Sunday, 31 October 2004

Negative View Points

I believe I own an apology to those who created the sample showcase and the wonderful video as commented by my posts (here and here) couple of days ago. My comments are directed towards the e-Learning industry, which I am very much a member of, as a whole rather than the individuals.

My belief is still the same. If we are to improve this industry, ensure this industry is to survive and serve a meaningful purpose, we cannot take an outdated view of education and learning. What should be the new view is very much a subject of discussion. The value-added by looking at e-Learning as a service rather than a birthday cake bakery is so huge that I hate to see it overlooked and forgotten.

Saturday, 30 October 2004

What Video Games Have to Tell Us About Learning and Literacy: A Brief Look

Susan Nash (aka ELearning Queen)'s review has prompted me to order the book from Amazon. Thanks Susan.

For your convenience (and my self interest with expected payout of several cents): What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

Digital dust?

An article definitely worth reading, slightly longer, but I have not problem reading it in one sitting - which is rare!

Unfortunately, the article is copy-righted by the author, so I cannot help to preserve it using the LOCKSS concept*. :-)

*Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS), a collaboration involving Stanford University, the National Science Foundation and Sun Microsystems. See article for more details.

adult and community e-learning: uk: E-learning Showcase

I got some very uneasy feeling about the future of e-Learning if the showcases flash files are the BEST of what e-Learning can and should offer.

These are 99.99% fat, no nutrition value, decorated with lots of artificial colour birthday cakes*! I don't see how any customer will keep coming back unless the parent is brain-dead.

The first one is a looping of drums. What is the message? "Get ready"? So what?

The second is a scar-tactics. We don't need that any more!

The third shows a sad fish swimming so lonely in a fish bowl. If that is the learner, that's for the kind of learner in the last century.

*See my previous post Birthday Business and Elearning Industry

Friday, 29 October 2004

Interoperability in action - a Video Presentation

via Stephen Downes' OLDaily.

This video has been produced to demonstrate the important role of interoperability and standards when creating and sharing learning materials.

Yes, the video has done its job, brilliantly in fact. There are several things demonstrated in the video. I won't go over them one by one. But it also shows several issues which we should address as well:
  • how disconnected the learning technologists are with the educators

  • the ego-centric view of the repository paradigm

  • content updates

  • content customisation

  • Here are my reasons to support the above "claims":

  • I got a feeling of the over-emphasis of meta data. From a traditional teacher's point of view, filing and storing a resource is the job of the librarian. I only want to do my job - which is to create learning content and give it to my students. (OK, I may also improve my teaching techniques, but that's another issue here.) I have created a learning resource and am happy to share with others. But, why I need to care where it is should be filed in the library? Can I just do it without the meta-crap? Most of the time, I know of good learning resources not by searching the library, but by words of mouth from my trusted colleagues.

  • A year has now passed. I have made some improvement to my learning resources. Can I update my resources? Oops, it was used in so many different courses that I have lost track of them. How can I update all instances of this learning resources? Hey, isn't it one of the promise when you sell us the repository? What did you say about centralised control of learning resources? Now, just update all the instances for us please!

  • All the HTML files in the same directory (a flat structure which is only good for a couple of files) so that all the files can reference the same CSS file for look and feel. In a practical course of any reasonable size, a flat structure for all the files is really not a good idea, then we shall run into the problem of referencing the CSS file at different directory levels.

  • I have hidden this shameless pluck in white. Since you are reading it right now, you must be desperate for an answer. Then go to my SCORM paper web site and have a good reading.

    UI Engine under the Hood of Fablusi v2

    This is more a note to myself than a post for the general reader.

    I read "Under Gmail's Hood" by Jon Udell via InfoWorld email just now.

    I was amazed at the response of Gmail and this piece confirm that there is a Javascript UI engine loaded at the beginning of a Gmail session.

    By luck, that is also the approach I took to give Fablusi V2 more responsiveness. I will need to study the Gmail UI engine to see if I can learn anything from it. The first thing I notice is that Gmail UI uses xmlHttpRequest to fetch data from the server. I chose to use a more traditional way, by opening a small pop up window and closing it after the transfer. Obviously, my method will be blocked by the pop-up blocker if you do not allow Fablusi web-site to issue pop-up.

    There are many neat and nice UI features in Gmail which I may find useful. The big question is how much change I need to make in order to take advantage of the lessons I can learn from the study. Will keep the blog posted.

    Thursday, 28 October 2004

    Online Role Play Simulation Design - 1

    Fablusi Version 2 will be launched in the next few weeks. I have been working on this for the last 20 months, putting over 10 hours a day on it. It is a complete rewrite and only a small fraction of the code from version 1 has survived.

    As I am preparing for the launch, I would like to use this space to discuss the design issues - how to create engaging and effective online role play simulations? what are the differences and similarities between online and face to face role plays? How to administrate role plays? How to moderate? How to assess? and any issue which you may like to raise. If there is anything you would like me to cover, please send me an email or leave a note in this blog.

    This is the first of a series of posts. So, I may as well start by outlining how we normally run an online role play simulation.

    A proper orientation to the players is important. As role playing is a collaborative creative activity, we must let the players know that there is an obligation of participation if they decide to play. While we usually design the simulation in the way that one or two personas' absence will not influence the overall flow of the experience of the other players, some critical personas are CRITICAL.

    Creativity from the players are also very important. Role play is similar to a collaborative writing of a story. The environment only provides the "circumstantial" factors. It is the improvisations of the players which bring the role play to its greatest glory.

    During the pre-briefing stage, we also ensure that the players are able to connect to the website, able to log in and generally able to navigate through the different parts of the website. They are then directed to a "role selection page" where they can nominate the role they want to play. The role information is normally minimal at this stage.

    If the role play simulation is part of a course, where there is an element of assessment, we would need to make clear to the players what are the expectations: how often we expect them to log in, how much posts are expected, which are assessable interaction spaces and which are spaces that there will not be any assessment. Generally, it is better to log in often but briefly, then log in only once in a week for an extended period of time. We want to see several rounds of interactions. If we ask the players to log in twice daily, there will be about one interaction round per day. Issues need to be developed and resolved. 10 rounds is good target. So twice daily for 2 weeks and once daily for a month are a general guideline.

    Role Profile
    As noted above, the role information in the role selection page is generally minimum. After everyone is assigned a role, we release two pieces of information: a general description of the simulation and private role information. Private role information are available only to the players playing that persona. The players are asked to embellish the role, giving the persona a character, state the persona's public agenda in this simulation (and the private agenda which is only visible to the moderator). The writing of the role profile serves two purposes: give the players ownership of their persona and as a public information for other players to read in order to understand the "people" they will be interacting with during the simulation. There is, usually, a deadline for the players to finish their role profiles and this requirement enforces the idea of collaboration.

    Kick-start Episode
    When you put people in a physical room, there is a natural tendency for people to start interacting with other. This is NOT the case in an online environment. Unless they have a reason to act, they can just "sit" there and remain silent. After the publishing of the role profiles, we release some "kick-start episodes" which are usually crisis giving the personas compelling reasons to act. We ask the players to study the kick-start episode carefully. If the situation does to seem to give you immediate reason to act, you better get prepared because other persona's actions will give you something to act very soon. Just like playing chess, it is better to think a few step ahead!

    If the simulation has been properly designed, the players will spring into action after the kick-start episode. They will be contacting each other, negotiating, threatening, forming new alliances, attacking enemies and so on. As a moderator, you can sit back and enjoy the action. Keep an eye on the development and ensure that the experiences of the players from the role play are appropriate to your learning objectives. If not, do some steering and get them back on track. I will write more about the "zen" of moderating online simulation in a later post.

