Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tackling Flash Player Security Issue

The flash player security settings is a headache for many developers who do not want users of their products to go through the ordeal of having to play with the security settings to allow a SWF object to ''communicate with an internet location'' especially when they are accessing the object locally (on hard drive, pendrive or a CD-ROM). The message will read like Flash is having to do some potentially unsafe operation and something is trying to connect to an internet location bla bla...

Users will then either have to edit the security settings to make the location from where they are accessing the SWF (hard drive, pendrive or a CD-ROM) a trusted location, or to access the adobe site and to change the settings from the panel provided on the Adobe site. If the security settings are not edited then buttons or actionsripts might not be able to run thereby creating usability problems in the applications.

(http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplayer/help/settings_manager04.html)

  

 If the product that is developed will later be hosted on the web, then users will not have the issue of trusted file settings. However if the product is to be deployed on CDROM and accessed via a browser (offline browsing) then it may experience issues.

We have found a more elegant solution than having the user to manually change settings. However we need to admit it is not the best one and not necessarily acceptable to everyone. It is rather strange. 

After searching a lot on the computer, we have that the Flash player has a folder on the computer where trusted file settings can be stored. If you go through to the 
c:\windows\system32 folder, there is a folder called Macromed and inside it a folder called Flash. This is the folder where the Flash player is installed. Now to make a particular location 'trusted' manually, there is a folder called FlashPlayerTrust in the folder Flash. If the folder does not exist create a folder called FlashPlayerTrust. Then insert a text file in that folder with the locations that you want to be termed as trusted. Let us assume that the file you create is named myTrust.txt and the content you want to trust is the whole of the C: drive, the file will contain only one line of text and it is 'c:'. This means all folders and subfolders in the c: drive will become trusted. Of course you can also specify only specific locations rather than the whole of a drive. To add other locations just press enter and write in the path in your text file. 

Now the issue is how to automate this process if you are packaging your product on a CD. The solution is to include the text file on your CD and write a batch file that will copy the text file (through an xcopy command for instance) from the CD to the  
 c:\windows\system32\macromed\flash\flashplayertrust folder when the CD is autorun. If you have a 64-bit windows 7 OS, you need copy to sysWOW64 folder instead of the system32 folder.

The problem that your batch file will now face is that you will get an access denied message because of permissions to write to the system32 folder. To achieve this, you will need use a professional  autorun software like autorunpro.exe and it will work fine.

Your autorun.inf file will be as follows:
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[Autorun]
; /s parameter no longer needed for version 1.2
open=AutorunPro.exe
[AutorunPro]
; Here are some sample uses for Autorunpro. It keeps processing Them in Run1..RunN order until it doesnt find one.
Run1=install.bat
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now create your file supposedly called trustfile.txt 
The problem now with XCOPY is that if the directory FlashPlayerTrust does not exist, it will prompt the user whether it is a directory or a file. We do not want this to happen as we want the process to be as smooth as possible for the end user.

There is a trick to that. We use the parameter /I /Y but this will only work if there is more than 1 file being copied. 

So we create another file called trustfile2.txt.

When we use the XCOPY command, to specify both files we use the wildcard * after the word trust. So it will copy trustfile.txt and trustfile2.txt. In this way it will create the directory flashplayertrust without prompting the end-user to specify if its one or not.


Your batch file as follows (in this example we are using firefox portable):

install.bat 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
@echo off
xcopy /I /Y trust*.txt c:\windows\system32\macromed\flash\FlashPlayerTrust
xcopy /I /Y trust*.txt c:\windows\sysWOW64\macromed\flash\FlashPlayerTrust
cd firefoxportable
firefoxportable index.html
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The solution has worked and the flash player security message does not appear.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Is it necessary to monitor attendance in Universities?

Honestly, I do not even think its an issue. University students are adults and more and more we are enrolling students who are mature and are working professionals, and family heads etc. Yet in a University we might still find people arguing the importance to monitor attendance as if we are dealing with primary school infants (where attendance monitoring provide clues for broader social issues) and secondary school adolescents (where attendance monitoring is more to ensure that in this vulnerable age, those adolescents are safe and sound). That is all about it!

