Martin Dougiamas: The Moodle Open-Source LMS: history, theory and future
Martin Dougiamas gave the first keynote address of the second day; I was really looking forward to seeing him speak about Moodle. While his talk didn't reveal much that I didn't already know about Moodle it was nice to hear some of the background circumstances that inspired him to develop the LMS and to talk about some of the future directions he hopes to take the platform. Martin personifies one of the rare instances in Open Source software development where the right person with the right personality appears at the exactly the right time; Martin Dougiamas is the Linus Torvalds of the LMS world and his software is the Linux of this software. Martin still very much considers Moodle to be a work in progress; some of his desires for the next incarnations of Moodle are: simplification of the user interface; better documentation (although there are 3 books in the works, one by O'Reilly); custom defined roles; and the ability to develop communities of interest amongst Moodle users. Martin also spoke of a 'marketplace' style area for people to trade, sell, or distribute Moodle courses.
Penny Carnaby, Chief Executive of the National Library: Next Generation e-Learning and Digital Library Futures
Penny Carnaby is currently the deputy chair of the ICT Steering Committee for Education, established by the Minister of Education.
Penny spoke a lot about the government information strategy in relation to the National Library's mandate to support all NZ students. This has led to a legislative responsibility to provide resources to support all facets of teaching and learning and requires the development of the digital library. The Digital Library, according to Penny, will impact on and influence the pedagogy of the next generation e-learner.
Wayne Mackintosh (Director, Centre for Flexible and Distance Learning): Leading global e-learning futures: A 'No. 8 wire' opportunity?
Wayne touched on a lot of points and because I'd heard a lot of his speech in earlier incarnations and conversations I didn't take too many notes. Some key points though were ... there are two kinds of technologies: sustaining and disruptive. eLearning currently shares both these characteristics, but the new pedagogy, if such a thing emerges, will more than likely share the characteristics of a disruptive technology. Wayne contends that the current state of digital ICTs have failed to transform education and instead just enhance the traditional 'face-to-face' pedagogy. Wayne commented on the Zemsky & Massy report that focused on the failings of eLearning, suggesting that the report needs to be seen in light of the dot com boom/bust and that it may also just represent a lull in eLearning. New Zealand may be poised to be a leader in eLearning due to a variety of characteristics: a propensity for innovating; strong government support and strategy. Wayne also made some comparisons between the successes of Finland in developing a sophisticated information society.
I'm attending e-Fest 2004 in Wellington. This is the third annual meeting of e-learning practioners, initiated by the ITPNZ e-learning forum and sponsored by the Open Polytechnic and Whitirea Community Polytechnic. Features keynotes this year are: Martin Dougimas - creator of Moodle; Sandy Britain - formerly of the University of Wales, Centre for Learning Technology, currently working at Gisborne Polytech; Wayne Mackintosh - Director of Centre for Flexible and Distance Learning, University of Auckland, and Marc Prensky - founder of Games2Train, specializing in the use of games to enhance learning. The following are some of my notes and observations of the first day of the conference:
Keynote Speech: Marc Prensky 'Overcoming our Digital Immigrant Accents'
Prensky started off with a somewhat surprising statistic: 50% of the world's population is under 25, followed by the question: how many teachers are under 25? Are we ready to teach today's learners? A few more stats followed: 10,000 hours of video games by age 21; 10,000 hours of cell-phone calls; 20,000 hours of tv; less than 5,000 hours reading books. The point of all this - learners are different; they make 'twitch speed' decisions, prefer random access to information rather than structured or linear access, are graphical, parallel processors, play oriented and connected. As 'digital natives' they do pretty much the same things the 'digital immigrants' do, just they do it differently. They are comfortable in collaborative environments and are no longer limited by thier teachers knowledge; in a fully networked society they have instant access to a vast body of knowledge outside of the classroom. These 'digital natives' already have a computer in their pocket. Why aren't we using them? (Cell phones, PDAs, wireless laptops). Prensky argues that what the new learning has to do is 'engage'. Learners want learning that is engaging. Motivation and engagement must come before content. How do we create engagement? Key ideas are from game design: focus on users engagement; frequent, important decision making; gameplay (decision making, pacing, complexity, feedback, adaptation.) We need to 'unlearn' instructional design which often "sucks the fun out."