    When there are adequate experience generated, it is time to call a stop to the role play. It is NOT necessary for a complete resolution of all issues when you call the stop. Issues will develop one after another. You cannot wait for all of them to resolve. They just won't. New issues will arise. You stop when you think it is appropriate and call for a de-briefing.

    It is the formal stage of de-role, dis-engage and get back to real life. Ask the players to reflect on several levels:

  • as a persona, how does the persona feel and how s/her may improve?

  • as a player, how have you played the persona? With the benefit of hind-sight, will you do anything differently?

  • if the course, in which the role play simulation is situated, is a theoretical course, another level of reflection is to ask the player to assess how theory is applicable in this situation?

  • This de-briefing stage can be run online or face to face and is usually the highlight of the whole experience.

    My e-Learning Design Challenge to You

    This is a sad, but real story reported in respectable Chinese newspapers, cited by Yahoo here and here. This is a story which we can ponder for a while and think about what that would mean to us.

    Let convert this into a design exercise.

    First a brief outline of the story itself.

    A 21 year old young Vietnam man was glad that he would be jailed for 21 months in Hong Kong after entering Hong Kong illegally and found carrying two bullets and a long knife.

    Why was he glad?

    To understand, here are some facts:

  • Illegal entry into Hong Kong: mandatory 15 months jail

  • Carrying weapon (2 bullets and a knife): mandatory 6 months jail

  • Prisoners, working in jail, have a wage of HKD100 per week, accommodation and food supplied by the employer (the prison)

  • Cost of illegal entry into Hong Kong, fees to "Snake head": 3 Million Vietnamese dollars, about HK$1485 (two bullets and a knife were supplied as part of the deal)

  • For good behaviour in jail, the actual jail term is 14 months
    Net HK$(5600-1485) - over HK$4000 (US$500+)

  • If caught after entering Hong Kong, the payout was shown above

  • If not caught, during the stay in Hong Kong, work as a labourer (wages unknown, but should be better than the wage in jail)

  • Now, reverse role play this, i.e. create a scenario which will lead the player rationally want to get caught by illegally entering Hong Kong with 2 bullets and a knife and feeling happy.

    Tuesday, 26 October 2004

    Learning Object ( The Buntine Oration - Reflection 2)

    Every time the term "learning object" is mentioned in any education/technology discussion forum, it seems a question of what is learning object is inevitable. In his Buntine Oration, Stephen pointed out the early visions of promoting re-usable, small chunk of content being used to support learning. Early effort, including EOE foundation back in 1996 has started to collect "learning object" in the form of Java Applets. There were over 2600 Java applets for educators to use, mostly freely. However, it seems to me that this website has been neglected for a while now.

    I argued that if we use the word "learning" in "learning object", the object must have something to do with learning. Conversely, if we use the word "object", the "learning object" must have some characteristics of "object". We wrote:

    The issues of reuse, grain size, technical properties or even the basic question of "what is a learning object?" are not central issues in the education community.

    So, if the technologists are bringing a concept from another field (computer science/software engineering) into this argument, I would have expected that the term will come over with all its previous researches and things learnt. Here, let me just briefly list out those elements which are essential in an object-oriented programming paradigm:
  • Hosting environment: an object cannot instantiate itself without a hosting environment. This hosting environment is the container where objects live and die. I believe there is an over-ambition when this concept was first introduce into education technology: any digital content in any environment! Today, it would be fair to say that the container should be the browser where most of today's eLearning takes place. Then again, the browser technology is a moving target. My own first effort, virtual apparatus, was a victim of this constant technology base shifting.

  • Communication between objects: one of the key promise of OOP is that objects can participate in a collaboration, each object does its own job. In order to do that, the container hosts more than one object and manage the object's life cycle. The container also provides a mechanism for objects to communicate. I thought the de facto communication between objects hosted by a browser can be done via "liveconnnect" and Javascript. However, the problem I faced when I was developing the virtual apparatus framework was the constant inconsistency of the implementation of "liveconnect" by each version of the browser and supporting technologies.

  • Encapsulation: This is one of the key benefit promoted by the early education technologist. All the internal operation of the object is hidden from the "object assembler". As long as the container can send a valid command to the object, the object will perform its job without the "programmer" worrying how it is done. Unfortunately, this also contradicted one of the early observation of how teachers work. Teachers used to select material, cut and paste and produce their own version to suit the observed need of their students. With encapsulation, the unit of operation is now a complete object. Teachers won't have the technical skill to get inside the object, even if they have, this is beyond the promise. This has led to a lot of discussion about grain size and technical properties. This is counter-productive for education.

  • Interface: closely associated with encapsulation is the concept of interface as a contract. The object assembler needs a consistent way to send command and information to an object even if the object has undergone several generation of revision and development. The discussion of "learning object" focussed on the learning object metadata, which I think, is more about "discovery" than as a standard interface to work with the object. In this paper, we talked about three standard interfaces: management, learning and instructional design. These are high level concept and implementation are yet to come.

  • The closest definition I have seen to possess these object qualities and are designed with the intent to be used in a teaching and learning environment is SCO in SCORM. Still ADL prefers to call them "shareable content object" and NOT "learning object". SCOs are lived in a browser (well defined host), with a standard interface to communicate with the host (actually via the host to the back-end LMS). But up to now, the SCORM specification still limits the launching of only ONE SCO at a time, i.e. SCOs cannot co-exist within the container to co-operate to do one job.

    The key refection I have when I read Stephen's Buntine Oration is:

    Should we put the term "learning object" to rest and return back to use the more accurate and appropriate terms such as learning resource, teaching resource or just resource? If we truly believe in the value offered by the OOP, may be we should get serious about defining and agreeing on a term and improve on it.

    Monday, 25 October 2004

    Games to Help Label Images

    The idea is quite simple, but very powerful. Hide behind a game, the players help to label images by suggesting words that describe the image.

    Click here and register to play.

    Sunday, 24 October 2004

    Meta Meta Meta Data Draft 0.1b - in plain English

    I was trying to use a bit of mathematical terms to express the "improvement" of the data model. It seemed it did not go through very well from the comments I have received so far. In this post, I try to rewrite the idea in plain English.

    Say we have a set of data, let call it S1 with elements s11, s12, s13, ... s1n. These elements were referred to as type 1 data in the previous paper.

    Let use start with a collection of documents. These documents were referred as type 1 data in the previous paper.
    Now, apply a "meta" operation* on each of the element in S1 which will produce a set S2 with elements s21, s22, s23, ... s2n where s2i is the metadata of s1i. These elements ( s21, s22, ... s2n) was referred to as type 2 data in the previous paper.

    "Meta-data" is data about data. Hence we can get the data about each of the documents in our collection. We have an collection of data which are data about the documents. The data in the second collection were called type 2 data in the previous paper.
    Note that elements of S2 are data as well. These elements are themselves type 1 data and hence we can apply "meta" operation on these as well to produce another set of type 2 data. This is infinitely recursive.

    We noted that the data in second collection are, themselves, documents. Hence, it is also possible for us to get data about these data. This data about data can reiterate as many times as you like.
    What is interesting, and perhaps confusing, is that there exist more than one meta operation. In fact, there are infinite number of meta operations. Each meta operation will produce a set of Type 2 carrying the implicit characteristics of the meta operation. We further define a meta-meta operation as an operation on a set S which will extract the common characteristics all elements in the set S2 to produce M1. Since there are infinite number of possible meta operations, there exists infinite number of characteristic, M1, M2, M3,... Mn,... Each of these characteristics, when expressed in as data, is what we refer to as type 3 data in the previous paper.

