iPad experiment

March 26, 2011


Like the fanboy that I am, last night I queued for just over 2 hours to pick up a shiny new iPad 2, 32 GB, Wi-Fi model. I had never owned an iPad before and the feature bumps and quicker processor in the second incarnation of the device managed to persuade me to part with my cash.

So why am I putting this rather un-interesting news on a degree blog? Well, many people are calling the iPad a post-pc device, inferring that the device is like the next version of the personal computer to be used by the masses. Being an ICT teacher by trade, I obviously am wanting to get in on the action and see the devices application in the workplace / classroom. What I am proposing to do is to spend as much time on the iPad as I can and detach from my laptop. Is this possible with the current feature set and notable limitations of the device? That’s what I want to find out. Are the limitations of the device actually a new framework for using a device like this? These are all things I want to look into.

Now, I might be absolutely mad doing this now at the stage where there is only about a month to go until the work based major project is handed in, but that fits in nicely with the experiment, can I finish my work based major project on an iPad? That will be something to tell the grandkids…

The experiment has already begun, I am writing this post on the aforementioned device and I have already noticed how quickly I can type and also just how few mistakes I make on this keyboard!

So here we go, into the unknown, but the very exciting!

Looking back on alternative media

November 1, 2010

An excerpt from an alternative media assignment

Throughout my previous study, I have learnt many skills that I do not have the space here to list. One specific I want to unpack here is the concept of using alternative media to present assignments. University is all too often associated with 3,000 word essays and the like, but it really does not have to be that way.

I have made use of a variety of media to present my assignments and I am lucky that I work with a University / Faculty that embraces this medium. I have used everything from Poetry to Animation. As long as the medium accurately meets the outcomes required of the assignment, what’s the problem? I would even go to say that my faculty would prefer to see a 5 minute animation than a 1,500 essay! Some examples I have used in past study:

  1. Poetry – depicting a critical incident of a trip to China with Students, learning valuable lessons of pastoral care.
  2. Vlog – talking freely, prompted by notes, about an event. Feedback on this is that it promotes deeper reflection. I have to agree.
  3. Animated presentations – presentations done in Apple Keynote that allow the user to interact with the presentation and advance at their own pace.
  4. Emails to a hypothetical freiend – encourages persuasive techniques around an academic subject.

These are just a few examples of how I have utilised alternative media in my studies, I look forward to a time where assignment submission in these media is common place in all levels of education, because lets be real here, when do you write essays in ‘the real world’?

The four stages of learning

September 27, 2010

When we learn anything, it can be broken down into four phases. To learn or teach anyhting, it is of benefit to know when each of these four stages are reached to gauge learning:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – You dont know what a car is
  2. Conscious incompetence – You know what a car is, but you dont know how to drive it
  3. Conscious competence – You can drive a car whilst concentrating on how to do it
  4. Unconscious competence – You can drive a car without thinking about it

Can you think of any examples for anything you have learnt recently?

Development of a new skill within Moodle

March 11, 2010

How can I adapt and improve Moodle?

Previously, I had identified current strengths and weaknesses within Moodle. I will now look to develop a new skill to address a current weakness of the platform.

I had observed that the current system was being used to distribute materials and information effectively to students, but little was happening to gather these same things from the students themselves.

I am currently at the point in the academic year where coursework is being completed from both years 10 and 11. Based on experiences over the past two years, the biggest difficulty students have is ensuring that assessment criteria is met for their assignments, and therefore as a department, we developed paper checklists that students could use to tick off every objective as they completed it. The weakness with this system is that over the course of their assignments, checklists were lost entirely or became tatty in appearance and therefore difficult to read as tasks were added, removed and modified by hand.

As we now have a Moodle system in place, I will look at developing a method of checklists being completed on the Moodle platform.

Research in the official Moodle documentation did not reveal a simple way of achieving this with the standard feature-set of Moodle. I then did some broader research on the internet which lead me towards the official Moodle forums where I came across a thread where others were trying to achieve the same thing. At this stage I had gained knowledge of the extensive support network of other Moodle users from around the world. I then added to this forum post where I detailed my needs for the checklist. I was then quickly responded to by other members of the forum with suggestions that unfortunately did not quite meet my needs.

After a few hours, I then received a message from a forum member that suggested a Module for Moodle that would let me achieve my goal.

