Friday, 23 January 2009

Who takes H809?

Looking back at last year's cohort, there's a real mix of people from a variety of interesting backgrounds:
  • In terms of jobs, there are university professors, school teachers, college tutors, e-learning developers, headteachers, publishers, librarians, company directors, project managers, educational consultants... Several people also work as OU Associate Lecturers.
  • Specialist subjects include languages, science, mathematics, medicine, social care, teacher training, drama, music...
  • In terms of location, many are from the UK, but there are also quite a few from across Europe, including Spain, the Republic of Ireland, Switzerland (very well represented), Cyprus, Finland...
BTW The cost of the course is the same for North America, Australia, India, and Russia as it is in continental Europe, so I hope we get more of a contingent from these regions this year. We know from the Google Analytics statistics on this blog that the interest is there. Beyond that, we do understand that the course fee is often the stumbling block in some parts of the world. My personal hope is that governments will come to see the value of equipping education professionals with up-to-date research and evaluation skills.
  • Motivations for taking the course: about 60% indicate they're taking H809 to benefit their career, and about 40% to improve themselves. About two-thirds are aiming for a Masters degree in Education or considering a PhD (or other research degree). Some want to get formal accreditation for research and evaluation; some want to get into action research; and others simply want to hone their skills in evaluating new technologies for learning.
  • It was important to many that the course is fully online, that it explores the use of research tools, that the feedback from their tutor is of a high quality, and that they are able to apply what they've learned to their own professional context.
The Open University website has full details of the course. The official closing date for registration is 6th February, but it can take a few days to get sorted, so register as soon as possible to avoid a late start. Any queries: please feel free to email me directly.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Course Blogger

A bit of an innovation for us this year on H809: We're experimenting with having a "Course Blogger".

Blogs are an increasingly important medium of academic discourse in the field of educational technology (see Martin Weller's view, for example) . And H809 is a course for those who want to learn about research in educational technology. So we encourage course participants to keep a personal reflective blog, as a way of exploring the potential of the blogging medium. And this year, we've decided to create a formal Course Blogger role.

What will our Course Blogger do?

Well, overall the aim is to maximise the value of the online experience for those taking the course.

This can include:
  • Synthesising, analysing and building on questions, points of interest, resources, links and references raised during the discussions within individual tutor groups and elsewhere on the web.
  • Commenting on the substance of course participants' blog posts: providing an incentive for newbie bloggers to get the posts out.Blogging about their own research, giving course participants an idea of how research happens in practice, an example of academic blogging, and insights into a particular topic.
  • Helping out with online discussions and activities.
  • Identifying and archiving stuff that might be useful for the course in subsequent years.
  • Oh, and of course reflecting on what a Course Blogger should do...

Will it work?

Not sure: it's an experiment, so the worst that can happen is that we get interesting recommendations for how not to do it in the future. But we'd be interested to hear of similar endeavours and how they fared.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Highlights from BETT 09

I spent yesterday in London at the BETT Show, billed as the world's largest educational technology event. It was certainly extremely busy, in terms of both exhibitors and visitors. Goodness knows how busy it will be on Saturday, when teachers who weren't able to spare a weekday from school will attend...

It was impossible to see everything in one day. So here are my inevitably selective personal highlights:

Collaborative interactive Tables
The photo shows my research student Jo Iacovides making music with the just-launched Microsoft Surface. It's multi-touch, orientation-aware and web-connected. It can play video, interact with physical artefacts, and simulate physics beautifully. Some lovely ripple effects on the opening screen. Everything is resizable, and navigating maps is much more intuitive than with mouse or keyboard. "Like a massive ipod" says Jo. Microsoft has finally made something stylish.

We also looked at Smart Table, which looks similar to Microsoft Surface, but the applications so far are more focused on the primary school than on the wow factor. Like Microsoft Surface, Smart Table is multi-touch, Windows-based and relies on upward-pointing cameras embedded in the table, so it's not just an interactive whiteboard placed horizontally.

Neither product is available to buy yet. Smart Table is expected to be available in about six months at £5,500. Microsoft Surface is currently in excess of $10,000 and won't be available in a consumer version for about a year. But the potential for the hospitality, entertainment and military sectors will bring the price down quickly. Robust open source alternatives will follow.