    [Note: this is the improvement to the model.]There is more than one type of data about data. The "normal" metadata is only one type of data about the document. Another type of data about the document may be the number of times a certain word has appeared in the document (frequency count). When we look at the data about the document (our second collection), these data carry some particular features due to the method we get these data about document. If we can express these characteristics in a data format, then we get what we refer to as type 3 data in the previous paper.
    An example of Mi may be the Dublin Core specification, which defines a particular meta operation. The process of producing M1 is the meta-meta operation. Different community of practice will obviously have their own variations of meta operation (adoption and extension of DC) producing Mi.

    This paragraph is self-explanatory.
    Meta-meta operation applies on data elements. Since type 1 data is data, we can also meta-meta operation on type 1 data. One of the possible characteristics of type 1 data is the link information among the elements. This link information has been an important information to determine the "page-rank" in Google's search result. Again, there are other meta-meta operation which can be applied to type 1 as well as type 2 data.

    We also note that the way of describe the "common" characteristics of data about document is the same as the "common" characteristics of data. We can, therefore, apply the same technique to the original type 1 data, i.e. the document to try to get some characteristics of the collection of document. One of the characteristics may be the linking relationship between these documents.

    Saturday, 23 October 2004

    Internet Time Blog: Slowness

    This is a review of In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Jay Cross. What impressed me most is the notion of speed is a notion of attitude:

    I can fool myself into thinking that I don’t have enough time, couldn’t I just as well fool myself into thinking that I have plenty of time? So I decided to have plenty of time
    and the quote from Gandhi
    There is more to life than increasing its speed.

    "Just-in-time training" is the most obvious manifestation of this Internet speed obsession. I have questioned about the long term impact of this approach before. For instance, one of the strength of the asynchronous nature of discussion forum, online role play simulation in particular, is that time is available for learners to research, reflect and formulate a rational reaction to the current scenario. I suspect, a pure speculation at this time, that information obtained during "just-in-time" delivered instruction would not stick. We can get the solution as quickly as we can forget about it. However, the "slow learning" afforded by asynchronous inactivity includes a much greater cognitive investment from the learner and hence, I suspect, again speculation only, that it will last much longer and hence has greater impact on the learner.

    When we talk about improving productivity, we are not talking about adding hours in the work. We should be focusing on improving how the work is being done. Just-in-time information promote a quick fix. Many such quick fixes accumulated to lost hours. If we can choose to slow than at the first encounter with the problem, find a long term solution, e.g. eliminating the problem from the root so that such problem would not occur again, will the benefit out gain the seemingly "slow" process of finding a better solution?

    Those interested in understanding the concept time should not miss Cross's time page.

    Friday, 22 October 2004

    Federated Search ( The Buntine Oration - Reflection 1)

    As I have noted before, I think I share more similarities to Stephen than differences, but on this issue, I am offering an alternate view point.

    Because learning objects are invisible to Google [sic] operators of learning content management systems are intended to access these federated searches.

    Repository existed not only for objects which are invisible to Google. Back in 1999, while serving EdNA, I have looked at the collaboration issues of "subject gateways" (SG in short hereafter) which are in many ways similar to today's repository.

    First of all, we must recognize the value provided by these SGs. Let me use two examples. Stephen's own Edu-RSS is widely subscribed, so is his OLDaily. I am a keen reader of his writings. The greatest value in OLDaily, to me at least, is the "coloured"-view through a man who I trust. I respect his selection, I like to read his comment and would occasionally follow through to the items. Another example: some investors pay good money for the recommendation of some advisors. The information on which such advisor is based should be public knowledge (otherwise, they are liable to the charge of insider trading). But the value to their subscribers is the unique analysis - the coloured view. Subject gateways serve a similar function. These SGs are run and owned by people who have immense interest and "authority" in the subject area. Users trust the recommendation. On 21st Oct, 2004 issue of OLDaily, Stephen pointed to an item "Information Cascades in Online Learning" which describes the chaotic environment which may be created by the information linking. SGs, in a way, can serve as a nice balance to this chaos.

    The second thing I did on tackling this SG collaboration issue was to look at the sustainability of the SGs and recognized the competition and collaboration requirements. On one hand, SG owners need to competitively bid for funding, but there are obviously significant duplication in terms of infra-structure and scalability. Referring back to the data model I developed (see Meta Meta Meta Data Draft 0.1, the value the SG owners would protect in order to maintain their survival is "type 2" data. I did not see how they will give up type 2 data without killing themselves. The collaboration model, hence, has to protect the ownership of type 2 data. What we can do, at the time, was to come up with a harmonized type 3 data so that searches can be done to these SG without SG explicitly sharing their type 2 data. We called this "mega" search (instead of the then current term meta search) and it is what is known as "federated search".
    Stephen also commended on the efficiency of federated search.
    If this process seems odd and cumbersome, it is. In practice, the federated search over even a small number of repositories is significantly slower than Google.

    This is a price we pay for the concept of "loose" connectedness. While Stephen is a great promoter of loosely coupled structure for learning services, I don't see any reason why search must be centralized controlled by Google. As our network speed and the interface among SG (or repositories) improves, the performance will improve as well. Peer-to-peer network is based on the same principle. I understand the value of a network is a function of the number of nodes in the network. To really make federated search a viable strategy, repositories need to join together to form a value-network which is comparable to Google and continue to leverage on the network effort to grow the value. If repositories remain to be closed, I agree with Stephen that the doom day is coming.

    As I noted, we share more common than difference. The last quote from Stephen will pull us back together.
    What Google has, that a federated search system by definition cannot have, is what I call third party metadata and what Google calls PageRank.

    All our difference boils down to just terminology. To Stephen, repositories are just data store and hence federated search across multiple stores makes no sense. What I try to say here is that *some* repositories have significant value added and we should also support mechanisms which protect such value. Diversity is great!

    Hong Kong is Changing Its Education System

    See news (in Chinese) here and here.

    Hong Kong has been using a British education system: 6 years primary, 5 year secondary, 2 years pre-university and 3 year university. China has always been in a different system: 6 years primary, 6 year secondary (3 junior and 3 senior) and 4 year university, so are some of the western countries, including USA. Now that Hong Kong is part of China since 1997, (it has always been, historically, it has been on load to Britain for 100 years) it is natural that the government should consider harmonisation of the education system with the Chinese system.

    The first editorial cited above commented on how weak the government officials are. This is a policy under consideration for couple of years. The author suggested that the official should come out and demonstrate leadership. This is a good thing for Hong Kong and should not worry too much about unfounded criticism.

    The second editorial tried to convince the readers that it is a good move by looking at the positive and negative aspects of the change. I found the intention good, but the argument weak. One of the major argument is that 4 year university will promote independent thinking and prepare Hong Kong citizens for the new challenge ahead. This is such a general statement that it hardly makes any sense at all. The total number of years of study is the SAME! Changing the students from one environment to another does not necessarily produce better outcome. I believe in early preparation for fundamental human quality. Higher education is for sharpening the skill and preparation for career.

    Sure, the running cost of universities in Hong Kong is much higher than that of the secondary schools which used to provide that "change-over" year of education. The issue is about managing the change and funding the cost of implementing that change. The bottom line should be how to provide the best education at an affordable cost to people in Hong Kong.


    A vivid description of how the blogger (Gardner) participated in real space and cyberspace meeting simultaneously and bringing the benefit of both together. I can see this scenario happening to me soon too.

    Thursday, 21 October 2004

    Kidnapper of Aussie uses Google to verify identity and secure release


    The Buntine Oration: Learning Networks - 0

    I finally have a quick read of the remarkable, inspiring piece by Stephen Downes. His talk has given me plenty of things to think and reflect on. I intend to write a series of posts to document my thinking and reflection triggered by this piece.