Planning and implementation

A Module is something that extends the functionality of Moodle beyond that of what it is capable of as standard. There are currently just over 600 modules for Moodle at the time of writing that extend it in a very many variety of ways. The module that I am planning to implement is simply called: ‘Checklist

From the author’s description:

This is a Moodle plugin for Moodle 1.9 that allows a teacher to create a checklist for their students to work through. The teacher can monitor all the students’ progress, as they tick off each of the items in the list. Items can be indented and marked as optional. Students are presented with a simple chart showing how far they have progressed through the required/optional items and can add their own, private, items to the list.

From the description and screenshot of the Module this appears to fulfil my needs of a Checklist and add the functionality of the Teacher being to able monitor progress, a benefit that I had not previously considered.

The extra information provided by the author of the Module provided information on how to install the plugin into my Moodle platform. This was much simpler that I had anticipated with only three steps to the install:

  1. Unzip the contents of file you downloaded to a temporary folder.
  2. Upload the files to the your moodle server, placing them in the ‘moodle/mod/checklist’ folder.
  3. Log in as administrator and click on ‘Notifications’ in the admin area to update the Moodle database, ready to use this plugin.

I performed the transfer of the Checklist files to Moodle with a free piece of Software called Cyberduck. A simple and effective FTP client I use to transfer files two and from my departments web server.

Once I had followed these steps, there was indeed a new item in my existing Moodle courses called ‘Checklist’.

Before I trialled it with students, I added a sample checklist module instance to a test course I created and created a test student account to see what the student would see and how the teacher can then control it. This proved that the module did provide the functionality I was looking for. I then added it to the coursework centric courses in Moodle and spent a starter of a lesson showing the students how to use it and ensured that I could see their progress once they had transferred their paper copies to the new system.

From this process of developing Moodle with Modules, I have learnt:

  • There is a wide and supportive community of like-minded educators that have a wealth of experience with Moodle that will more than gladly lend a hand if you ask for it.
  • There are many different features that can be added to Moodle through the use of Modules.
  • The skill of developing Moodle with features not currently available with the addition and installation of Modules.

I feel this is a valuable skill that will be used again as I now can combine the knowledge of the various modules available with the ability of how to add them to sculpt and develop my Moodle install towards the needs of myself and my colleagues. It may also occur that there will be issues as I further develop the site, but now my knowledge of the support network provides an experience driven knowledge base for me to seek advice, assistance and recommendations.

How does it work in practice?

Since the Checklist Module has been in use with both years 10 and 11, there are a few features that I feel are missing. As this has been rolled out across two large year groups, the teachers panel gets very cluttered with all the information coming from different students. This makes it difficult for teachers to see a quick overview of how a particular class is doing.

When a checklist is viewed individually, you can see a progress bat at the top that shows the overall percentage of completion of the checklist.

I thought that it would be useful for a teacher to see this view for a class of students together. I made this suggestion to the developer of the Module to which he swiftly replied that he liked the idea and will be including it in future updates of the Module.

UPDATE: Since this post was written, the module has been updated to include the features I requested from the developer.

Replacing the existing files with the updated files of the module was all that was required to perform the update of the module. A reflection of this is that someone who runs a Moodle site must manually check periodically whether module updates are available and perform them manually. This is in contrast to other web based services such as WordPress, another technology in use on the lateforlunch.co.uk server. WordPress automatically updates itself and the installed modules plug-ins, something I feel would be a welcome addition to Moodle 2.0!

On the initial paper implementations of the checklists, the students were able to add notes to each item. This had the downside that this lead to the checklists becoming unreadable, but this was a feature that was missing entirely from the Checklist Module. This is easily fixed by allowing students to add their own individual items to the checklist. These are easily added, removed and modified leaving no mess as was occurring on the paper versions. Students can also tick these notes off as they achieve them.

So far, the use of the checklist module has not failed and myself and my colleagues continue to see a benefit of the technology and a positive impact on students ability to self manage their assignments.

What is a ‘learning organisation’?

February 17, 2010

So, this is a question I have been striving to answer for about a week now. Reading Trawling through many academic texts was just grinding my gears and was getting me nowhere. Speaking with Prof Stephen Heppell at BETT 2010, he told me that modern learners were using YouTube as their primary search engine. I took this advice today and started going through just a few of the top results for: learning organisations. This brought up this video that clarified many things for me. It is a primary source as it is uploaded by the author, so can it be referenced in academic texts? That is the real question.


February 15, 2010

A project over at lateforlunch.co.uk that I have been working on with and for my department. I wont repeat myself, check out the bio and story so far:


Education is linear?

September 28, 2009

Linear Education

A title and image shamelessly stolen from a great thought provoking video on YouTube that really gets you thinking. It covers many points that go perhaps a bit out there in the grand scheme of things, bit the first 1:13 of the video really hits the nail in my opinion. What do you think?