Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The eLearning Industry

This post is primarily aimed at students studying the final year eLearning Multimedia unit at MMU, although it would be great to get the views of other professional across the sector. The post hopes to give an insight into the types of jobs in the field of eLearning...

The eLearning industry has grown exponentially in recent years due to an increased awareness around the benefits of technology to enhance learning, teaching and assessment (and actually, the whole student experience). Some of the benefits of technology include;
  • Aid learning and retention (see Mayer)
  • Anytime, Anyplace access to materials
  • Support/facilitate social learning across geographical boundaries
  • Environmental advantages
  • Reduce travelling
  • Reduce costs

To this end, a range of new career pathways has emerged. According to video (below), the top 10 in demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. So by this very fact we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems. This places an obvious challenge on our education system.

The careers developed for the eLearning industry range from being purely technical, to purely pedagogical, with some in between. N.B. the following is a brief summary of some these roles - there will be many things I haven't included, but if any readers if feel I've missed something important, please share your views in the comments section.

Technical jobs: might include scripting/coding to integrate various systems. Take for example, MMU’s Moodle installation. When you log into a unit, the information in the right hand column is created dynamically. The Assessments block, which enables you to access more info about coursework/exams, has been custom developed to link with the University’s Coursework Receipting system. The information it presents doesn’t actually live in Moodle. The same is said for Reading Lists.

Other roles may include the hosting and development of VLEs. For example Moodle is an open source VLE so developers can write bespoke themes based on CSS to adapt the look and feel of the VLE. The same applies to other systems as well; things like repositories and media servers.

Pedagogic jobs: often focus on the direct benefit of technology to teaching, learning and assessment. These roles often include working with course teams to plan what technologies may be used, how they will be integrated, the support structures around integration, and at what points in the course lifecycle they will be introduced. As such, role holders may often be qualified teachers/lecturers, which helps their understanding of theories of learning and teaching, but they may also come from computing backgrounds (or a bit of both).
These roles may also include aspects of training other staff.

Development jobs: These roles are probably more popular in the US than in the UK (I think), and often focus on Instructional Design and Content Development. Therefore role holders will liaise with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) on actual content, and then develop this content into interactive and engaging packages, using a range of tools/technologies. Again, knowledge of teaching and learning might be a pre-requisite in order to understand and integrate suitable opportunities for formative and summative assessment.
Flash has traditionally been a key tool for bespoke software development here, but in recent times 3rd party ‘Rapid Development’ plugins convert Powerpoint presentations into interactive Flash files. Take for example, Articulate Studio, Adobe Presenter or iSpring. Other tools integrate Screencasting (a method of recording the activities of a computer screen) into such Flash packages. There are a number of free tools here, but Camtasia Studio is one of the leaders. This area of the industry is reacting to the Flash Vs HTML 5 debate by developing/releasing versions to output HTML 5 packages (as well as or instead of Flash, and to varying success). Many of these tools offer free 30-day trials.

Job titles across these three categories are often blurred. Variations on the ‘Learning Technologist’ role are quite common, and there is a lot of discussion across the sector related to the actual role of the Learning Technologist.
Further to these three categories, there is another higher level role, considering the strategic deployment of learning technologies. Again, these could be separate roles based on a technical or pedagogical focus, or even cover both.
It's probably fair to suggest these would be typical of roles in the UK Education Sector. If we expand this further, we see roles related to the Learning Management System (LMS) as well as hardware (SMART and Promethan) and software (PebblePad ePortfolios) companies.

Useful Resources 

Creative Commons License
This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Social Media Policies

I've heard some pretty horrifying stories related to the use of Social Media recently, and have begun to explore the development of a Social Media Policy for MMU.
CC-BY-SA Flickr User Montage Communiations

I've flicked through a lot of policies after coming across Goldsmithsleu's Delicious Set for Social Media Policies, as well as a list of policies from various organisations on the Social Media Governance site. However, I quickly came to the conclusion that Policies can often be restrictive and unhelpful in areas that are so dynamic and ever-changing - like Social Media. Also, I don't think I have the patience/attention/mindset to read some of those 10 pages (and more) policies from some organisations. Rather, I think a more flexible and supportive set of guidelines would better serve staff in HE, which is a common opinion through Twitter discussions with @SueFolley and @MarkPower.

Based on this assumption, I can think of half a dozen statements/points (below), but I'm really hoping to gauge the opinions of readers through the comments section, on what messages are important to get across in such a document, if indeed one is needed at all. So please, share your thoughts...