    I have a career life, with some different twists and turns, quite similar to Stephen. Like him, I am

    a learning technologist, a researcher, a sometime programmer, a speaker and writer, and a passionate believer in the value and importance of education.

    However, I would like to start this series of posts by paying salute to four of my former brilliant students. What happened almost 20 years ago have changed my life and my view. These four gentlemen are now very successful in their career and making significant contributions to the world. If they read my blog, they will know I am referring to them.

    It was near the summer holiday and they have just finished their certificate of education examination. They came back to school and visited me. We had our usual chat, covering computing, physics and anything that interested us. Then I suggested that I would like to build a local area network for Apple II which our school had previously purchased. That little suggestion started a project in the summer and we built a local area network for Apple II.

    One of them, Yiu, designed a circuit board with diodes and resistors which plugged into Apple II's game port and interface in parallel with other similar boards connected by a 4-core cable.

    Another, ChongFish, wrote the communication kernel, in machine language. The kernel triggers the voltage of the wires. He used CPU clock cycle to do the timing. NOP was added to delay the change of voltage if necessary. This is a remarkable piece of software and we achieved the lightning fast speed of 56K baud - much faster than the reading speed of the available floppy disk at that time.

    Another, Lau, wrote a network filing system from scratch. His filing system handled users account, user storage as well as communication between machines.

    The local area network would not have fun if it was not "playable". We added "novice" programmability to the system by extending the Applesoft Basic. Yes, that part was written by the fourth guy.

    We have fun throughout the summer. The most important change to me is that I deleted the word "impossible" from my vocabulary and added "network" to my 100 most frequently used words.

    Things changed from this point onward. I later had the opportunity to wrote a teacher support system for supporting schools from a central location. TeleNex, the name of the system, has many features similar to today's web-based learning systems. When I came to Australia, I have the privilege to work for EdNA for a couple of years (part-time) and do some work in early IEEE efforts in learning object metadata. Today, one of my companies represents the first SCORM-compliant certified LMS (WebMentor) here in Australia and New Zealand. Hence I am also heavily involved with SCORM (and recently SCORMplayer).

    The line between a teacher and a student is thin, very thin indeed. I think I learnt more from the Apple II local area network project than my students. Although this project had helped some of them to secure scholarship they desperately needed at the time, the impact on me is greater than on them. Today, I am as much a student as yesterday, yesteryear or decades ago. Learning has never ceased and will never stop.

    My current work is more focused on "structured" formal learning. This is where Stephen and myself may differ. This will be reflected in the coming posts. Tomorrow, I shall reflect on what I called "co-operation of subject gateways" and what Stephen called "federated search".

    Meta Meta Meta Data Draft 0.1 (was: Academic publishing or Blogging)

    One month ago, I started thinking to "open" author a paper based on some concepts which I would like to further develop. I think I need to make a start now.

    In a previous, paper, we defined:

    Type 1 Data: These are resources that end users are interested in. (In certain circumstances, Type 2 and Type 3 data are themselves Type 1 data). Type 1 Data may include lesson plans, teaching strategies, curriculum ideas, web pages, software, information data sources, dynamic data (such as stock price quotes, weather conditions), media (sound and video), software modules, or Computer Assisted Learning packages, etc.

    Type 2 Data: These data are derived directly from Type 1 data and sometimes function as surrogate data for it (especially for non-text based Type 1 data) in order to conserve computation or cognitive load while performing the resource discovery function of the Search Sites. Examples include metadata and indexes of websites. The comprehensiveness of Type 2 data and the relevancy of the collection to the Sites' users are part of the primary asset of Search Sites.

    Type 3 data: This is data that are not captured by Type 1 and Type 2 data, and which typically cannot be derived directly from a single Type 1 or Type 2 data. A little more explanation may help make this concept clear.

    What I have in mind is to improve on this model:

    Say we have a set of data, let call it S1 with elements s11, s12, s13, ... s1n. These elements was referred to as type 1 data in the previous paper.

    Now, apply a "meta" operation* on each of the element in S1 which will produce a set S2 with elements s21, s22, s23, ... s2n where s21 is the metadata of s11. These elements ( s21, s22, s23, ... s2n) was referred to as type 2 data in the previous paper.

    Note that elements of S2 are data as well. These elements are themselves type 1 data and hence we can apply "meta" operation on these as well to produce another set of type 2 data. This is infinitely recursive.

    What is interesting, and perhaps confusing, is that there exist more than one meta operation. In fact, there are infinite number of meta operations. Each meta operation will produce a set of Type 2 carrying the implicit characteristics of the meta operation. We further define a meta-meta operation as an operation on a set S which will extract the common characteristics all elements in the set S2 to produce M1. Since there are infinite number of possible meta operations, there exists infinite number of characteristic, M1, M2, M3,... Mn,... Each of these characteristics, when expressed in as data, is what we refer to as type 3 data in the previous paper.

    An example of Mi may be the Dublin Core specification, which defines a particular meta operation. The process of producing M1 is the meta-meta operation. Different community of practice will obviously have their own variations of meta operation (adoption and extension of DC) producing Mi.

    Meta-meta operation applies on data elements. Since type 1 data is data, we can also meta-meta operation on type 1 data. One of the possible characteristics of type 1 data is the link information among the elements. This link information has been an important information to determine the "page-rank" in Google's search result. Again, there are other meta-meta operation which can be applied to type 1 as well as type 2 data.

    The utility of this data model may be used to understand the work in metadata....

    *A meta operation may be the extraction of metadata from the type 1 data, such as assigning dc.creator (in type 2 data of this post) to the value "Albert Ip" (for this particular post, which is type 1 data in this case). Another meta operation may be to create the frequency count of all the words used in this post.

    Wednesday, 20 October 2004

    How-To: Make your own photo mosaics

    This is just so cool that I have to include it here.

    Gotchas in Using Computer Simulations

    In today OLDaily, Stephen Downes cited two papers from The October issue of the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, the first one being Computer Simulations in Distance Education.

    Let me just pick up a paragraph from this paper:

    Computer simulations do have distinct disadvantages compared with other modalities. First, because computer simulations are often used with “problem-based learning” methods, they stimulate learners to immerse themselves in a problematic situation and experiment with different approaches (Heinich, et. al., 1999). This type of learning may require significantly more time than other methods of instruction. Second, research has shown that, without coaching, the learner gains little from “discovery learning” from computer simulations (Min, 2001; Heinich, et. al., 1999). Third, constructivists argue that computer simulations “oversimplify the complexities of real-life situations”, giving the learner a “false understanding” of a real life problem or system (Heinich, et. al., 1999). Finally, development of computer simulations may involve extensive planning and require significant investment of labor and financial resources.

    The author, Les M. Lunce, is absolutely right in pointing out the issues of using such a media, but I would not refer to these as "disadvantages", rather as issues that we should look out and prepared for.

    I recalled the excitement I have when I first laid my hand on a pressurized water nuclear reaction simulator (ran on a BBC Model B). I was playing with all sort of parameters all night. The next day when I show to my students, they showed excitement (like I had) at the beginning, but quickly turned the excitement into frustration. To my students then, all these parameters made no sense at all. They just could not "plug" into the model. I learnt this lesson and these days I put a lot of emphasis on "pre-briefing" - preparing the players to handle the situation, both simulation and role playing.

    I would also like to comment that "constructivistic" paradigm does not equal to throwing the learners into the deep end of the pool and let them swim or die. Scaffolding is a common technique in providing help (and progressively take away support when the learners become more confident).

    Simulations (and many other techniques) involve the "suspension of belief". Learners should have a clear sense of "entering" and "existing" a simulation, a clear distinction between real life and simulated world. Without such a demarcation, it is dangerous and I would consider the moderator does not fulfil his/her "duty of care" to the learners. As such, a simplified world represented by a computer-based model is only a model to the learners and this point should be made very clear. The purpose of the simplification is to focus on the issue which we want to focus on and study. Life is more complicated than simulations!

