Graveyard slot

October 31, 2007

Judging by his Powerpoint, Seb’s taking his graveyard slot very literally 😉

picture-2.pngJohn van der Baaren, Open Universiteit Nederland
Project targeted at people who have not already successfully attended higher education but they have finished some form of secondary education or a vocational training.
The project is designed to be flexible, open, time-independent and easily accessible. It is in Dutch. Students only have to invest time and effort, but they can choose to pay to be formally tested (so far few people have taken this opportunity). There are currently 16 courses online.
The research team is investigating the effects of this initiative. There was a general survey on the site and course-related surveys aimed either at people who had only looked at the introduction or at those who had studied most of the material. Around 800 forms have been submitted, around a fifth of them by people who have studied most of the material.
The site has attracted around 425,000 unique users, and the number of returning visitors is growing. Four out of five visited because they were interested in taking a free course. A third wanted to test their ability to take a university course.

Learning in Wikiversity

October 31, 2007

picture-1.pngCormac Lawler, University of Manchester
More information
Wikiversity is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation, so it is a sister project of Wikipedia and other projects such as Wikibooks. It was launched in August last year after three years development.
‘Wikiversity is a community for the creation and use of free learning materials and activities. It is a multidimensional social organisation dedicated to learning, teaching, research and service.’ It includes a repository element. There is space for people to store their documents. These are then editable and can be discussed and used by others. There is also a learning space in which people can learn in a ‘wiki way’.
The intentions of the project are to create and host a repository of free-content learning resources, to co-construct a wiki model for learning and to engage participants in the definition of their own learning.
Wikiversity is a multilingual project, currently in 5 languages (Wikipedia is now in around 200 languages). It is also for all learner levels – it is not just aimed at university level students. It is growing at the rate of around 34 new accounts every day, so now has over 15,000 user accounts. However, only 375 people have edited the wiki more than ten times – which is not a huge level of participation, and there are only five to ten users who could be classified as ‘very active’.
If anyone can upload any research, does that give it some validity which it does not necessarily merit? Is peer review necessary?
Cormac is currently asking:
• What is a viable model for learning in Wikiversity?
• How are the provision and practice of education mediated by the wiki environment?
• How is the Wikiversity community providing for learning?

Technical problems

October 31, 2007

Poor Cormac. Midway through his presentation, the system decided to run a virus check. One click, and that was gone. But then Vista decided to reboot entirely, so we had to break for an impromptu discussion of wikiversity.

I have offered to give a talk at work on geocaching (Thursday 26th April 2007) and so have been revisiting the subject. As well as going on a few more caches I have had a go at a tool that makes it easier to set up the maps and location files that I need to use with Navio on the HP6915. The result after playing with Google Maps on and off over the last couple of weeks or so is a tool to allow input of map coordinates in the DD MM.MMM format that uses and a way to add markers to give reference points. At the bottom of the map it produces the XML in .loc format that Navio needs. Screendump the map (using FastStone Capture’s nice free screen grabber for example). Save the screendump. Save the .loc. Transfer them to the HP6915. Open the map. Open the .loc as points of interest. Click on a couple of the reference points and then you are away!

Still a bit of a fiddle but actually much much easier than what I used to do using standard Just as I was doing this of course Google added the MyMaps facility so I have also written a kml to loc converter and probably would not have written my own. Anyway a nice distraction activity instead of watching TV!

Update after the talk:  This went very well and I know that I have made at least a couple of converts to geocaching! Also slightly improved my programme and I think it is almost genuinely useful – I can now just cut and paste from to get the coordinates and build the map. Need to make it a bit more robust to deal with variations in the format of co-ordinates though.

On Thursday (19th April 2007) the department I work in had a one day mini-conference where we gathered into little panels and each said what we are working on and then had a chat about it. I thought that it worked really well and makes a change from often not really knowing what our colleagues are up to until we hear them give a keynote at a conference hundreds of miles away! The agenda for the day is available in this wiki from Doug Clow (Head of the Centre or Studies in Educational Technology) but we didn’t have formal talks or gather notes so it was a day when you needed to be there to get best benefit.

