Friday, July 29, 2005

Personalized Google & AJAX

Alan Levine of CogDogBlog writes about Google's personalized home page feature, which allows you to add custom content to Google's search page such as RSS feeds, weather, news, quotes of the day, bookmarks, etc. The feature that blew me away was the ability to reposition components of the interface through drag-and-drop. This is apparently accomplished through Ajax, a new web design development approach that apparently everyone (except for me) talks about. Serves me right for going on vacation.

The closing plenary session of MERLOT was on Pachyderm, which seems to make the art of creating great looking web pages easy and simple for the non-developer. As Alan implied in his post, AJAX could bring Pachyderm to the next level.

Call me a nerd, but I'm just pumped to figure out how AJAX works and how to incorporate it into my own sites. Unfortunately, I guess it'll have to wait until Monday - the weekend beckons!


Macromedia has recorded the plenary sessions, available here:

I will also update my previous MERLOT posts to include links to respective Powerpoint presentations, when and if they become available.

Overall, I really enjoyed the conference. I learned some new and interesting things, met new people and got to know some "old" friends even better. I also think I'm starting to get the hang of flying some 30,000 odd feet above the Earth's surface. I suppose the only thing I would've changed about the conference is the location - sorry Nashville, country music just ain't my thang.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

MERLOT '05: Pachyderm 2.0

presented by Dr. Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium (NMC)

Pachyderm is an open-source "story-telling" tool (as Johnson puts it) used to create appealing online content with incredible ease. It was created through a partnership between the NMC, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Pachyderm publishes its output in Flash format (SWF) and is targeted for non-developers (Flash developers can breathe a sigh of relief).

If you can get past the incredibly annoying typing sounds (the digital equivalent of nails on a chalkboard), Liang Shao of UBC has created a Pachyderm tutorial demonstrating how easy it is to create better-than-powerpoint material.

Right now, Johnson says the greatest need is for people to "pound" on Pachyderm and test the beta version.

Pachyderm currently support 10 different content templates.

MERLOT '05: "Storybook: A successful model for student web publishing" notes

One of the better sessions I attended, Laura Gibbs discussed a 15 week storybook writing project her students complete for a myth folklore course. The project itself is worth 50% of the final grade. Each student chooses 4 stories to re-tell in their own words. All formal writing is published on the Internet with a tool of choice (composer, blogger, jotspot, WIKIs, etc). Training in basic web publishing skills is built into the course to familiarize the students with the technology.

Why is the model successful? The 4 "M"s (one is a fake!):
  • Motivation - students are motivated by a "real" audience of peers, who act as a community to offer constructive criticism, advice, and new ideas. The teacher alone is not a real audience.
  • Modeling - students relate better to peers (than to the teacher). For instance, in writing about vampires, students are able to "fill the gap" with knowledge gleaned from television, books, online chat groups; whereas the teacher may lack particular subject knowledge (and in some cases interest).
  • Multimedia - online format introduces new opportunities for creativity and expression through text, images, video, audio.
  • iMprovement (the fake M) - the storybook model is an iterative process whereby work is continually revised with respect to comments from peers and the teacher.
The project requires approximately 1-2 hours of student work per work, and Laura strictly dedicates (with an egg-timer) no more than 15 minutes of time per student per week. Students are required to write 3-4 responses per week. No grading rubric is used.

Sure beats the pants off of multiple choice tests.

I recommend seeing the presentation or Laura's myth folklore site for further detail.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

MERLOT '05: "Technology that Teaches: Games in Education" notes

The was an interesting presentation exploring how the learning experience can be enhanced through simulation and exploration gaming environments. The educational game "Immune Attack" (still in development) teaches students about infections and immunology concepts in a highly detailed 3D environment of the bloodstream. The $1.3 million funding comes from an NSF IT grant, over 3 years. Immune Attack is built on the OGRE game engine and will be released on both the PC and XBOX.

Benefits of gaming environments:
  • active learning experiences
  • experiential learning
  • problem-based learning
  • immediate feedback
  • learner-centered
Some interesting facts (and one comment):
  • 60% of college students are regular gamers
  • US Army online - 3 million have completed basic training online
  • The typical student asks 0.17 questions per hour in the conventional classroom and 27 questions per hour in a one-on-one tutoring situation. Gaming is likely somewhere between the two - probably near the upper range.
  • The cookies on a student's computer can likely tell you more about the student's interests than their teacher.