It is unreasonable to say in the 21st century, (i would even go as far as treating this absurd) that forcing a student to attend classes will maximise his chances of passing the exams. Personally if I take my own case when I was a student, if I have to agree with the belief that attendance make people pass, I will find myself in a situation where it will be more like ''fais ce que je dis mais ne fais pas ce que je fais!'' because as a University student in my undergraduate studies, I rarely attended classes and yet I passed! Afterall, why would I attend classes when all i had to do in them was to copy as fast as i can the slides which the lecturers had photocopied from books and which could easily have been distributed to students? I was wiser because I just took the notes of my friends, photocopied them and then learnt the same notes when I was in a better environment to learn!

At the same time when we think of the concept of distance education that exists for more than a century now, the concept of attendance is irrelevant. What is important is the type of pedagogical design, the way we design learning activities and get students to engage in them and most importantly is about how we empower students to become responsible of their own future. 


Look at the video below, and ask ourselves "why do we need to sit a class like in a compact farm to listen to the something of lesser quality than what can be disseminated through other media??"



When we get the lecture, interactive activities, and notes in abundance online, how will sitting in a classroom and engage in a mad race to copy faster than our peers help us to better pass the exams? May be Newton or Einstein would have been able to find a scientific explanation to that....... 

Of course the arguments above should not me mistaken as a critic for face-to-face meetings but its just absurd to take stock of the number of f2f meetings and directly relate that to pass or fail or the quality of teaching. Rather the focus should be on what is to be done to improve the quality of learning.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Inside Job - the best documentary film I watched in 2011 so far....

It talks of the financial crisis in general about all those thieves in Wall Street who enriched themselves by destroying the financial institutions they were themselves CEO and therefore making investors lose all their money....

But the most important part of all as highlighted in the documentary, was how financial institutions corrupted Economics Professors of renowned universities to make them write false reports, papers with fake results to justify the need to deregulate the financial sector and even after the crisis the corruption is continuing to make them write and take position against proposed reforms. 








Academics are receiving as much as 150000 USD to publish one paper..

When we think that we are asked to publish in those supposedly highly reputed journals to get promotion, where our work will be reviewed by possibly corrupt academics...........The same academics were supposed to have academic freedom and agents of free inquiry, but in reality the same people were members of administration boards of financial institutions...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Fun Learning for Kids - Reshaping Curriculum Elements....

The Mauritius educational system is currently undergoing a number of changes with the introduction of ICT as a major driver for educational reforms and to improve the current teaching and learning landscape. Schools in Mauritius are being equipped with interactive whiteboards and computers but the reality is that without the right pedagogical approach and the right type of content, the expected outcomes will never be achieved.

This article demonstrates a prototype story-telling cartoon that has the pedagogical objective to teach students of Standard III (age group 8-9 yrs) a simple lesson that plants need water and sunlight to grow. The original lesson is found in the students’ workbook where emphasis is laid on pictures and text. The original lesson has been converted into a story-telling script and implemented as an animated cartoon of about 5 minutes duration.




The research proposed in this project is inspired from the work of Dalacosta et al (2009) who used cartoon-styled application for the teaching of elementary science in Athens. Their target audience were students aged 10-11. Their research results provide evidence that the use of animated cartoons significantly increases the young students’ knowledge and understanding of specific science concepts, which are normally difficult to comprehend and often cause misconceptions to them.

However, Dalacosta et al. (2009) focused mainly on static cartoons and interactive animations for their research. In this project, the concept will be pushed further to include story-telling dynamic cartoons that will have a context and a scenario similar to a short movie. These will then be supplemented with learning games that will render the process similar to a recreational activity for the student, but which is in reality a learning activity taking place.

The research project in its broader sense therefore aims at the development of a set of pedagogical materials for the primary school curriculum using the cartoon-based story telling approach for students. The concepts of ‘Fun Learning’ will be explored as potential innovative teaching and learning methods that can bring about significant improvement in our educational system.