I'm going to Prensky's workshop on Wednesday so will have more later next week. More can be found at http://www.marcprensky.com or http://www.socialimpactgames.com
Attended 2 Concurrent Sessions after talk by Kaye Turner outlining Govt. vision re: elearning. She repeated the usual stuff. Then ...
"Three Years In The Forge - Open Source E-Learning Systems at the Christchurch College of Education" by Glenn Davies. Glen spoke about his experience developing the Open Source Interact system for the Christchurch College of Education. Followed agile programming philosophy of releasing working software early and often regardless of documentation; allowed him to make almost weekly changes incorporating users requests. I asked him about his experience Open Sourcing the project; he said that the mistakes they made were; 1) should have released earlier; and 2) had the wrong name - ie, hard to find in searches. Interact looks quite nice and can act as a organizational intranet as well as a simple LMS.
I then attended a presentation by Thom Cochrane from UNITEC where he demoed some incredible 'learning objects' that he'd created using Quicktime to teach audio engineering. I didn't know that Quicktime was much more than a movie platform/player but Thom has created some incredibly interactive objects using the medium.
This was followed by Elizabeth Valentine doing a presentation on mLearning (mobile learning). Elizabeth spoke really fast about the coming ubiquity of sophisticated mobile devices; phones, PDAs, wireless notebooks, etc... Such devices are accepted as more thatn just phones by young people; some societies claim 90% saturation rate of cell-phones. Many lessons from eLearning will work in mLearning. She urged the audience to think laterally about the potential to enrich the learning experience. Rich multimedia is capable in these small space formats and can engage learners in compelling and pedagogically sound ways. URLS: http://cc.oulu.fi/~jlaru/mlearning/
Kenote Speaker: Sandy Britain
"Managing Complexity: Some Challenges in the Creation of Effective e-Learning Environments and Educational Experiences"
Sandy, who recently visited the CFDL, spoke about his experience in the field of Cybernetics: the study of complex systems. Highly complex systems such as found in universities require creative management solutions. Technology is used as a way of mediating this complexity by either amplifiying or attenuating. eLearning will not be fully realized if it continues to mimic the organizational devices of face-to-face teaching in a digital environment. I didn't take any notes during this speech so am not really doing Sandy's speech justice here; it was a really interesting and complicated talk though and I hope to learn more through further engagement with Sandy's writings/work.
James Dalziel, "Designing sequences of collaborative activities: The Learning Activity Management System (LAMS). James outlined the motivations behind the development of LAMS and then demonstrated the sytstem. LAMS is designed to focus on the easy sequencing of learning activities. James suggested that the 'problem' of eLearning was that it was often not much more than the textbook online - pedagogically a 'transmission' model. Interaction/collaboration should be the heart of eLearning. Learning Design = best practice process; sequences of collaborative learning activities. Question was: can we build software do facilitate LD? LAMS was developed to answer this question. James then demonstrated LAMS in action. The interface is very intuitive featuring drag-n-drop metaphor for sequencing activities. Activities 'objects' are provided by LAMS but James hopes that by Open Sourcing LAMS these activities will increase. LAMS then presents these activities to the learner in the sequence prescribed by the teacher/author. LAMS will be Open Sourced January 2005. More at: http://www.lamsinternational.com I was pretty impressed by LAMS and hope to explore the system in greater detail when the code is released.
The Google machine rolls on ... this one is pretty neat, and something that we've dreamed about for a while. Can't wait until it gets to NZ.
Why the Community Source model of software development works for Universities...