  1. Staff are encouraged to develop a digital identity and use Social Media as a communication channel with students and colleagues 
  2. Staff can create separate accounts for personal and professional use, depending on preferences. Both options have positive associations
  3. Bare in mind you are always a representative of the University and should be mindful of the terms and conditions related to academic employment 
  4. When using Social Media in a professional capacity, you should be clear who you are and who you work for rather than using obscure aliases 
  5. Refrain from discussing personal information with students in an open environment
  6. If you witness inappropriate behavior from students/colleagues, raise this with appropriate line management for action rather than challenging those concerned in an open environment

Anything on here will be CC so reusable :-)

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Useful resources for the start of term

Term has started and all hands are to the deck!

I've had a number of requests about a couple of different topics over the past couple of weeks, so this post is really just about pointing you towards a couple of useful things.

1) Access to Moodle areas is controlled via the Staff Access Webform. Unit Leaders can enrol other colleagues to their areas here.

2) I'm sure everyone has already rolled their units over from last year, but this guidance is always useful to keep at hand...

3) This short post is largely based on student feedback, and demonstrates some good practice for the development of Moodle areas, to help keep them structured and organised.

4) Moodle has a range of excellent features. Having the ability for students to sign up to things - for group work or tutorial slots for example, can be a great facility.

5) As many people will know, we really shouldn't be uploading the PDF versions of journal articles into Moodle. This guidance produced by colleagues in the library talks through getting stable links to share with students.

6) This guidance on finding images on the web helps overcome the ongoing problem of copyrighted images and introduces the Creative Commons licenses.

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Learning, Games, and Future Learning

Scrabble image from Flickr User jking89: CC-BY 2.0
Over the past week or so I have started playing Scrabble again, something I haven't played for years. The affordance of technology here is that I can play my partner or my mum asynchronously using the free Wordfeud app on our iPhones. 
Through playing and reflecting on our Scrabble games, my thoughts last night (typically when trying to get to sleep) were directed towards three points (not in the scrabble sense!) I want I discuss here;

1) Do we learn differently now, or have you forgotten how to spell words as well? Generally I'm still pretty good, but from time to time I might write (or more probably type) a word that just doesn't look right. So I might ask someone how to spell that word, or being tech-enabled, use a spell checker or google. 
But at what cost does this affordance come? Are we forgetting things more easily now? We don't need to be so rigorous with spelling because the the trusty spell check will auto correct us. So we can afford to be a bit more lax. Arguably, if we still used typewriters to construct our documents we might pay more attention - perhaps if you don't use it, you lose it (in a working memory sort of way)?

2) This leads on to my second point, which is related to technology enhanced game based learning. Scrabble has always been a great way to learn new words and their meaning. In the Reed household growing up, the word 'Xu' was famous - not normally part of one's vocabulary, however it's useful to get rid of that 8 point letter 'x' at difficult times in a game. (For the record, Xu was/is a Vietnamese coin, and yes I do realise I'm not really painting the picture of the mischievous youth that some will perhaps know). 

Now playing scrabble via iPhones has somewhat ruined the game for me. I'm able to put my tiles in the board and check if it's a word without my opponent knowing. So I can (and ashamedly have) put a few random letters across a triple word score and got lucky. But I don't even know what it means! In 'real life' scrabble, you can't do that. 

So whilst we often eulogise the affordances of technology to enhance 'things', it can also have a negative influence at times, reinforcing the importance of thinking critically (why, what and how) before introducing tech solutions; not only in game situations like above, but also in relation to teaching and learning. 

3) And on to my final point, related to learning and future learning. Does it matter anymore if we either forget to spell certain words (or if youths don't know how to spell as we once did)? Previously we needed to hand-write letters and job applications, so spelling was a very important skill/literacy to present ourselves professionally (I am young enough to have never actually been required to hand-write a letter/application). The importance of accurate spelling is arguably less important now we're all wired. Knowing the rule to put 'i' before the 'e', except after 'c' (which actually isn't always true) isn't as import at as it once was. This isn't goin to solve the problems we will face (as a sector / an economy / a race) in the future, is it? And yet we still cling on tightly to these so-called essentials. Now I'm not suggesting we completely abandon spelling, but this reminds me of Ken Robinson's TED talk; 'Schools kill creativity', and his example of the young girl who 'wasn't any good in school' as she was fidgety and couldn't concentrate. As it turned out, she was highly creative and became a leading ballerina. Horses for courses, one might say.

We can't solve problems of the future with the same type of thinking we used when they were created (was that Einstein?). So perhaps if we want to prepare for the future, we might have to let go of some of the inherent things of the past? 

I've embedded the Ken Robinson talk below - a worthy watch if you're one of the few who haven't already seen it.