    Tuesday, 19 October 2004

    ICCE Pre-conference workshop on role play simulation - reminder

    4 hrs session with Albert Ip and/or Roni Linser

    Simulations have been used as a tool for teaching in many areas and disciplines. The idea behind using simulations as pedagogical tools relies on the idea that experience is the best teacher. If access to such experience in real-time is impossible, an artificial environment may be, if not ideal, at least sufficient. This workshop not only introduces the participants to the “Rolls Royce” of online role play simulation platform, we shall cover the pedagogical underpinnings, the authoring and the moderating aspects of running successful, engaging and rewarding online role play simulations.

    Target audience:
    Any academic interested in providing learners with an engaging, fun and rewarding learning experience using web-based role play simulation. Required skill is the ability to browse the web and enter information using Web-based forms and a genuine interest in providing the best engaging learning experience for their students.

    Note: We shall be showing off ALL the new Fablusi v2 features in this workshop!

    Categories of eLearning

    George Siemens posted an article on categories of eLearning. There is a mindmap which worth careful study.

    Just a few minor comments here:

  • Personally, I would have made a distinction between computing and communication. Both technologies are ubiquitous today and they are merging together quickly. However, by acknowledging that there are TWO technologies as our disposal, I hope we can open up our view of how to use these technologies in eLearning. The current emphasis has been too much biased towards the use of computing and communication is treated as a delivery tool. If we focus on communication and really understand how human communication is carried out, we may have more options, e.g. instead of focusing on "solo" learning objects, we should start looking at "group" learning services*.

  • I think this is just an oversight. "Archived Presentation" is asynchronous, while the process of creating the presentation is synchronous.

  • In terms of tools and delivery, I would include plain old phone, TV etc. into it. While VoIP may one day replace telephone, we can deliver training by telephone if we want to. So is SMS. I don't think eLearning should be restricted to IP-based technologies.

  • This last one really makes me feel uneasy! The collaborative tool listed are for ad hoc self-organising learning. There are other techniques and tools for collaboration beyond wikis, blogs and groove!

  • I think I want to expand a bit about the last point.

    Here are a set of definitions I used in one of my papers Supporting Collaborative Learning Activities with SCORM:
    Activity: Actions that a learner is required to perform.
    Learning activity: An activity designed to lead to a learning outcome.
    Solo learning activity: A learning activity that can be performed by a single learner in front of the computer, e.g. multiple-choice questions and rule-based simulations.
    Collaborative Learning Activity: A learning activity that involves more than one learner, where the learners are communicating with each other either as peer to peer or within assumed roles. We do not distinguish between whether the collaborative learning activity will occur synchronously or asynchronously. Our emphasis is on the fact that several learners are engaged in a learning activity or the activity requires the participation of more than one learner.
    Collaboration tools: These are tools that enable learners to share information, discuss ideas and communicate for the purpose of collaboration. Some typical tools are asynchronous conference and/or chat tools.

    The distinction between a tool and an activity is an important one. Asynchronous conferencing is one of the commonly used collaboration tools (Hiltz, 1984; Ip, 1989). Collaborative learning activities require additional design (from instructional designers) or may use a combination of tools to promote the achievement of learning objectives. Some collaborative learning activities need further customisations by subject matter experts to provide an appropriate context for the collaborative learning activity while customization of the tool itself may be necessary to fully support the collaborative learning activity.

    *I use learning services for group instead of learning objects because I don't believe there is any value of group-activated learning objects. By its nature of group, there would require communication among group members and that would require some kind of communication service (centralised or peer to peer).

    Monday, 18 October 2004

    Hijack by Spammer

    I noticed that one of the archived post at autounfocus was hijacked by spammers in the comment section. After about 5 legitimate comments, spammers came in and put another 19 spam messages. I think bloggers need to be vigilant in watching their blogs and comments. I would like to get in touch with David Wiley privately to let him know, but I don't have his email. I hope he reads my blog and can take action again the spammers - at least remove the unwanted comments.

    Who owns the Learning Space?

    I totally agree with Scot that we should move e-Learning to the paradigm that learners take a

    great deal more ownership of their learning activities and to feel safe within the learning group.

    However, I don't think that there will be ever a case where the learners will own any learning space in a formal education setting. (This may not be the case for informal learning and life-long learning. But that would be for another post some other time.) In a formal learning setting, the learners are working towards some form of qualification or recognition and will do so within learning space(s) provided by the learning provider. I think the ownership should be about the learning, not necessarily the space in which the learning occurs. However, the parameters that set up the learning space are important!

    In the current era of training delivery dominated by the first generation LMS (I call them "learner management system") such as WebCT or BlackBoard or others, one may be excused to think that beside the "library" space (content delivered as online pages), the only other online learning space is discussion forum. As in physical world, besides classrooms, there are other specialist rooms where other types of activities can occur.

    A discussion forum is akin to a classroom. What occurs inside this learning space, in a lot of ways, depends on the philosophy and the attitude of the "authority representative" - i.e. the professor. In many eastern cultures, learners have the expectation that the authority representative will take charge and learners are expected to be told what to do. (I came from such a culture.) These learners will be in total loss if leave alone without proper orientation. Having said that, at the hands of skilful online educators, discussion forum can give learners a lot of ownership in their ways of learning. That's why Susan Nash's discussion is important and I am looking forward seeing her survey results.

    This is no secret that I actively promote the use of online role play simulation. Role play simulation offers a different learning space, akin to a theatre where players can rehearse and experiment different strategies. The "simulated space" is still owned by the professor who sets up the simulation. One of the role of the moderator of online role play simulation may still be an assessor, trying to give a score to the performance of the learners within that space. However, the "parameters" associated with the content space are quite different from the "classroom" space.

    As a matter of exercising the "duty of care", the authority representative will be watching every "move" in their responsible learning space. Learners should be expecting that there is no much privacy within the learning space, as one would be expecting that your behaviour is monitored in any public space or any classroom. The important parameter to build into learning space is the "trust" the learners have towards the authority representative. If somehow this trust is violated, the learning process will be severely compromised. Part of this building of "trust" is implicit in Gilly Salmon's first few stages*, and part of this is related to "expectation management". This is a tough job for professor using discussion forum and cannot be left to chances.

    Online role play simulation has its own set of parameters which moderator should be aware of. I hope I will be writing about this in a near future post.

    *I do see some cases that "trust" is not a principal issue for the digital natives. See my earlier post: Salmon's 5-stage Model and Digital Natives.

    Digital Divide

    Graeme Daniel posted a long list on resources related to digital divide in this week's wwwtools.

    One of the key power of e-Learning is based on the universal affordable availability of computing and communication power to the learners. Digital Divide is an impediment to our cause. As such, I feel it is important for us to have an understanding in this.

    On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that inequality* is the norm of life, rather than exception. Digital divide will always exist. The question is what is the baseline connectivity, computing resource, cultural awareness and literacy that we can accept as the minimal requirement

  • for an individual to enjoy a reasonable modern life, and

  • for the society to function in harmony.

  • *even if everyone is connected and with computer at home, we still have inequality in terms of the differences in bandwidth computer power etc.

    Sunday, 17 October 2004

    The Dreaded “Sage on the Stage” Comes Back -- In the Discussion Boards!

    Instead of responding directly to the issues raised by E-Learning Queen, I'll try to explain why I prefer not to use discussion forum myself after having study it intensively 20- years ago. (A shameless plug: my M.Ed thesis was "an ethnographical study of electronic bulletin board system for teacher support" back in the 80s of the last century.)