Monday, 14 November 2011

VCILT's Web TV

About a year ago, we launched a YouTube channel with a few videos of the Centre. It gradually evolved when the outcomes of the SIDECAP project started to take form as a series of interactive video lectures which were disseminated as Open Educational Resources. In parallel there were some discussions with the MCA about having educational programs on the MBC knowledge channel. WIth those discussions not proceeding any further with the MCA, we decided to explore easier and more straightforward means of disseminating content. 

Rather than going to create our own video streaming server which will be most of the time overloaded due to the permanent bandwidth issues that we have to face, we decided to go for the YouTube option. We started with the first course that was converted into interactive video lectures, CSE1010e and we established a playlist to link the videos together. Gradually we had started to put other course content in areas like system modelling, system security, project management. We have recently put a whole course on database design and development and one on Interaction Design on YouTube. Over the past years, the videos have attracted about 13000 views and we now have the possibility to upload longer length educational videos on YouTube. 13000 views is far from sufficient but we do hope that the momentum will be building up.




This is in line with our philosophy of promoting the use of Open Educational Resources for the benefit of education and the lambda learner. It all however depends on the human resource that we have to keep the initiative ongoing and to augment the quality of the material that is being disseminated.


The OERs available on our YouTube channel will form according to us the next generation of the concept of open education. Any one will be able to access the courses, go through them and ultimately come to us and take some form of assessment and get certified! (against a small administrative fee). 

to be continued....


Monday, 3 October 2011

Plenary Speech at the 18th International Conference on Learning

Training of In-Service Educators through Online Activity-based Learning


The speech described the concept of activity-based learning and how it is being implemented in online teacher training courses at the University of Mauritius. 

In 2001, for the University of Mauritius to catch the eLearning bandwagon, the Virtual Centre for Innovative Learning Technologies (VCILT) was created in bid to modernize the distance education concept by fully utilizing the possibilities offered by IT-enabled networked systems and the Internet. Since its establishment the centre has brought in some non-negligible innovations in the teaching and learning landscape. Inevitably, as any innovative practices, it has also brought its share of disruption in the traditional university setting, what we term as ‘’constructive disruption’’ especially with respect to the conception of pedagogy and educational practice in teacher training.

The February 2010 issue of the Commonwealth of Learning “Connections” magazine has a few sections fully dedicated to the teacher training issue. Incidentally the articles all adopt a highly critical perspective of current teacher training courses especially within developing COL countries. While most of those articles on the topic focus on the more general issue of using ODL for teacher training and capacity building, in the article “Time for Radical Change in Teacher Education”, Bob Moon, Professor at the Open University of the UK argues that it is time to implement new technologies in teacher training courses so as to focus on the continuous professional development of educators. The very essence of the article is the belief that “education and training should be an entitlement for all teachers at all stages in their careers” and that research has demonstrated that when “this entitlement is honored, learners achieve more and schools improve”. Adopting a very critical view of the so-called brick and mortar institutions for teacher training, Moon (2010) highlights “there is absolutely no way the ‘bricks and mortar’ institutions of teacher training created in the last century will be adequate for the 21st century needs”.




The VCILT has always invested in efforts to bring about a change in mindset in the way teachers in Mauritius perceive education especially with respect to the information revolution that we witnessed in Mauritius from the year 2000 and up. 

A number of initiatives in the form of online workshops were undertaken to initiate teachers to new technologies and innovative ways of teaching and learning. Fully concurring with Bob Moon’s perspective the VCILT has always adopted a divergent, innovative and disruptive approach from the traditional ones in terms of capacity-building of teachers and educators. The top-up and Masters level programmes in Educational and Instructional technologies have been supplemented with an online continuous professional development programme for teachers on contemporary education issues and technologies from OERs obtained from the Open University of the UK. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Web 2.0, Social Networks, and Learning.......