Some "Immune Attack" game design goals / outcomes:
  • better life-style behaviours to avoid and protect against infections
  • building in negative outcomes that are biologically possible to allow students to make and learn from mistakes.
  • enhance student understanding of complex material
  • adding extra levels, introducing further complexity
Main concerns right now are the cost and amount of research and development that it takes to produce an educational game. Game developments are skeptical of the market potential of such games. Possibly, they could be co-bundled with textbooks.

Although I agree with the principles and benefits of using games as learning tools, I question the return on investment. Think of all the things you could do with $1.3 million...

MERLOT '05: OpenCourseWare part 2 notes

The second session was much the same as the first, except for a demo of the eduCommons software near the end, which was for me the most valuable aspect of both presentations.

OpenCourseWare (OCW) is covered under creative commons licensing. The transparency of OCW is beneficial for students in that it allows them to "shop" for courses through looking at the syllabus or getting a feel for the instructor by watching a video lecture. OCW also provides an opportunity to review and brush up skills or learn new ones.

MIT estimates the cost of producing an OCW course at a staggering $20,000. But this estimate includes things like legal fees, faculty buy-off (making it worth their time and energy, securing involvement) and development costs (migrating the content, massaging into new format).

Utah has graciously offered to assist with training, setup, even hosting of OCW instances.

MERLOT '05: "GLOBE: The Global Alliance of Digital Libraries" notes

GLOBE will provide an integrated and federated search of learning resources worldwide. It connects to repositories residing in countries around the world such as MERLOT (USA), ARIADNE (UK), NIME (Japan), EdNA (Australia) and soon, CLOE (Canada).

Slipstreaming metaphor - leveraging performance from others work (as competitive cyclists commonly do). Slipstreaming can also be applied in a cooperative context. Users of GLOBE will have access to a vast array of resources. Through use and adaptation to individual learning environments, existing resources will evolve and new resources will be created.

GLOBE URL (in development):

GLOBE will cover a range of fields, such as post-secondary, K-12, corporate training and is governed through a stewardship council. Users will be able to use GLOBE anonymously, but some aspects of the site will require registration (perhaps paid content).

Target deployment date is early 2007.

The second half of the presentation was on NIME:

NIME, as mentioned above, is the Japanese MERLOT. NIME-glad (forget what the GLAD stands for, sorry) houses several thousands of learning objects (note: syllabi fall under this definition). NICER, a K-12 spin-off of NIME-glad, houses approximately 124,000 resources. Currently, NICER is only offered in Japanese but will be translated into English by the end of this year. Despite being in Japanese, learning objects (or parts thereof), such as animations, still prove useful to non-Japanese. NICER also hosts learning objects for teachers on issues such as good practice, lesson plans and research reports. Learning objects for students are categorized by school level: elementary, lower secondary, upper secondary and other.

About 4 or 5 people run NIME-glad and NICER (a different group for each I believe, although the president is the same). Considering what I've seen, this is a remarkable achievement.

The presenter was running local copies of NIME-glad and NICER so I didn't catch a URL. Will post when I have time to search.

MERLOT '05: "Is There an OpenCourseWare Project In Your Future" notes

What is OpenCourseWare (OCW)? OCW Addresses the needs of informal learners, borrowing from the paradigm of formal education. It is IP-clean, not for credit, and is for non-commercial uses.

What motivates faculty to participate in OCW initiatives? An altruistic desire to enhance and increase educational opportunities for all. There are also self-interested motivators, such as the increased awareness and attention that is generated when materials of value become open and free - we're talking possible book deals, tenure, etc. For "chronologically gifted" faculty members, OCW provides a means to cement one's life's work for the benefit of future generations.

Some OCWs: Tufts, Utah State, MIT, FETP

The process of implementing OCW at your institution:
  1. Recruit faculty & courses
  2. Plan
  3. Build
  4. Publish
  5. Support & Maintenance
Utah State has developed an OpenCourseWare Management System (OMS) called 'eduCommons'. John Dehlin works there and helps others implement similar initiatives at other institutions.

