidence, whereas the blog is used as a way to convey my professional philosophy - attitudes, beliefs, and values - and evidence of critical reflection on my work.

So far I have not been very good at gathering all the evidence together in a common storage locker, e.g., Mahara or Pebble Pad. This is because I prefer to use a variety of web-based tools, so I tend to have stuff all over the place. What I do need to do is feed all my material from the social networking sites I use into one spot, and I can easily do this on my WikiEducator user page.

My online presence is all over the place - on a recent search on Google I found wads of material I had forgotten about. The impervious finger in many pies syndrome. So the octopus which is my PLE needs restraining somehow.  Therefore, my goal for an ePortfolio is to create a more organised online presence, one in which I can find myself easily.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Field trip - stone walls and landscape construction

Flickr Image: the chicken is eyeing the cement trowl by bronwynannh

Today I got out from under the fluorescent lights, and went on a field trip to see what Alan Ferguson and his landscape construction students were building. I followed Alan’s instructions to their secret location in Leith Valley, and knew I was in the right spot when I saw the team of 13 students busily working outside. The first sign that landscaping was in progress were the two stone pillars at the entrance to the property. They look magnificent and have a very stylish wrought iron gate attached. As part of the current project, students were building stone walls in the front yard of a very attractive villa. These are part of a small terraced garden.

It was interesting to watch Alan moving between the different students to help them in their different tasks. His teaching was like watching a conductor leading an orchestra – instead this time the stones were the music. Everyone had a different role in the team. Some students were carefully fitting parts of the stone jigsaw together, and others were cementing stones in place. Some students were wheeling barrows full of concrete for sealing the wall, or gravel for the walled garden, while others were conferring about the look of the wall and noting the irregularities. Everyone was a cog in the wheel. They were either working with someone else to decide on the best way to place a rock, or smooth the cement, or they were bringing materials for others to use. Some were practicing their skills in communication.

This was group work in action in an authentic situation. The practical construction work is underpinned by theory about the materials, and the principles of constructing a stone wall. The walls I saw were built from irregularly-shaped rocks, which were not easy to place, and some of those rocks looked pretty heavy. There was also chipping and shaping required as very few rocks fit neatly into the right spot in a wall. I am not sure of the correct terms for this process. And to add to the real live experience, while they worked on the walls, a few chickens wandered around to check things out. At one stage, a “wild” rabbit hopped past, pursued by one of the student’s children. That’s what I call flexible – working in a real location, amongst the livestock, and with a child in tow. Luckily the sun was shining though it got brisk when it disappeared behind the hill. If Alan hadn’t supported this flexibility, the student would have missed a day in class, and some pretty valuable hands on learning.

The construction of the stone walls and structures at the location in Leith Valley has been a three year project. Different groups of students have had the opportunity to work for a real client. Each group has constructed an aspect of the wall for the landscaped garden. Ideally, Alan would like to be able to teach the students to build stone structures like this on-site at the polytechnic, to take some of the pressure off having to have the walls “perfect” for a client.

As he said “That way they can make mistakes and it doesn’t matter, … they learn best by making mistakes”. Perhaps there is a compromise – some building on-site (which they already do when its wet) and some “real location” work – though the timeframes are tight as there are lots of things to learn for the Landscape Construction certificate.

The programme is one year long, and since it was changed to a unique programme and is not embedded in Horticulture, it is attracting students who are mainly interested in landscape construction. Apparently, this has helped with motivation levels as they are learning topics relevant to their path of study. I got a chance to talk to some of the students when they were having a breather and watching Alan sprinkling part of the wall and path to help the sand settle. A couple of students said they were looking forward to getting jobs so they could use their landscape construction skills. One student was intending to return to the landscaping firm for whom he had previously worked. The key to the skills they students were learning, according to Alan, was being able to practice the skills. What they were learning was just the start and required lots of practise.

I wonder if Alan would consider getting the students to build virtual stone walls to practice what they were learning in theory, before they went out on site to work? Not quite the same though is it? It really is about getting your hands dirty and wet, and braving the real outdoors, and learning from mistakes. Great work Alan, I really enjoyed “going on location”.