More and more technology-savvy educators and educational technologists are going crazy about the use of web 2.0 tools like blogs, social networks (some even go as far as suggesting facebook) and other types of apps like Wikis for learning or in education. Many even go as far as suggesting that these are the modern tools to be used at all cost for all educational systems and processes for learning to occur. In other contexts, some would stress for meaningful learning to occur, as if there are some learning which can be 'meaningless'. 

Another issue is that many educators confuse the use of software designed for social networks and their potential if they were to be used in an educational context with the actual social networks that exist due to these software and how in such virtual environments or communities, learning can take place without these being specifically designed to be learning communities.

A blog for instance is no different to an online forum in terms of the software and its technological design. A post in a blog can be seen as a new discussion in a forum and each comment of a blog can be seen as a reply to the forum post and these become discussion threads.

Web 2.0 is essentially a concept where users of the web can also contribute to populating the web with articles, news, views and opinions. Facebook can be seen as web 2.0 tool because anyone having a profile there can post 'content' to his profile and others who have access to this profile can post comments on that person's wall. A social network is not necessarily a place where educational type of learning will take place most of the time although it can contain info related to an educational type of learning in which one or more persons in that network of friends are part of. It can contain a simple information on the date of a class test, or the tips provided by a lecturer for the exams. But these are not necessarily related to the core learning process. Same as this message can be used to communicate on facebook, twitter offers a more less same service (specialised as facebook is more general) for that type of activity. 

A classroom whether physical or online where participants can be with each other and communicate to each other is already a social network. It does not necessarily mean that it will expand. Therefore using a social network software to create a social network for a particular classroom is a bit of an oxymoron. But the use of a particular web 2.0 tool to promote say critical thinking for a particular learning activity can be a useful idea where learning of some sort will take place. 

On the other hand the use of a social network approach to extend the network of one classroom of a particular course at a particular level to connect with peers of similar characteristics across a geographical region can contribute to some extent in the educational process. But it depends on what the network talks about, what they share and what they are doing in that network to shape learning. How much learning goes on the social networks of facebook users? May be all sorts of informal learning or some news or just enough to create a revolution to topple governments, yes indeed it may have broader social effects, but not necessarily related to the more specific issue of learning within a predefined formal educational context, where learning outcomes and assessment structures and learning goals are well defined...........

Thursday, 16 June 2011

We have never done it before........

Today during a professional conversation with a staff of the University regarding the launching of a new course, the person, told me "We have never done this before at the University......"

Ooopsssss......I was stunned by this statement. We are in a University and this is exactly the place according to me 'to try out things that have never been done before....'

When an idea makes sense it is worth exploring it, if it does not we abandon it...this forms the basis from which we can nurture our creativity and bring innovation and not the way round.....

This is not about resistance to change mind you, but this is mainly about obsolete software (mindset).

VCILT showcases student's work

A few trainees currently on work-based learning placement at the VCILT are developing a kind of digital library to showcase our students' work in the different courses related to educational technology. Most of these work have some educational value and the resources have been created using open-source software (mainly e-learning authoring tools).

Undergraduate students in English, French, Psychology and Science fields have taken the General Elective Module on Educational Technology. Throughout the course, they have been developing IT related skills to develop simple educational websites. The course also tries to develop their reflective ability as well as critical thinking skills. This can be reflected in their commenting of the different articles in this blog.
We felt that its high time that students' work are not confined to CD-ROMs that are stacked on shelves and then destroyed later. By this online showcase of the work, we feel that we are adding value to the effort done by the students as well as the tutors who assisted them in the course. We have done a first selection of the best work.

The digital library will also showcase work of undergraduate students in the BSc Educational and Instructional Technology programme who are mainly practising teachers. It will also house the productions of our Diploma students in Web and Multimedia Development.

The address hosting a prototype is http://lcms.uom.ac.mu/vciltwebsite 

This will later be migrated to an integrated CMS.



Monday, 6 June 2011

VCILT recieves the visit of Prof Meller from OU UK as External Examiner

You are all invited to the talk of Prof Weller on Digital Scholarship.