For the session I was involved in we had enough critical mass from OpenLearn to make a panel of our own with Giselle Ferreira, Teresa Connolly, Tina Wilson, Steve Godwin and myself each sticking to the five minute limit to say a little bit about what particularly interested us and where we saw things were going. That 25 minutes can be summarised as:

Points that came out were that having had our heads down working (as Giselle says in the trenches) means that we keep seeing interesting opportunites that we would love to spend more time on: such as culture, disciplinarity and the challenges that we see. The production process and its evolution and representation is in itself interesting and the tools of OpenLearn are becoming our own tools of choice. In particular Compendium Knowledge Mapping Tool from the LabSpace is proving to be a star playing a role in getting legacy content out, showing process flow, mapping research activity, and learning designs. This is all alongside its main role for OpenLearn as a tool for learners and educators. We are also learning more of what our learners want and finding personal stories that demonstrate the role of free access to education as a tool for helping people. OpenLearn is then part of what study for free might mean and the other aspects (support, assessment and accreditation) need to emerge as well.

More important though was that we then had an hour to talk with the audience and that then led into the rest of the day where we could pick up and ask questions of others. Questions for us covered the way the tools were working, whether having units that were shorter than complete OU courses limited things, how we saw people becoming contributers, whether things were getting easier, and whether our future plans were radical enough. A final question from Paul Lefrere asked if we were doing enough to let the world know what we are up to. My answer at the time was that I didn’t think we were partly through pressure and a bit of institutional modesty and also partly through trying to be sure of our position. However a better answer came from an email received while we were talking that revealed that OpenLearn had received a platinum award from IMS Global Learning Consortium – so maybe we are not so bad at making a splash after all.

The rest of the day also saw what to me could be good connections with other peoples work: with EU4ALL on ways to research users and use OpenLearn content as a resource to experiment with accessibility issues; with the Accessibility in Educational Media group on use of eye-tracking and building a library to show people how sites work for usability, accessibility and education; with Grainne Conole on her modelling of learning designs in Compendium; with Martin Weller on broadcasting issues and futures for universities; with Chris Pegler on reuse; Chris Jones on models for networked learning (he hopes now to use OpenLearn LabSpace to support a workshop at CSCL 2007). I also got into a discussion with Robin Mason and Mary Thorpe on whether the next stage was to value designs over content or actually that designs themselves will start to be by-passed as it becomes more important to find instant answers rather than spend time developing skills and knowledge. I made my point by using Wikipedia to pretend to be an instant expert on meta-knowledge: but I am not sure myself on quite what needs to change.

I missed a final session on our own IET courses but earlier discussion had flagged up that we still very much see these as having an experimental and a forthcoming course on research (ok in true OU style I only know it as H809!) chaired by James Aczel has tried hard to avoid content overload.This is the corollary of freely available content: we need to design activities that assume things can be found rather than keep reinventing it.

To me this felt like valuable contact – I hope we are not all too busy to keep the connections going.

Working on the OpenLearn project I think one of the surprises has been the ingenuity shown by other people. When we launched there were somethings that were in need of a bit of development. One of those was the upload/download of content. But at least it was possible. That has proved to be a good move as a few people have now taken the XML we provide and reworked it to suit themselves. I suspect I only know about some cases as there is no need to ask permission or contact us in order to do what you wish with the content.

The key example for me is the work that Tony Hirst has been up to on his OUseful site. Motivated at first by wanting to provide different navigation Tony took our XML apart and made it into RSS feeds. He has then played with it in various ways including a very neat way to make the content into daily feeds. He has set up a way to subscribe to the OpenLearn courses on a daily basis. Have a look at (If you want to try it and you are not using an RSS feedreader at the moment then Google Reader is fairly straightforward). I presented a joint paper with Tony at the TENCompetence workshop, the paper and presentation for that are available via

At the technical side this is a push towards providing RSS feeds so that there is no need to convert our pages before processing. On the more general side it should encourage us to consider ways to have various of the possibilities that the open content offers happen, whether as part of our core site or through the efforts of others.

Tony Hirst is not the only one working with OpenLearn content, at the same conference Stefan Dietze from the Luisa project talked about ways to use the content to illustrate the semantic web and learning designs. These are both examples from people working at the OU, but with no connection to OpenLearn. A further example comes from Australia where as part of their work on a Global Library Services Network OpenLearn content is being put into a collection of material under Creative Commons licence so that it can be distributed to remote communities.

There is no need for anyone to ask us or work with us to do this sort of thing – so is there anything else out there yet to be found?