The challenge now for collaborative interactive tables is killer educational applications.

Jo: "want one".

The netbook form-factor, originally introduced by Asus, is much more education-friendly than traditional laptops. A selection of new models were displayed on the "Wall of Cool", which was an actually plausible claim.

Intel chose BETT for the launch of its new Classmate, which can operate as a tablet PC. I shared many of the reservations about the development assumptions underlying both this and the One Laptop Per Child initiative; but I admire the diverse educational usability advances that Intel and OLPC have achieved in recent years.

2Do It Yourself

2simple were demoing software that enables children (and teachers!) to make flash games. It looked good, although couldn't get a proper understanding of its potential because Jo and I kept being accosted by a steady succession of slightly over-enthusiastic
salesfolk from the company!

CapturaTalk v2
I was seriously impressed by this software for Windows Mobiles from Iansyst. You take a photo of some text, and CapturaTalk converts it into speech. Brilliant. I'm going to download the demo to check it out properly, but as a regular screen-reader user myself, I'm very excited by this product.

In the past I've tried several text-to-speech products for my mobile, and of course I use both Optical Character Recognition and speech-output packages on my PC. To go directly from printed text to speech on-the-move would be terrific. CapturaTalk also reads from Word Mobile, emails and Pocket Internet Explorer.

The main limitations at the moment are the price (£350), the small range of supported mobiles, and the fact that the Windows Mobile touch-screen platform is lousy for many varieties of visual impairment. But it looks good for me!

Mantra Lingua RecorderPen

Like similar products, this device reads hotspots in specially-formatted books; but the interesting thing about the RecorderPen is that it allows children to record their own narrations to those books. Lots of potential for language learning. And by using special stickers, children can give voices to physical objects. Lots of potential for the creation of educational games.

All the expected professional associations, government agencies and interest groups were represented at BETT, but I want to single out MirandaNet for mention. Not just because it's an international organisation promoting the use of ICT in education (it's one of many). And not just because they seem like a decent bunch of people promoting practice-based research in educational technology (although that's a pretty good reason, given that H809 can directly help with that agenda). No, it's because amidst all the hustle, bustle and noise of BETT, MirandaNet were managing to record a number of podcast discussions. A lot more interesting than the usual glossy leaflets and free pens!

Kudlian I Can Animate

Kudlian were demoing this good value, easy-to-use animation kit. I can imagine a good many future film directors getting a start with this!

Finally, I want to repeat a thought I raised a while back. Worldwide there's a lot going on relating to ICT in education: products, publications, conferences, seminars, companies, agencies, associations, and so on. They are often a rich source of enthusiasm, case studies, and issues.

But teachers who want to pursue their interests more deeply might want to take a step back and ask questions such as...
  • How strong is the evidence for claims?
  • Are alternative explanations possible?
  • How could the claims be tested more strongly?
  • How can we use theory to help us do things better?
This is where the international accredited online course H809 can help. If you're interested in taking things further, you've got until the end of January to register.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Action research as professional development

What makes effective professional development for teachers?

Last year, many of the participants on our course 'Practice-based research in educational technology' were using it as a way in to action research. And I think they did so not necessarily because they wanted to end up as educational researchers (although some will), but because they see action research as able to play a key role in their own professional development.

That teachers can be researchers was not always accepted. I remember years ago, as an eager PhD student, being told quite firmly by an eminent professor of education (who didn't know I'd been a schoolteacher) that he didn't object to teachers trying out new strategies and reflecting on them, but that teachers shouldn't be reading the research literature and they certainly shouldn't attempt to do anything called "research".

Luckily times have moved on, and professionals working in schools and universities in many countries are increasingly being actively encouraged to get involved in research as a way of developing practice and moving careers onward.

For example, huge numbers of teachers attend the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). And in the UK, support for teacher research is evident at the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) and in the government sponsored National Teacher Research Panel. There is now also a Special Interest Group in the British Educational Research Association devoted to promoting Practitioner Research.

I'd be interested to hear of the situation in other countries. I hope the view that teachers can't be also be researchers is dying out everywhere.

P.S. Only a couple of weeks to go before registration closes for the 2009 presentation of our course. Full details here.