Week 1
I mentioned in our Practitioners meeting last night (27/5/10) that I'd signed on to do the e-learning course '23 Things for Educators and Trainers: Adding some 'e' to your training.' Anne asked me to present a report at our next meeting about the course which I'll do but I was thinking as I drove home last night (did I mention I live 70 kms out of Mount Gambier so I get a lot of thinking time while I'm driving) that perhaps I could use our Wiki site as a sort of journal of not only my experience but also include some of the interesting things others on the course are doing in their own training. So that's what I've decided to do and here is the first instalment:

I came across this announcement in the Regional Communication a few weeks ago and almost skipped over it because I'd been to a couple of workshops run by Marlene, Doug Purcell and Margaret Granger on different e-tools and felt I'd got as much out of them as I was going to. What caught my eye was this statement in the advertising:

The focus of this course will be on the learning and training enabled by the tools - not the tools themselves...

In light of what we'd been discussing in our previous Practitioner Group meeting and what I wrote on this Wiki about e-competency for staff and students I thought it would be interesting to see what was on offer and hopefully get an insight into what others were doing with their e-learning practices.

Some general background about how the course has been set up:
  • The course has been set up to run over a six week period using a combination of Moodle and Elluminate tools. (Elluminate for those not familiar is very similar to Centra with more tools for the learners to use but less for the facilitator)
  • The presentation of the course is a joint collaboration between e-Mania (Tasmania) and e-Skills (SA) and is facilitated by Marlene Manto and Kym Schutz from SA and Jennifer Dunbabin and Peter Shanks from TAS
  • The learner group is pretty diverse and includes educators, training managers, employment consultants, e-learning resource developers, private trainers. There are 73 of us listed, mostly from Hobart, with the next largest group from Adelaide and Garda White and I flying the flag for regional (woo hoo!)
  • Participant experience seems to range from very little to quite extensive so I'm hoping to pick up some ideas from the forum postings which are part of the required coursework, speaking of which...
  • The coursework has been designed with three levels of participation with each particpant choosing the level that best meets their needs and situation:
    • Level 1 - is the basic understanding and skills and is expected to take 1-2 hours per week
    • Level 2 - looks at the tools in greater depth and will take about 2-5 hours per week, and
    • Level 3 - is for those who have a greater amount of time to explore beyond the tools presented on the course
  • The tools we'll be looking at over the weeks are; YouTube, TeacherTube, LORN, Flickr, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Wikis, Slideshare, PDF/Flash converters, DropBox, GoogleDocs, Moodle, VET Virtual, Second Life, Elluminate, PhotoStory, Microsoft MovieMaker, Screencastr, Audacity, SurveyMonkey, Delicious, Google Reader/Bloglines and Flex e-News/e-Gems
All in all, I'm looking forward to it, some of these applications I haven't used, so if nothing else, I walk away with that experience at least. I'll add a little bit to this page each week to let you know how things are progressing and particularly if I come across anything that others are doing that I think you'll find interesting.

Week 2
This week the focus was on 'Conversing with an online world' and we looked at the social networking tools of Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Wikis.

Skype was a popular choice of many of those who have completed the course work so far. The ease of set up and its relative inexpensiveness (is that even a word? Perhaps 'cheapness') makes it a popular choice for many who saw it as an ideal tool for 'personalising' their distance based learning. I have to agree; after teaching a couple of TAA courses through Centra, the most memorable sessions for almost all my learners were the two sessions when we met through VC and they were able to see each other for the first time and put faces to voices (I'd been running Centra as voice only to cut down on bandwidth.) I think another reason Skype was so popular is becuase many were already using it to connect to friends and family and so were reasonably comfortable with the technology but perhaps hadn't given too much thought to how the application could be used in an educational sense.