    To explain why I come to this conclusion, let us look at some characteristics of discussion forum first. Please note that these characteristics can be used both positively and negatively - just like most technology, the value is dependent on the utility.

  • Discussion forum is a "cold" media. The communication bandwidth is thin. You cannot transit body language which comprises of 70% of message if we are in face to face situation.

  • Discussion are permanent. Every word we enter into the discussion forum is stored and can come back to "attack" us.

  • While there are studies showing that discussion forum can liberate "shy" students, unfortunately, these studies do not look at how discussion forum also "intimidate" online users.

  • Like any traditional learning spaces, in the discussion forum, the moderator (professor) has huge power over the students.

  • If you are a working adult who happens also take an online course, you trend to attend this discussion forum not at the best of your ability. It may be late at night when all the children have gone to bed, or ...

  • Not all professors are skilled in leading online discussion forum

  • So, what I would recommend today? Surprise! surprise! Online role play simulation! While the media is cold and discussion are permanent, these encourages rational thinking and careful planning. The simulation space reflects the social structure of the persona, not the social structure of a learning institute verse the learners. The professor really has no role in the role play unless s/he is also playing a persona. In that case, s/he is just another persona - and usually, the players do know such persona is actually played by the professor.

    Moderating a discussion forum is a tough job - so is moderating a role play. The difference is that moderating a role play is like playing - time just fly. How many times you have when you mark assignments that you will be laughing all the way throughout the marking process? In role play, that is the norm.

    Defining "Learning Object", Again!

    When I posted a copy of When is a Learning Object a Learning Object? using the title "a belated little idea for paper 80" to ITFORUM, my intention was to point to the idea that "interpretation" is an enabling device. However, I also have unintentionally opened a can of worms about what is "learning object". I should have realised that when a title has "learning object" two times and only separated by a single character :-) and when someone else followed the thread by renaming it to "Defining Learning Object".

    "What is a learning object" has been a hot topic for a while - I don't realise that it still IS!

    I have written a number of papers on this, see Then came David Wiley's book based on his thesis (am I right here?) and many other including Stephen Downes' latest work. (Sorry Stephen, I still have not read your complete Buntine Oration, I am waiting for the audio version.)

    The dust is not settle yet and I am sure it will be stirred up again. For me, I have to reconcile this learning object notion with my social constructivistic work on online role play. I'll explain how I keep myself sane in a later post. For now, please visit the ITFORUM for the continual of "defining learning object"...

    Saturday, 16 October 2004

    Salmon's 5-stage Model and Digital Natives

    Gilly Salmon's 5 stage Model (or an interactive version)does not seem to apply to some Self-Organising study groups, at least for the digital natives.

    A quick scan of the 5 most active forums at Open Learning Support showed that there is little evidence of Salmon's first three stages in action or that these stages are significant hurdle to overcome before reaching the other stages. It seems to me that all the participants just jumped in, settled quickly and proceed to the learning tasks or questions which are blocking their progress.

    I have observed something similar in the ad hoc self-organising photo groups (which I cited the learning object examples).

    I am a digital migrant. My daughter is definitely digital native. When I observe her online interaction, I noticed that she would log to a game site, invite someone unknown for a game and then proceed with the game without any other exchange. However, at the same time, she would also be on chat (typically MSN) with her friends.

    My work with online role play simulation also indicated a pattern quite different from what one would expect from the Salmon's model. While we still emphasis as the group process, we noticed that once the players generated their role profile and have read the kick-start episode, they can quickly engage effectively.

    It is very strange to a digital migrant that no initial socialising is deemed necessary in the online world. I recalled a story about how "hello" was coined. (I could not tell whether this was a true story). When telephone was first introduced, people did not know how to greet each other through the telephone, so "hello" as created as a way for people to start the conversation on telephone.

    Another interesting experiment which you may like to try is this: Tomorrow morning, when one of your colleague greets you and say "how are you today?" (or something similar, you start seriously to describe how you are that day. What will happen?

    I suppose this initial socialisation is cultural and is mainly a transfer from our face to face world. Salmon's model is applicable to digital immigrants who still are more at ease with an environment similar to the familiar physical world. This may not be true for the digital native.

    Comment on " What will her future be?"

    Michelle Strbich posted a comment to my previous post What will her future be? quoted verbatim below:

    Have your daughter and yourself read the following books by Robert Kiyosaki:

    Rich Kid, Smart Kid
    Rich Dad, Poor Dad
    Rich Dad's Guide to Investing

    He has more books, but those are good starters. It will teach your daughter how to think so she can secure herself to realize how to go beyond being in the rat race of life before too many variables enter her life later (spouse, children, etch.).

    Michelle Strbich | Email | Homepage | 09.28.04 - 1:15 pm | #

    Thank you.

    I think I have read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad". One of the suggestion I can remember from the book was to accumulate asset and use the asset to "secure" the future. I agree totally. I just need to build the asset now.

    When is a Learning Object a Learning Object?

    This is a question I come back often. I don't think I have an answer yet, but here is my understanding at the moment.

    I asked the question is recipe a learning object before. I have also written two posts about turning it to a Learning object, both triggered by photographs. The first one is a wonderful recipe and the second one on a "physics" (???) problem. In yesterday's post, I also described some cans which I used when I was teaching Physics long time ago.

    I would argue that a recipe is NOT a learning object by itself. If you put it in the sitting room, it may be a nice book on the coffee table. But it serves no training or learning purposes. It is the context of how you use the recipe that is the enabling factor.

    The first photograph is interesting. Again, by itself, it is just an interesting photograph to look at. However, it is the rectangles and pop-ups that draws the attention and triggered something of the viewers. When it is placed in a discussion forum, the discussion exchange enabled the learning. Hence, I would say that there are two enabling factors here: the rectangles and pop-ups, and the discussion forum.

    Yesterday's photograph was turned into a series of interesting exchange in the forum by the interesting title. Again, this title draws the attention of the viewers and triggered something inside the viewers' minds and started the learning process. The enabling factors are the title of the photograph and the discussion forum.

    The cans I quoted yesterday are a collection of junks if you do not know how to use them and the purpose of these cans. (After I left the school, the cans were just that unless my successor picked up that idea!) The enabling factor is the set of instruction and the environment the students were in.

    All these examples point to two things:

    Firstly, some enabling descriptions which trigger something which spontaneously or otherwise set the enquiring minds of the user in motion. I would say that the descriptions (rectangles and pop-ups, title of the photograph and the instruction I gave to my students) are learning objects - their sole purpose of existence (at least from the creator's point of view) is to activate learning. However, interestingly enough, alone they make no sense! Without the photographs and the cans, the learning objects make no sense!

    Secondly, there must be a suitable environment to foster the learning (discussion forum OR the laboratory environment). These photographs here do not serve any learning - you can see it, so what! Learning occurs only when the photographs are situated among a group of people (who have all been set into a learning mode) exchanges views and share experiences.

    By the way, by reading this post, are you learning?

    No, you are not. You have just read an opinion. You may use it to say some good words to me when we meet next time or you may also say how stupid Albert Ip is when you meet my enemies. (just a joke!) There is no utility of this little opinion here. However, if you respond via the comment below and if there are a number of exchanges, the people participating would have learnt something. It is because these people, including myself, would have negotiated a common understanding which will enable a shared meaning among us. For me, knowledge is the holistic collection of all those common understandings which I can use to communicate and hence achieve some useful tasks. A bright idea is just an idea. If this idea can be shared and produce some useful outcome, it becomes knowledge. Learning is the process that we acquire knowledge.

    Friday, 15 October 2004

    Turn it to a Learning Object - 2

    Another great example of what eLearning should be via Furl: How was this photograph created?