I'm attending the afternoon session on OCW, so there'll be another post on this topic in a few hours.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

MERLOT '05: Macromedia - Creating Memorable Learning Experiences with Flexible Flash Content

I should've known better.

The session description:

"Perhaps no Macromedia product is as well recognized as Macromedia Flash. This session offers a look at some of the many ways that Flash-based content assets are being created and shared by post-secondary educators in the service of rich, engaging digital learning experiences. Featured use cases include on-campus examples, blended learning examples, and distance learning examples. Each use case explores pedagogical, operational, and user experiences issues. Wagner (Macromedia rep) will summarize "lessons learned" from these examples and offer a set of practice-tested guidelines for implementing effective, engaging distributed learning experiences."

This proved to be false advertising as it turned out to be nothing more than a neatly packaged sales pitch for Macromedia's suite of products. No practice-tested guidelines, no examples or use-cases that explore pedagogical, operational or user experience issues.

For what it's worth though, Macromedia has recorded the plenary sessions with Breeze:

Wagner made an interesting comparison, noting how the introduction of the calculator was greeted with much criticism and concern over issues of academic integrity, loss of critical thinking skills, etc. - similar to online and mobile learning today. She also predicted that the USA would have broadband wireless for mobile devices in about a year from now.

Also, if you'd like to participate in "Maelstrom", the Flash Player 8 public beta, here's the link:

MERLOT '05: "Designing and Managing Reuse" notes

  • Reuse: Authors vs. instructors vs. students vs. collections
  • 4 questions:
    • Can I find it? -> metadata, search techniques (finding vs. searching)
    • Is it useful? -> reusable design (context & pedagogy AND structure & presentation)
    • May I use it? -> rights (copyright)
    • Will it work? -> interoperability
  • Reusable Design Guidelines
  • Metadata
    • different types:
      • bibliographic
      • contextual (difficult to abstract from LO, e.g. things like reading level) - often missing in full text searches
      • technical
      • legal
      • usage info. (e.g. instructor, student, user guides)
    • use a standard, 'speak to me in a language i can understand'
    • examples:
    • Copyrights:
      • Important to both obtain and grant permission - provide a statement of rights and permissions. Easiest way with something like Creative Commons approach (
      • Links are usually OK, but watch out for 'deep linking', 'framing', 'in-lining' - branding concerns, generally commercial.
      • Fair use
      • Reference
  • Interoperability
    • 2 approaches: standards (e.g. HTML, XML, SCORM, etc.) and common formats (e.g. PDF, Flash, Java, etc.)
  • Reusable Design
    • 5 layers:
    • 1.Content is at the core: the meaning by a resource and the words and images used to convey it, information intended to affect a change in cognitive state.
    • 2. Context - language, culture, subject, relations to other learning resources
    • 3. Pedagogy - how resource is used
    • 4. Structure - granularity, sequencing, the 'skeleton'
    • 5. Presentation - visual appearance, auditory elements, interface
    • Principle: separate the layers - e.g. don't let the presentation dictate how the resource is used
    • context is both friend and enemy of reuse - the goal of reuse is to reduce context as much as possible without hurting the pedagogy
    • tips:
  • resources:

MERLOT '05: "Creating Interdisciplinary Learning Objects from One Authoritative Source" notes

In this workshop, faculty and staff from Chattanooga state discussed how a series of video interviews on the writing process evolved into a learning object that was adapted into several academic disciplines, such as english, business, science and law.

Initially, some funding was secured to produce a video interview of independant writer and lecturer Kent Nelson. The learning object emerged when faculty from different disciplines were brought together, showed the interview and generated ideas on how it could be used within their respectives fields.

The learning object was produced with Camtasia and is nothing more than a Powerpoint presentation with a picture-in-picture of interview clips, which differs from what I would define as a learning object. The problem with the definition of learning object is that the term is so ambiguous. Object can refer to virtually anything. Learning narrows the possibilities to within the realm of pedagogy but raises other issues that I hope to discuss in a future post. The learning object presented in this session would be closer to what I'm tempted to call a learning asset, but the term is problematic - it's a loaded term. Perhaps content resource is an appropriate substitute for the time being.