Facebook came in for a fair bit of criticism with a lot of comments from others about the problems they had keeping their younger learners off it when they were in class. Some of the participants on this course were refusing to use it any capacity as they could see no worthwhile educational outcomes and others were actually changing their whole delivery strategies to avoid the need to use any computer based resources!!! At the other end of the spectrum were those saying 'if you can't beat them, join them' and saying that they allow their learners to keep Facebook open in the background and 're-focus' them as required. While I'm not an advocate of the latter option, I do think there would be educational applications of Facebook as a way of maintaining contact with learners and using the site in much the same way as we might use a blog site, a forum or a wiki. However, I think to do this successfully, the facilitator would need to create a new Facebook site and limit access to only those from the learner group. This shouldn't be too difficult to do using the privacy controls. The learner group too, would need to clearly understand that the site should not be used for social purposes outside of the group.

Twitter was another application that didn't get much support as an educational tool and again I think this was due more to the demographic of the group rather than whether or not Twitter was appropriate. Most of the comments I've read so far are similar to "I couldn't think of anything more boring than reading what someone is doing every minute of the day!" While I can't disagree with that sentiment, I think there may well be some application to a learning context using Twitter. Even though each 'tweet' is restricted to 140 characters, there are still options to link students to web addresses to gather more in depth information. So maybe that's one application of Twitter; to alert learners to further information or new information that may have just come to hand?

Wikis ran a very sad last in the forum comments ie. no-one commented about how they use wikis (or even if they DO use them.) I'm going to guess that this is because nobody seems to use them effectively. I for one don't really know how to use wikis properly or what protocols there are eg. is it acceptable to edit someone else's post on a wiki or should you just add a reply comment? I've tried to use a wiki in my online training a couple of times now but it never really got off the ground (my fault) and just finished up being a long list of responses to a question that all happened to be on the same page. Much more work from me needed here before I know how to use them to any good effect!

Next week: Slideshare | PDF/Flash Converters | DropBox | GoogleDocs


Week 3
The question asked of us this week was, "How do I get my own resources/content online so my students can access everything?" A common practice amongst many of us when sharing information with colleagues and learners is to attach a file to an email and send everthing to them direct. The problem here is that you may end up sending emails with very large file attachments which may strike firewall problems when sending or receiving which may also mean you have to break the attachment down into smaller packets or try to compress the file. For very large files, sometimes this is just not an option and I've been known to copy a single file to a CD just to get around this issue.

This week, the 23 Things course looked at alternative ways to sharing your resources and suggested that a more efficient way is to 'hang' your information onto the internet and then simply provide a link to your resource within your email, website, tweet, etc, etc. So we were presented with four tools for resource sharing on the web:

Slideshare ( http://www.slideshare.net) is an application where you can upload PowerPoints, video, Word and PDF documents. The idea is to share the information not only with colleagues and learners but the wider web community if you choose to do so. The feature that got my attention the most was the ability to record voice over video on to your PowerPoint. It's one thing to be at a presentation and have the presenter talk to their slides but usually the slides are in brief dot point form (good PowerPoints anyway (smile)) and while they're easy to follow at the time with the presenter's narration, if you were to miss the session and look at just the PowerPoint show later, it may be difficult to follow. Putting the narration over the top when you upload it to Slideshare will overcome this problem to a large extent. Slideshare also lets you download other people's public presentations and resources if they are useful to you.

Googledocs (http://docs.google.com), Scribd (pronounced Scribed) (http://www.scribd.com), Box.net (http://www.box.net) are all along the same lines in that they are designed to be content sharing applications that once again allow you to hang your resources on the internet in a secure place and avoid the problems of sending large documents and files through email. I have to think about these a little more and how I might use them (if at all); at the moment, almost all my larger files are uploaded to my various Moodle pages and I'll either post a link in the forum or let people know via a link in an email. I guess, in essence, I'm using Moodle in the same way that these applications would be used.

Wikispaces (http://www.wikispaces.com) The final application we looked at this week were wikis. By definition, a wiki is simply a website designed for multiple people to collaborate on by adding and editing content, which is what we're able to do here. I'm learning how to use wikis more effectively and like most things, it's about practice and just trying new things. I guess one of the important things for me is that if you want people to read what you've written, then the page needs to be 'visually' appealing so I think making good use of the Edit Toolbar is important


and particularly use of the Widget tool which gives you a whole lot of options to make the wikispace more engaging.


Here are some example of wikis that we were given so you can see what others are doing with them:


Next week: Virtual learning environments: Moodle | VET Virtual | Second Life | Elluminate.