You can view the full set of photos in the set: Landscape construction Otago Polytechnic.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Five tips for sustainable learning and teaching

Image: Walshy and the local evening paper by Supernan

I am motivated to post my five tips for sustainable practice so the participants in the Flexible Learning course can understand my perspective in this area. For me, sustainable learning and teaching is not so much about saving paper or turning off the photocopier (though these things are important), it runs deeper. So I will attempt to list my five tips about learning resources.
  1. Share ideas and resources with colleagues - this means I can learn from others and also pass on my knowledge and materials to the learning community to save others time and money;
  2. Use open educational resources (OER) wherever possible - provides access to shareable materials, reduces production/development time and enriches the variety of learning resources;
  3. License my work using Creative Commons by attribution on all the materials I produce - contributes to global resource bank and promotes sharing and collaboration;
  4. Store learning materials on open web-based platforms - improves access as learners can use the materials both during the course of study and also when they are in practice after their study is completed. It adds also to the bank of OER resources and invites critique on my work;
  5. Create learning materials using open and collaborative platforms and software such as WikiEducator - makes it easier to update material, reduces my workload as I do not have to re-develop materials when platforms change (e.g. Blackboard to Moodle LMS), invites collaborative learning and teaching and provides materials in an open environment.
There are lots more, e.g., associated with teaching practice and course design but for now I am sticking with the learning resource side of things. What are others' tips?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Integrating Technology for active lifelong learning - Seminars

Image: by lepiaf.geo -

This weekend I have been attending some of the presentations at the Integrating Technology for Active Life-long Learning Connecting Online 2010
Feb 5-7

It is
an annual live online conference of interest to educators, administrators, students, and community members who value the importance of integrating technology into the curriculum to improve instruction and learning. The Conference was conducted on the IT4ALL Moodle site and using WiZiQ.

First of all I attended the excellent presentation Sarah Stewart gave about: Working out the difference between online teaching and facilitation. This provoked a lot of thoughtful discussion.

For example an excerpt from a post I made on the Discussion Forum: "
You cannot come in and assess at the end of the course as a so-called objective independent marker unless there are strict and standardised criteria. This then means that professional judgement cannot be used. This is not ideal in any situation. Why should a student's understanding and assessment be weighted on one final piece of work? Exams work like this and they do not encourage holistic learning.

The idea of developing a partnership is great but if the teacher steps back and takes time to learn from the students and listens and gets to know them and interacts without always having to be the expert - the same thing can be achieved without separating facilitation/teaching/assessment. What do people think?"

Helen Barrett spoke about: Social networks and interactive portfolios: Blurring the boundaries. (recording to come soon.) The idea of integrating social networking into the eportfolio was presented and is based on Helen's most recent article: Online Personal Learning Environments: Structuring Electronic Portfolios for Lifelong and Life Wide Learning

Also the idea of what motivates us. Dan Pink's book - Drive - covers motivation - autonomy, mastery and purpose. I will be interested to see if values are mentioned as an important part of intrinsic motivation. It is fun to master something you are curious about and have passion about it and this will be more of a driver than anything. More on this topic to track down the book. There was a question about how the big picture purpose of portfolios could motivate. What are the mastery elements in social networking - mastering skills, showcasing achievements, flow of learning, increasing self-awareness and self-understanding. Apparently the key is that all of us want to be part of something bigger than ourselves? So if the portfolio can be seen to have a lifelong purpose it could motivate.

What got me all excited is the concept that "reflection is the heart and soul of a portfolio" - my sentiments exactly. And the comment that most documents start their life in electronic format so my question is why print them off and bind them in a hard copy portfolio?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

online interviewing

Image: Interview with Susan Strickler by bdjsb7

I recently joined an online discussion forum (Scope seminars) with Janet Salmon about online interviewing. It is based on her new book - Online Interviews in Real Time.

An interesting concept Janet talked about is visual research where websites, graphics, video can be looked at with the interviewee and interviewer and questions and discussion stimulated during the interview - visual elicitation - images shown by researcher. Another example might be where the participant illustrates their answers with images - document what is going on in community, business etc., depending on area of research. Participant can talk about it and express significance of images, video etc. Visual stimuli and the type of questions used in the interview can range from structured questions with limited answers to conversations with unstructured questions and open-ended answers.

I wonder if the use of visuals helps participants "open up" or does it depend on their learning style? I know if market researchers used it, they would get more useful information. I find the present market research surveys are very limiting because my recall of products is poor. If they approached it to discuss actual quality of the advertisements would be more useful.

Also I could have used a diagram in my doctorate interviews to help participants remember the framework I was asking them about. Another question I had was how to deal with confidentiality if participants sharing images, video etc as part of the interview or research - need to include the strategy in the research design and seek permission from the participants if they are to be used in documentation of the research.