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Open University learning is a joy | Jules Horne

Via The Guardian:

It may not have the nightlife but as a way of accessing a flexible, quality education, I’ve found the Open University can’t be beaten He was a flying goth with rocker looks. I was a new Open University tutor researching a play. I ventured into the OU room in Second Life , and after a few introductions (He: F04 R08 . AL? Me: Yep. A363 . R11), we had a long chat about non-Euclidean geometry. Call me strange, but I found this amazingly thrilling. Living in a rural area, you don’t come across many Gauss experts. Vast academic libraries, with international journals on tap, books and courses to get your brain cranking, people who enjoy a good barney about Shakespeare’s sonnets: the OU has brought all that to my doorstep, and it’s been an absolute joy. A quick straw poll reveals quite a few of my friends are closet OU students – they just haven’t mentioned it. All over the country, distance learning is helping students overcome not just geography, but also disability, culture, financial and family circumstances. Susanne Lockie, a full-time mother to three children, told me the mental stimulation has made it a lifesaver: “I need to keep my skills ticking over, but I couldn’t study to a high level without that flexibility. I’ve been able to get credit for my previous full-time study in nursing, which was interrupted when I had a family. I’ve finished my Open degree now, but I need to spend more time with my parents at the moment, so I’m taking a year out before starting on honours.” Employers tend to be supportive of OU study, knowing that OU students are likely to be unusually determined and committed. That’s why it’s all the more disappointing when you hear lazy “not a real degree, then” comments and ancient stereotypes of tweedy tutors and chalk-and-talk TV. I’ve found the quality of OU learning materials outstanding. The modular structure means you cover the ground systematically, with a clear understanding of context. Elsewhere (I studied at Oxford), I’ve found the learning experience equally stimulating, but much more haphazard.

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Open University learning is a joy | Jules Horne

From video marking to Second Life, technology is transforming the options for online students

Via The Guardian:

From video marking to Second Life, technology is transforming the options for online students There’s not a red pen in sight when Russell Stannard marks his master’s students’ essays – but it’s not because the students never make mistakes. Stannard doesn’t use a pen, or even paper, to give his students feedback. Instead – and in keeping with his role as principal lecturer in multimedia and ICT – he turns on his computer, records himself marking the work on-screen, then emails his students the video. When students open the video, they can hear Stannard’s voice commentary as well as watch him going through the process of marking. The resulting feedback is more comprehensive than the more conventional notes scrawled in the margin, and Stannard, who works at the University of Westminster, now believes it has the potential to revolutionise distance learning. “It started when I began to realise how useful technology can be for teaching,” he says. “I wanted to help other teachers, as well as general computer-users, to learn how to use tools like podcasting, PowerPoint and BlackBoard, software that a lot of schools and universities use to allow teachers to provide course material and communicate with students online.” Follow the mouse So he set up a site to teach people how to use the technology, providing simple, video tutorials where users watch Stannard’s mouse pointing out how to use the software, with his voice providing constant commentary. He used the screen-videoing software Camtasia, and the site rapidly took off: it now receives more than 10,000 hits a month. Then he started considering integrating the teaching style into his own university work. “I was mainly teaching students on master’s courses in media and technology, and I realised that while I was talking about the benefits of new technology, I should be making the most of the opportunity to use it,” says Stannard. “That’s when I had the idea of video marking. It was immediately well received. Students receive both aural and visual feedback – and while we always talk about different learning styles, there are also benefits to receiving feedback in different ways.” Stannard says the technology is particularly useful for dyslexic students, who appreciate the spoken commentary, and students learning English as a foreign language. “I started my teaching career in language learning, so I quickly realised that students learning English would benefit from video marking. They can replay the videos as many times as they like and learn more about reasons for their mistakes.” Stannard also believes video marking is “perfect” for distance-learning students. “It brings them much closer to the teacher,” he says. “They can listen, see and understand how the teacher is marking their piece, why specific comments have been made, and so on.” The technology is already being used for informal distance learning, as Stannard uploads the videos he makes for his lectures at Westminster to multimedia trainingvideos.com.

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From video marking to Second Life, technology is transforming the options for online students

Colleges stumble on to the Twitter scene

Via The Guardian:

Further education colleges are starting to catch on to social messaging. Sort of Are you a member of the Twitterati? You’ve heard of MySpace and you’re probably a whiz when it comes to Facebook, but it seems that we should be all of “a-Twitter” now. Twitter is the website on which users post statements called “tweets”, which can have up to 140 characters. More than 300,000 tweets are already sent every day in the UK. The actor Stephen Fry is one famous exponent, and MPs have jumped on the bandwagon too. Jim Knight, the schools minister, is a regular tweeter, whose recent posts range from the inane “realised I never had that pancake yesterday – does that mean I can ignore Lent?” to the more waspish “wondering for how much longer we’ll have to listen to Michael Gove”. The further education minister, Siôn Simon, has just started tweeting and the higher education minister, David Lammy, even appeared on the BBC’s One Show extolling Twitter’s virtues. Now even a few further education colleges have caught on. Sort of. When it comes to writing succinctly, we further education sorts do struggle. We’re used to using eight words when one would do, and flabby paragraphs with 50-word sentences. And we do love our jargon. Twitter pioneers include Deeside College, Havering College, Regents College, Sunderland College and my own college, Cornwall. Breaking news News of the Chinese earthquake last year broke on Twitter, as did the first images of the US Airways plane that had to crash-land in New York’s Hudson river and last week’s crash at Schipol airport near Amsterdam

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Colleges stumble on to the Twitter scene

Danish schools ready to trial internet access during exams

Via The Guardian:

Each summer we’re subjected to a string of arguments over whether getting an A-level or GCSE is getting easier. But thanks to officials in Denmark, it may be time to stop talking about dumbing down exams and start talking about wiring them up instead. According to reports in the Danish media, ministers are about to trial a system where A-level students are allowed to take internet-connected computers into exams. The reason, say officials, is that collecting facts and figures is now a task best left to computers – and that youngsters taking exams shouldn’t necessarily be blocked from one of the tools they are routinely expected to use in their studies. “It is a good way to get historical facts or an article that may be useful in a written civics exam, for example,” Søren Vagner, a consultant with the Ministry of Education told Danish newspaper MetroXpress last week. At a simple level, this makes a lot of sense. The internet is now such a powerful research tool that it has done away with lots of the old methods like learning by rote – turning facts into commodities in the same way that calculators dispense with some basic mathematical activities. Why bother remembering facts and figures when you can call them up on demand with a computer? There are a number of potential pitfalls, however, not least protecting against plagiarism and the problem of students lifting information from online sources to pad out work. Vagner was quoted as saying that examiners would keep a close eye on what students submitted, and would conduct regular, randomised checks of the web pages that they had used in the course of their research to keep tabs. Checking for plagiarism is relatively easy, of course (a simple web search for groups of words would do half the job) and web-based plagiarism is something that schools are already trying to cope with . But the biggest problem is one that doesn’t seem to be addressed: the possibility for students (or other people) to collude over their exams.

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Danish schools ready to trial internet access during exams