    This photograph and a simple question ignited a series of interesting exchange in the forum.

    When I was teaching Physics in the good old days, I used to create simple puzzles by filling cans with different substances and asked the students to do various experiments (without opening the can) to guess what were inside the cans. I asked them to note down all the experiments they did. They then needed to hand in a report which should describe a set of experiments which would lead to their conclusion. They were asked only to list those experiments which were useful in leading to the conclusion and should NOT include any experiments which did not help.

    I then asked them to exchange their "report" - together with the can - with another group. They then followed the report from the other group to see if they could come up with the same conclusion.

    It was fun. One of the major surprises to the students were how many dead-ends they needed to make before they could come up with an "elegant" set of experiments to illustrate their conclusion. Isn't it what science is?

    Some examples of the cans (these are all cylindrical cans) are:

  • half filled with sand

  • filled with sand

  • half filled with water

  • filled with water

  • wax soldified at the bottom of can (half filled the can)

  • wax soldified along half of the can "length-wise"

  • a ping pong ball suspended by elastic string between the bottom and the cover of the can

  • filled with some sand and stone

  • filled with metal nails

  • My laboratory assistant came up with about 20 different variations...

    Thursday, 14 October 2004

    Laptop in schools?

    I am seeing a reverse in the trend of asking students to acquire a laptop for use in school. There are several logistic problems with a privately owned laptop in schools.

    • The need to carry the laptop to and from school is a big burden on the students.

    • The non-standard installed software on the laptop gives the IT supports a big issue.

    • and so on

    Some of schools here in Melbourne have started NOT to require the students to have their own laptops. Take the case of my daughter's school as an example. The school libraries will have laptops for loan. I think they have about 20 or so for loan. These laptops are wireless-enabled so the students can use them anywhere in the campus and must return the laptop before the end of the day. All classrooms in the school have 3 to 4 desktop computers which the students can use as well. There are also a small number of desk top computers in the library (about 10 desk tops) for students use. I don't know the exact total number of computers in the school, I suspect it is about 1 per 5 students. Each student has a storage in the school's Intranet. Again, I don't know the size of the storage allocated. But her school is relatively small (only 500 students), so if every students have a 100M allocation, it still represents only 50G which is very small in today's standard. The students can access their storage online from home as well.

    While my daughter has a thumbdrive which she can carry to school, I always found it laying at home. She access her work from home by logging into the school's Intranet. Download the file and work on it. Save it back to the school's storage and can continue the work at school.

    I found this to be a much better arrangement than asking each student to bring her laptop to school everyday. Any comment?

    Wednesday, 13 October 2004


    Ludology (from ludus, the Latin word for "game"), to refer to the yet non-existent "discipline that studies game and play activities".

    The author, Gonzalo Frasca, proposed to study the similarity and differences between video games and narrative. According to the author, many video games and narratives share the common elements of stories: characters, chained actions, endings, settings.

    This is of particular interest to me as role play simulation is very much games with player generated narratives.

    On this website, there are a number of other papers which I will be interested to read. As I explore this topic, I will post some of my notes and thinking here.

    Our Kids Are in Big Trouble

    I have written a post today and am planning to concentrate on my work when I see this post (via Furl - The Object Learning Archive). Lawrence Lessig wrote about how the American politicians shifted the current responsibility and created burdens to our future generation. The argument is that the future cannot vote and hence has no say! Example quoted include:

    relaxed the control of greenhouse emissions, creating cheaper energy for us but astronomically higher costs for our kids, if they are to avoid catastrophic climatic change. We have waged an effectively unilateral war against Iraq, giving some a feeling of resolve but engendering three generations of angry souls focused upon a single act of revenge: killing Americans. And we have suffocated stem cell research through absurdly restrictive policies, giving the sanctimonious ground upon which to rally, while guaranteeing that kids with curable diseases will suffer unnecessary deaths

    I would just add that another example is the concept of "user pay in education". Shame on all those who supported this idea. We, this generation, has benefited from the generosity of our previous generation, enjoyed a free education to us. I don't see what is the moral in shifting this cost to our kids. See my other post on this issue.

    First Person Experience in Training and Learning

    This is an eye candy we are going to use in Fablusi corporate website when we launch version 2. The Chinese translation is the closest we can get - although the source cites it as a Chinese Proverb.

    We choose this because I think it reflects the true value of online role play - the ability to give "simulated" first person experience to our players in a safe environment. I wrote about the three types of experiences in a previous post on a scale for instructivistic and constructivistic learning strategies. First person experiences are not only the anchor points on which further experience are linked. They, combined together, create a sense of completeness and comprehensiveness. These are also very powerful experiences and can be recalled relatively readily and vividly.

    Some experience cannot be created for training and/or learning sake - they are just too dangerous, expensive or morally unacceptable. We cannot have a real plane crush in order to train pilots to handle such situation. We cannot create a real sexual harassment case in order to train personnel managers how to handle such situations. Do you rather sit on a plane whose pilot has only read about emergency procedure, or whose pilot has gone through hours of training in a flight simulator? The same applies to social situations.

    Learning and training which use narratives involve a "suspension of belief" in order to make them work. While the story is developing, if you interrupt the flow by raising issues and questioning the validity of the story, the experience would not be as pleasant and effective as you temporarily suspense your belief and just go with the flow. Such experience, during debriefing, needs to be anchored back to the learners' existing belief system in order to really "hang" together well.

    In comparison, the suspension of belief in role play is not necessarily as important - in most of our social valued based role play, we ask the players to step in the shoes of another stakeholder point of view and rationally analysis the situation and take necessarily actions in a different point of view. This is usually very illuminating and stimulating. A degree of suspension of belief is still called for because we add multiple crisis into the same simulation - dramatise the experience. This is done for two purposes: 1. to ensure that there are sufficient issues for most players to participate, and 2. to provide a shield in case the experience just touch upon some soft spots of some players. We deliberately activate the "suspense of belief" as a protection mechanism.

    It is always a bit more safe if we take an instructivistic approach. For example, sexual harassment training can be done by explaining the procedures and the relevant laws/rules. We take a riskier strategy by using a role play - stimulate the players' own belief system in a simulated work place, soliciting rational consideration from the other parties. The result .... I leave it to you because we have not done controlled experiment to measure, but...

    Tuesday, 12 October 2004

    eLearning Design Challenge - Update 1

    Since my post to Ron Lubensky's eLearning Design Challenge #3 pointed out the importance of "audience ownership", several subsequent posts to the challenge echoed with my suggestion.

    Personally, I would not morally agree to include hidden agenda to obscure propaganda information. An open honest approach, with appropriate transparency would be better and more effective to solicit a real change. There are hidden costs in following a sublime approach.

    I know a lot of management would think that a top down approach to change is easier. If an employee does not like the change, there is a choice: accept or resign! To make it easier to swallow, some forms of hidden approach may be taken. This is an "industrial" age mentality when positions and employees are inter-changable units but is not necessarily the best management practice of today.

    If your employees do not whole-heartedly embrace the change, or have been "tricked" to accept the change, we know there are millions of ways for people to sabotage the change and will eventually cost more to the organisation.

    If the management really needs to implement a top-down change, the introduction should be an honest explanation of the rationale behind the change and solicit understanding from the employees. When the change is being implemented, the ownership of change can be facilitated by giving real responsibility and opportunity for suggestions to further improve the change. This approach would not only be very effective, the cost/gain may be reduced/increased through the contribution of the employees.

    To understand any rationale to drive change, it is necessary to "step in the shoes" of the management and let the employees have an overall appreciation of the rationale. This is best achieved by a role play simulation where employees play the roles of the management confronted with the issues. You may be amazed by some good solutions which employees may suggest in the role play.

