Thursday, 13 August 2009

EdTechRoundUp30 - Learning Points


I recently discovered the EdTechRoundUp podcast. I'm trying to make a conscious effort to introduce podcasts of this kind into my learning. I'm often too tired to read when commuting and listening to a podcast while resting my eyes could work well - now that I have my iphone (hooray).

I've only listened to one and it was good quality. The only issue I have when I listen to a discussion like this is that it can be frustrated when the point you would make doesn't get made. Anyway, here is my learning.

"Teachers think VLEs are clunky" was centrepoint of a fairly long discussion. I think the clunkiness perception comes from the glimpses your average educator has had of social software where drag and drop is common and intuitive is the norm. Broadly, I agree that the perception is there and also that this perception is correct. In 2009, they do feel clunky. But what does this really mean? The dictionary definition is:
  1. clumsy or awkward
  2. not stylish or attractive
It's difficult to know much of the clumsiness when compared to Web 2.0 tools or whether they are intrinsically clumsy or awkward. What is definitely true is that with a social networking site, like facebook or ning, there is less to learn and the usability is better. When it comes to attractiveness, I think a certain amount of this comes from social software looking more up to date. There is a fashion factor just as clothes go in and out of fashion. Overall, web 2.0 is all about the user getting involves easily. The usability has to be good for any tool to be viable. Just thinking about what it takes to upload and publish a file on moodle and I can think at least two points where it should be made easier.

But surely the answer is to make them less clunky! Well this is easier said than done as the clunkiness seems intrinsic to how they are built. There are two reasons for this:
  1. Any tool (like a moodle quiz or a blackboard blog) has to have the same look and feel as the rest of the system. So whereas independent Web 2.0 survey or blog tool can concentrate on making it the best in terms of usability and attractiveness. Within a VLE, you are limited to the template of the bigger picture. A bigger picture which is much more difficult to change and is much slower to change. This is why a blackboard blog looks archaic compared to blogger.
  2. Any online tool in education has the question of security to consider. Security protecting the children from the outside world; security protecting the outside world from the children; security protecting the privacy of the class; security protecting the intellectual property rights of the educator; data protection! This security add layers of clunkiness that other websites don't have to the same extent. This is one of the tensions education has with web 2.0. At its heart, web 2.0 is about openness. VLEs first and foremost are designed to protect (almost obsessively). This is why where VLEs have adopted a web 2.0 tool into its system it often doesn't feel quite right. So whatever tool we use, clunkiness is unavoidable to a certain extent as securities are put in place. Maybe we should try and bring this spirit of openness more into education! That's another can of worms.
The discussion went down the line of using other tools instead, e.g. facebook. Well yes, as long as we understand that usability is just one of the reasons for this. Overall, it should be done in the knowledge and understanding of what social networking has to offer over and above your average VLE. By the way, I would favour Ning over facebook as facebook for learning can bring up tricky issues. Something they discuss on this podcast and it's worth a listen.

I have slight concerns about using a social networking site as the house within which what currently happens on a VLE occurs. This is because, for most, the VLE is a file repository and an assignment dropbox. However, I would favour the shift because the social aspect of a Ning, for example, are so intuitive and attractive that it would encourage educators to explore their use in a more recpetive frame of mind.

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