New technologies are potentially changing all aspects of scholarly practice, including teaching, research and public engagement. This talk will look at the nature of digital scholarship, some examples of changing practice and the issues it raises for academics in all disciplines.

Martin Weller is Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University in the UK. He chaired the OU's first major elearning course with over 12,000 students, and was the director of the VLE project. His research interests are in open education, the impact of new technology and digital scholarship. He blogs at edtechie.net

Venue: G4 NAC Building
Time: Friday 10th June at 10 am

Friday, 27 May 2011

Investigation of student understanding and learning in multimedia presentations using human and synthesized voices based on the ‘voice principle’

Studies investigating learning gains in students exposed to synthetic voice audio-narration versus natural voice audio-narration have yielded mixed results. Hence this study was designed to further explore learning gains in an educational setting using synthetic voice audio-narration. The aims of the study were to quantitatively assess learning gains in students exposed to an educational resource narrated in a synthetic voice using Text-to-Speech, as compared to a natural voice narrated one and to qualitatively compare the two learning resources by using the following criteria: helpfulness, quality, warmth and familiarity and preference of audio-narration. This study consisted of 3 experiments. 

Experiments 1 and 2 were designed to compare a synthetic voice-narrated learning resource against a natural voice-narrated learning resource. Experiment 3 was designed to investigate learning gains and qualitative factors in a face-to-face narrated presentation. For Experiments 1 and 2, presentations were prepared in Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 to include synthetic voice audio-narration by using the freely available Text to Speech software “PowerTalk 1.2.14”. Natural voice audio-narration was done by recording the tutor’s voice in the PowerPoint. Student’s two-tailed t-tests were used to compare differences in samples. 

There was no significant difference in learning gains in students using a learning resource with synthetic voice audio-narration as compared to a natural voice audio-narration. Regarding the quality of audio-narration, results suggested that natural voice narration and face-to-face narration were perceived to be of higher quality that synthetic voice narration. Although all learning resources were perceived as being helpful, students preferred face-to-face narration with a PowerPoint presentation by the lecturer as their first choice followed by the narrated Power Points whilst PowerPoint presentation only was the third choice. This study shows that synthetic voice audio-narrated resources could be a useful tool in educational settings.

Split-Attention Elements and Students' Learning in Multimedia Environments


The research project investigates the effects of multimedia learning environments (MLEs) that divide attention of learners (split-attention effect) compared to MLEs that cater for such phenomenon on the learning experiences of the learner.  It aims to look at the effects on the cognitive load of the learner when attention is split between multiple sources of information. It also looks at the differences in performance and depth of understanding of the subject matter when two groups of students use the learning environments to learn the same content.

It was surprisingly found that although students who used the split-attention learning environment were subjected to increased cognitive load, they performed better in the learning activities and all of them achieved above average marks in contrary to those in the non split-attention environment. From the findings of the current research, it is perceived that although split-attention elements in multimedia environments would increase cognitive load, it did not specifically affect performance and understanding.

On the other hand, a combination of elements like previous subject matter knowledge, learning preferences, degree of learner control over the learning process and the type of assessment methods used can be determining factors that can improve the overall learning experience including learner performance.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Women Literacy and Entrepreneurship training through Innovative Technologies

The VCILT participated in a project with Commonwealth of Learning, the NPCC, Ministry of Tertiary Education and Ministry of Gender Equality... to develop interactive video lectures in the Creole Language. Two prototypes have been released. 

The first one is legal literacy for women and the second one is on business plan development. The Hon Minister Jeetah and the President of COL praised the work of the VCILT. The President of COL, Sir John Daniel also told one radio that VCILT is a very useful asset  for the country in its endeavour to launch its Open University.

You can find Minister's Jeetah's thoughts on the event here. http://rajeshjeetah.blogspot.com/2011/05/launching-of-lifelong-learning-for.html

 

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

From the allergies of the blackboard chalk, to the radiation of interactive board: What has changed?