Reuse of the resource is achieved through changing the context surrounding the interview clips. Tailoring the Powerpoint presentation has allowed the learning object to apply to different disciplines although the presenters point out the application isn't quite there yet.

The main challenge hilighted was production cost - securing enough funding to pay Kent, video taping, editing, etc. Presenters encourage developers of learning objects to collaborate and share content resources through venues such as MERLOT to alleviate such costs.

Access to the learning objects:
username: guest01, guest02, guest03, ..., guest25
password: guest01, guest02, guest03, ..., guest25

MERLOT '05: The Long-Awaited Breakthrough? notes

Keynote by Sir John Daniel - presentation notes

  • Development through learning
    • 1. Challenge of making HE available to all
    • 2. Can eLearning help?
    • 3. Barriers to eLearning
    • 4. Partners for a better future
  • 1. Challenge of making HE available to all
    • The major trend: growth in demand
    • Demography: 7-8 billion (50% young) in developing world by 2025.
      Discrepancy: Developed APR 40% plus, developing APR 10% plus
    • cross-border post-secondary education negligible phenomenon in developing countries, therefore the developing world need home-grown solutions - is eLearning one of them?
  • 2. Can e-Learning help?
    • C.K. Prahalad: 'the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid' - an APR of 35% would yield 150 million students. Companies with the resources stand to gain.
    • The most promosing innovation in eLearning - Open Educaiton Resources (OERs), such as Open Source, open content, etc.
    • Barriers to sharing courseware:
      • 'not invented here'
      • copyright
      • non-digital formats - difficulty sharing, distributing, etc.
    • 4 questions:
      • Accessible?
        • 1. Connectivity?
        • 2. OERs available? e.g. MERLOT
          • OECD/UNESCO is mapping OER initiatives
          • UNESCO-IIEP - FOSS new forum on OERs and open content
          • COL - Access to multiple LORs (
            Software = eRIB (Canarie) + pakXchange
      • Appropriate?
        • Copyright
      • Accredited?
        • Does eLearning require new QA criteria?
        • What can be done at the International level to promote trust and confidence?
        • 6 stakeholders: gov'ts, institutions, QA agencies, student associations, professional bodies, qualification recognition agencies
        • HE ODL Knowledge Base:
      • Affordable?
        • Digital divide -> digital dividend?
        • Virtual University for Small States of Commenwealth - potential of eLearning to promote national and regional development:
  • 3. Barriers to eLearning - what can we do?
    • Interests of gov't in eLearning
      • Efficiency
      • Effectivness
      • Economy
    • Roles of gov't
      • DON'T operate eLearning programs except for gov't functions
      • DO create the right context and frameworks
        • Centralized infrastructure
          • K-12 curriculum
          • facilitate creation of LORs
          • advise on LMSs
          • accurate info on copyright
        • Issues of bandwidth:
          • Telecoms legislation and monopolies - developing country institutions can pay over 100 times more for Internet access than in the industrialized world. Telecom companies buying overseas bandwidth and overselling to developing countries. Expensive connectivity handicaps.
          • little joint buying - institutions should club together to buy bandwidth (cheaper).
          • poor policy and management - define acceptable use (e.g. what kind of websites can be visited). Maximize benefits day and night (bandwidth demands lower at night, pre-caching resources for future). Extended hours of access.
        • LMS Evaluation Tool Use Guide (
      • e.g. Canarie has done a great job
  • Challenges for us
    • 1. How to enhance collaboration?
      • Virtual forums (e.g. UNESCO-IIEP)
      • Funding collaboration (e.g. Hewlett)
      • Linking LORs (learning = common wealth)
      • Training in policy and practice
      • International collaboration (UNESCO / OECD)
    • 2. What can we do? How can we bring post-secondary education to the bottom of the pyramid (4 billion people)?