We all remember our first day in school with that huge board in black (blackboard) with the teacher coming in class with his chalk palette (white, blue, pink, green and yellow).....Years later the whiteboard was seen as a nice innovation where chalks had been replaced by less dusty markers of different colours. However, the whiteboard did not really kick off in schools in its early days due to the perceived high cost of markers.  From the blackboard to the whiteboard, nothing changed in the way of teaching rather than the educational technology was improved.



Then came the overhead projector, which saved the teacher from having to write on the boards, rather he would display things that are already written. This is a facility for the teacher. He could also display images/graphics which otherwise he would have had to draw these on the board or bring photos and pictures in classrooms. Again, the pedagogy has not changed, although the technology has improved and facilitated the work of teachers. Educational technology at the service of teachers in this way is great as it facilitates the teaching process, but every new technology is costly, and it has to be mastered, then implemented. Many of them never arrived in our primary school classrooms, the overhead projector for instance. The same logic of improvement applies, when the digital projector was invented and could work with the laptop. The teacher could now project multimedia in an easier way to enhance student understanding. 

Well, we argue that the interactive whiteboard does nothing more than being another piece of modern technology of the digital world that we are living in. What is the difference between the digital camera and an analogue camera? its fundamentally the technology but at the end of the day we have the picture. What has changed? The picture is obtained quasi-instantaneously (remember of the Polaroid camera?) but it is also conserved in digital format. 

Now the question is: If we have an interactive white board, does it mean our children will learn better? 

If we have the interactive white board, does it mean students with ADHD syndrome will improve in terms of attention, hyperactivity control and performance in the class?

If we have the interactive white board, how many students will we still be having in the class?

Will we be in a position to have one PC, laptop or tablet for each student to replace his copybook? What will happen when the ‘copybook’ of the student gets lost or broken?

Are we ready to invest in this technology for each and every classroom when the pace at which the technology gets obsolete is just unbelievable!! Think of IPAD - IPAD2 is already out - how many of us got the chance to even see a real IPAD 1 in front of us?

Technology is like digital games. We have not yet mastered one level of the game when the next version of it is already on the market....What needs to be changed is the pedagogy and traditional ways that teaching and learning has been going on and those methods that we are currently employing.  Those methods that we call teacher-centred are still at the heart of the educational process, and this has to change. We are equipping ourselves with better tools but we are working the same way. If the way of driving is not good, a better car will not make any difference unless it is K2000 which can drive on its own...unfortunately there is no such educational technology that can teach on its own.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

e-Learning @ University of Mauritius (UoM): Case of the Virtual Centre for Innovative Learning Technologies (VCILT)

The Officer-in-Charge of the VCILT, Mr M Santally was invited as a keynote speaker at the ICT in Higher Ed Conference 2011 in Johannesburg from 30th to 1st April 2011. His 50 minutes talk focused on the VCILT since its creation to its current state. The presentation highlighted the challenges that the centre had and is still facing to bring about a paradigm change in the teaching and learning process. The presentation was highly acclaimed by the participants who were from different African Countries.

 
The presentation is available for download on the following link - http://www.slideshare.net/moham14/elearning-the-university-of-mauritius-the-case-of-the-vcilt

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Best Practices in Activity-based Learning II

Keep a good balance of complexity for the learning activities – not too complex and not too simple!

We are always under pressure to deliver quality education and in so doing very often we tend to associate quality with quantity and complexity. There is a perception among many educators and other stakeholders such as the students, parents and even policy makers that the more difficult the work is, means the quality or level of education is high. In activity-based learning it is important to keep the balance between complexity and difficulty level to maintain students’ motivation, confidence and drive to complete the activity. The learning activity designer needs to bear in mind that for a majority of the time the learner will be on his/her own in the learning environment. Therefore cognitive or psychomotor activity overload will have a negative impact of the learner’s affective levels. With respect to emotions and their effects on e-learning, a number of researchers have highlighted the decisive role that they play in human action and the forming of priorities by the individuals engaged in a particular process.

Provide a reasonable time span for the completion of learning activities
 Time keeping, estimation and management are important elements in e-learning. While courses are traditionally related to the number of contact hours in a semester between a lecturer and his students, the same formula cannot be applied when it comes to e-learning, more specifically online computer-based learning activities. It is important that a tutor or lecturer has a quite accurate estimation of the time to be allocated for a particular learning activity and/or sub-parts of a learning activity. Experience and previous feedback of students can play a very important role to guide the lecturer to set or review the time allocated to students for the work. The lecturer needs also anticipate possible issues and problems that students may face, evaluate how this will impact on the work of the student and to have a list of those issues listed and their workarounds. A FAQ style might prove handy.

Use clear and simple language in describing the activity steps 

When we write content and instructions it is important to bear in mind that we are writing for others to read and understand. Each and every learner is a different and unique individual and they perceive and process information differently. What can be seen to be a trivial instruction to the learner might actually be very confusing and therefore affect the learning experience. Technical jargons related to the course and/or to the learning environment should be avoided at this stage unless the terms have already been introduced in earlier activities to the learners.
 
Provide learners with examples of what is expected from them 

Learners continuously need assurances and reassurances that they are on the right track. This is a phenomenon which is observed because learners in reality do fear the autonomy they are given in the learning process. A good way in online environments and in activity-based learning is to provide them with worked-out examples, or sample of previous work of students. The only issue in this is that some students will just try to reproduce the same type of work leading to lack of application of their own creative skills.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Best Practices for Activity-based Learning from a Practitioner’s Perspective

Define the outcomes (competencies and skills) beforehand

You might be familiar as an educator with the process of writing learning outcomes and objectives based on the famous Bloom’s Taxonomy. However, many educators tend to focus on lower cognitive levels of Blooms Taxonomy especially when it comes to a content-driven approach towards learning. A structured approach to writing learning outcomes would be that the course designer needs to relate the outcomes with the assessment criteria and this should in practice be reflected in assignments, written exams or tests (whether theory or practical).

In activity-based learning, you can apply more or less the same principles but with some flexibility. Furthermore, in such approaches outcomes may not always relate to the subject matter content that is being taught. Outcomes are often translated into the words competencies and skills that demonstrate more what the learner can do in practice than his ability for rote learning and memorization.   

Keep the outcomes list and the number of learning activities reasonable

Learning activities essentially contain instructions on what is expected to be done by the student. In many cases, there are a number of sub-activities to do such as reading materials, installing and using software, participation on forums and other related activities. These sub-activities take time contrary to reading and understanding a chapter. Therefore, having too many activities will unduly overload the learner and cause a sense of illusion and de-motivation causing disinterest and probably dropping the course. As a rule of thumb a course of 45 hrs (3 credits) would preferably contain at most three major activities.

Furthermore there should not also be too many skills and competencies that should be targeted at in each learning activity. The support of instructional designers can help the lecturer in getting the right balance or if the lecturer is experienced in such types of pedagogical approaches, then this task can be quite easy. The focus needs to be on the quality of the learning experience rather than on quantity.


To be continued.....

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

New Research Projects for 2011

The VCILT is engaging in two in-house research projects for 2011. Readers can find a few details pertinent to those two projects in this post. Comments and suggestions are welcome. The two projects are headed by Mohammad Santally, Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology.

Research Project on Instructional Materials Design for Mobile Learning 

This project aims to look into the pedagogical design, usability and impacts of multimedia materials on learning experience using mobile devices. It looks at three categories of mobile devices namely the 4.3-inches wide PDAs, 7 to 10-inch wide tablet PCs, and mainstream 14-15.4 inch laptops.

The research questions are:

What are the usability issues that need to be addressed with respect to design of materials to enable seamless access to educational content on the different devices?

Usability issues in terms of ease of use, navigational aspects in the environment, multimedia support, amount of material that can be effectively loaded and presented and catering for a multitude of resolutions as well as internet browsers will be looked into.  Here we would like to look into whether the environment can be designed as such that its automatically adapted to the user interface being used or whether there is a need to do different designs to suit the different devices. Can there be a generic design that will fit all the devices without compromise the pedagogical approach that is preferred and/or the amount and type of content that the course designer would have liked to present.