Monday, July 25, 2005

MERLOT '05 Nashville

Well, I survived the flight and find myself in Nashville attending the MERLOT '05 conference - my first ever visit to the United States. Tonight I went to Nashville's oldest Microbrewery with the CLOE folks for dinner, a drink and some conversation. Nashville is a 2 hour flight from Toronto but apparently a whopping 14 hour drive. I haven't really had a chance to explore Nashville yet, my first excursion is planned for tomorrow after the first day of conference activities. Although not a fan of country music, I intend to make the most of this opportunity. I'll be posting my notes from the conference sessions I attend - speaking of which, I'd better get running!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Project Looking Glass

Project Looking Glass is a 3D desktop environment designed by Sun. The site contains links to a 6-minute demonstration video (I could do without the 2 minute intro) that demonstrate some interesting features a 3D desktop might contain such as: rotating windows in 3 dimensions and pushing them aside, window mouse-out transparency, 3D taskbar icons, and the ability to write notes on the "back" of webpages, videos and other windows.

Folding Windows

Check out this short video demonstrating a new interface concept of dragging and dropping to overlapping windows, called "Fold n' Drop". This new technique illustrates how you can easily navigate through window layers. Wow!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Multiple Choice Tests?!

Check out this somewhat longer-than-usual rant on my other blog about multiple choice tests and how ineffective I believe them to be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Multilinks : Links with multiple destinations

Here is an implementation of an idea I've been thinking about for awhile and wishing would become a reality. It is currently only offered as a plug-in in PmWiki on Firefox browsers (only partial support for IE browsers due to CSS issues). I really like the Google and Wiki search built into to each multilink (aka mlink), allowing you to easily search the respective site for the link title. Additionally, mlinks provide an edit feature, allowing users to add their own link targets or remove existing ones (most likely to remove spam links).

One way of extending this could be to have the links ordered by popularity. The more frequently a link is clicked the higher it moves up in the ordering. The overhead costs for this little feature would likely outweigh any benefits.

Check out mlinks here.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Principles for Evaluating Websites

How do you know whether something you read on the web is true? You can’t know, at least, not for sure. This makes it important to read carefully and to evaluate what you read. This guide from Stephen Downes will tell you how.

The guide can also extend to cover other forms of media in addition to websites.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

DRM is doomed to fail.

Umair writes an interesting post about why DRM (digital rights management) is ultimately doomed to fail. Why? Because DRM is based on analog property rights that are ill-suited to today's digital world. The real (physical) world is one based on scarcity. Scarcity determines value, which is measured by the amount of money we attach to objects of value. The Internet however, is a digital world whose primary commodity is information. It is a virtual world based on abundance. Hence, traditional ways of thinking don't map as well or fail altogether.

Although I am by no means an astrophysicist, consider yourself in a situation where you are placed on another planet - would you expect the laws of Earth to apply? I think not. The Internet is no different. We need to broaden our vision, break the boundaries that restrict our creative capacities of thought in efforts to reach new understanding (although it seems ironic considering that we humans have built it). I ramble.

Anyway, the article and the commentary are definitely worth a read. You'll learn something. I did!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Ray Kurzweil Reader

The Ray Kurzweil Reader is a collection of essays by Ray Kurzweil on virtual reality, artificial intelligence, radical life extension, conscious machines, the promise and peril of technology, and other aspects of our future world. These essays, all published on from 2001 to 2003, are now available as a PDF document for convenient downloading and offline reading. The 30 essays, organized in seven memes (such as "How to Build a Brain"), cover subjects ranging from a review of Matrix Reloaded to "The Coming Merging of Mind and Machine" and "Human Body Version 2.0."

A Coming Dark Age for Innovation

"A provocative view from Jonathan Huebner, a physicist at the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California, holds that technological innovation has actually been slowing down for more than a century. Huebner, whose paper will appear in the September issue of Technological Forecasting & Social Change, came to this conclusion by studying the number of patents issued per person and examining a list of thousands of innovations." -- Rob Hof, BusinessWeek
I would strongly disagree with Huebner's conclusion since I do not believe that the number of patents is an adequate measure of innovation (although I cannot suggest any alternative methods of measurement at the moment). But what about the many (and increasing number of) popular and successful open-source projects? I consider these to be innovative but seem unlikely to be considered in the study. I'm sure there are many other examples.

The second variable of measurement employed by Huebner is his examination of a list of thousands of innovations, which is likely derived from those innovations with patents, a further limitation of the study in my view.

But for now we can merely speculate, and as Hof notes, we'll need to see the paper to examine the arguments and draw our own conclusions.