The three devices selected for this research question are the HTC HD2 or devices with similar capabilities like the iPhone/iPod Touch, the Apple IPad or equivalent devices running on Windows and/or Linux platforms and a seven-inch laptop screen with a minimum resolution of 800x600 pixels with a possible investigation at 800x480 pixels. The control device will be a normal 14 inch or 15.4 inch regular laptop PC.

How does screen resolution and size affect the intended learning outcomes, learner concentration and motivation in the learning experience?

Mini laptops (known as netbooks) are getting cheaper and popular within the student community given their highly portable characteristics. These devices are equipped with latest technologies such as Wifi, Bluetooth and Webcam. However they are limited in terms of screen size and resolution. For instance some netbooks have screen size as small as 7 inches while some go up to 9/10 inches.  This definitely limits the type of material that can be seen, causes inconveniencies due to the need to frequently scroll up and down a page and also affect the learner on the affective side due to repetitive eye stress causing fatigue and stress. This may result in a lack of motivation and a less fruitful learning experience. For this component of the research, feedback from learners through usability evaluation will be gathered and their perceptions on the learning experience will be analysed.


How do the different technical abilities and limitations of the devices affect and impose restrictions on the learning design of content?

In this part of the research, the findings of the previous research question will play an important role. Combining the feedback obtained from the students and observations from the usability evaluation with the technical abilities of the devices, we will be able to devise appropriate guidelines for the type of material to be presented to the learner on these devices. We will also look at the effects when textual and graphical materials are presented (e-book format) compared to when multimedia interactive materials are used.

Are the differences on imposed cognitive loads on the learners significant when using the different devices? 

This is a sub-element of research question 2 where intended learning outcomes will be measured using the different devices. Learners will also be interviewed and probed to see how they feel the learning experiences were different with the different mobile devices. We will also look at what types of activities related to the learning experience are less complex and more difficult to carry in a learning activity, from logging in a platform to playing the learning activity with respect to each device being used.


Research Project on effects of Multimedia-based Instructional Cartoons in Students of ZEP schools and Learners with difficulties
This projects aims at the development of a set of pedagogical materials for the primary school curriculum using the cartoon-based story telling approach for students in ZEP schools. Students in those schools mainly come from poor families and from families experiencing different types of social problems. Students have difficulties to learn and concentrate in schools and do not have appropriate follow-ups at home. Many of them have problems related to reading, writing and foreign language understanding (English and to some extent French).

On the other hand, there are a number of students in the Mauritian educational system that experience learning difficulties in schools, particularly students suffer from ADHD elements. These students find it difficult to remain concentrated throughout a class and this result in inattention and lack of interest which indeed can negatively impact on the academic performance. Given that animated cartoons have a kind of attention grabbing effect and are by their nature visually appealing to kids, it is believed that animated cartoons designed to fit in pedagogical aims of a syllabus can help learners with difficulties and learners in general to have an improved learning experience and a better understanding of the subject being taught. The term ‘fun learning’ is associated to this concept by a number of cartoon makers as well as educators and educational researchers.

ThThe following research questions will be addressed in this project:  
  •  How can the use of educational cartoons improve the learning experience (understanding, motivation, attention and performance) of students in ZEP schools and those with learning difficulties?
  • Does the addition of interactive features in the educational cartoons emphasizing the ‘fun learning’ concepts through educational games contribute to better student learning?
  • Can interactive educational cartoons be considered as a real alternative for traditional classroom pedagogies for a certain subject areas such as science, history and geography?
  • Can we still use same types of assessment or is there a need to review learner assessment strategies and instruments used?

Related works

K. Dalacosta, M. Kamariotaki-Paparrigopoulou, J. A. Palyvos, and N. Spyrellis. 2009. Multimedia application with animated cartoons for teaching science in elementary education. Comput. Educ. 52, 4 (May 2009), 741-748. DOI=10.1016/j.compedu.2008.11.018