    The result of User Pay in Higher Education

    I wrote about Who should pay for education?. I found this cartoon and would like to share with you. Enjoy.

    by Cartoons by Peter Nicholson of The Australian newspaper

    Monday, 11 October 2004

    Role Play and 3-D Virtual World

    During the three days of meeting at “League of Worlds” symposium, I met 25 enthusiastic educators who use 3-D virtual world in their teaching. I have also gained a better insight into how these pioneering teachers are using the technology and the potential the new technology may have.

    Most of the following description is based on my observation of the demonstrations and subsequent discussions with these educators. As usually, due to my own focus, other participants may have interpreted our conversation differently. I will try to link to those who have blogs later. Specifically, these educators are using Active World.

    Some general comment first.

    The technology for 3-D rendering and the communication needed to support interaction in 3-D worlds are affordable to most learners now. Active World requires the download of a special browser. The 3-D objects are downloaded to the client and cached. Hence the initial first rendering of a 3-D world may take longer to download. A subsequent visit to the same space is much faster. The examples I saw use the 3-D to create a virtual space for learners to meet and interact. It was reported that students on 28k modem were able to have reasonably fast interaction. The use of 3-D world in education is about 3 to 5 years behind the game industry. Hence, there will be a lot of things we can learn from the game industry.

    While it is possible to create triggers within the 3-D world to load web pages and send JavaScript commands to the loaded web-pages, these people is yet to find out if there is any mechanism to trigger actions from the web-page to the 3-D world. May be this question arises only from my own curiosity. They have yet to find a need to trigger 3-D actions from web pages. But I do see potential if a full bi-directional communication is possible between 3-D world and web pages.

    Sense of Space

    Learners are represented as avatars in the 3-D world. The learner can either “shout” to all other learners nearby or just “whisper” to a specific avatar/learner. Such “talking” is rendered as a chat window below the 3-D world. Any avatar within a certain range will be able to participate in this talking. The range of this “shouting” is fairly large and Active World does not have soundproof walls, hence such “talking” typically becomes very noisy when there is a lot of learners online at the same time. In order to run multiple courses within the same world, the classroom needs to be placed quite further apart. Hence it will be necessary for the learner arriving at the entrance to “walk” to the classroom. The original design hopes that such a walk will have similar “accidental encounter” effects. However, it is not evident that this has occurred. In order to allow students to move quickly between classes, tele-port was implemented.

    Fablusi online role-play simulation also implemented the “interaction space” concept. Our implementation is at an abstract level in the sense that there is no visual clue as to how the interaction space may look like. Our emphasis is on the social hierarchic relationship between the participants in that interaction space. We have extensive “right” control, such as who can read, who can write and who can edit. Our interaction space also has sub-spaces. For example, a news agency (a simulated CNN for example) may have an office where the reports can discuss how they want to report an event. There is also another sub-space called the news itself. The office will only be visible to the reports. The news sub-space is read-only for all other players and only the CNN news editor has the right to post to. Fablusi does not have the “walking” to a space concept. Players are “tele-port” to the interaction space by clicking on the space button.

    Fablusi interaction space is mainly asynchronous. In other world, there is no need to organise the time of meeting. Players enter the interaction space, read whatever was there and type in the response.

    Active World is synchronous chat and Fablusi interaction space is asynchronous discussion forum.

    Social Relationship

    Part of the design focus of a Fablusi online role play simulation is the social relationship (and power relationship) among the personas within the game. We ask the player to act in character. This inevitable will require the player to reflect at two levels: how “I” will respond and how “this persona” will respond. We found that this is a powerful pedagogical tool.

    The current use 3-D world by these educators is based on an equity social structure. All learners enter and render as avatars. Any one can change his/her avatar anytime, even during a session. The avatars are learners themselves and they are playing the role of learners in the 3-D world. There is no difference to a classroom, except learners arrive at the classroom at the comfort of their home!

    3-D does allow implementation of magic power, which can be leveraged to create social relationship modeling on some real world scenario. How this may be used is a subject of further study.

    Fablusi social relationship is represented by the power (or lack of) to communicate. I don’t know if we can use the magic power (in 3-D world) to limit (or enhance) the communication power of avatars. The wealth sub-system in Fablusi is linked to the voting in interaction space, kind of elementary magic power. There is something Fablusi can learn 3-D.

    Visual clues

    Another major difference between Active World and Fablusi is the visual clue. There is very limited visual clue in Fablusi, typically the icon of the interaction space is the only available visual clue that may have any resemblance to any real world counterpart. As noted above, there is also no sense of space.

    3-D world obviously will have visual resemblance to the space the designer wishes to express. However the current technology and budget available to education does not sufficiently rich rendering.

    I would argue that the mental image created by our own interpretation of the space and/or object has the magic power of filling in the details that is important to us. Other details unimportant to us at the moment remain unnoticed. 3-D world renders visual information which may, or may not, be relevant to the discussion (or focus) at the point. When the learning objective does not require such “exploratory” behaviour, I would argue that 3-D rendering is counter-productive. However, there are situations in which exploratory behaviour is absolutely critical. 3-D will provide the means which is lacking in Fablusi.

    Preliminary conclusion

    For the sake of closing and rounding up this post, I would say that because of the difference in the emphasis in the focus of the design, role play simulation and 3-D world nicely complement each other. Again quoting from a famous saying, ”if the only tool you have is a hammer, you are inclined to see every problem as a nail”. The trick is actually to learn to use more tools.

    Friday, 8 October 2004

    Constructivitic and Instructivitic Continuum

    I used to describe the formation of our holistic mental model via three types of experience:

    First person experience is experience that we have accumulated since birth through our senses including sight, hearing, feeling (touch), smell or taste. Second person experience is experience that we observe. In most cases, the second person experience enters into our system via the eye and ears. Third person experience is experience/stories told by someone. The experience or story may be a first person experience or second person or third person experience of the teller. That is, the teller can tell a personal story (first person), an observation (second person) or retell a story heard before (third person).

    If I put these three types of experience in a continuum, I would say that if the learning strategy is more on the third person side, it is instructivitic. If it is more on the first person and/or second person experience end, it is most likely to be constructivitic.

    Comment welcome.

    LOW1- Days 2 and 3

    It is interesting and pleasing to report that during this symposium, after every technology presentation, the discussion always went back to the issues of how that technology has supported the constructivistic learning strategies of the presenters' course. The papers will be online and I will post the URL when it is available.

    Thursday, 7 October 2004

    LOW1-Day 1

    Today, the League of World First Conference started by a keynote by a philosopher Lars Lundsten. We got into deep discussion about the existence of "virtual world". Co-incidentally, the way I put up my argument of the non-existence of "real" in previous post on Virtual Environment has been reversely applied to argue for the non-existence of virtual world. This is a good start of this small, but highly interesting group of virtual world creators for educational use of 3-D virtual reality technology. During the following discussion session, the role of "identity", "metaphor" and "roles" were examined in great details and the discussion was lightly and intelligent. I really enjoyed the session.

    It is very pleasing to note that this group of people are all subscribed to a social constructivistic learning paradigm and are doing our best to implement virtual world in order to support our learners learning. To us, we have a common belief that our role is to create spaces (3-D space, or for Roni and myself, interaction spaces in our Fablusi role play environment) for players to interact. Roni contributed significantly by articulating the pedagogical procedures that we have adopted in Fablusi and it is very satisfying for me to see the approval of the concepts from the audience.

    Monday, 4 October 2004

    Technology Sweet Spot

    My digital camera was broken the other day. It dropped from the belt clip and can't zoom any more. I bought it about 20 months ago, at a premium price because I was attracted to its "quick start" feature - and it was an impulsive buy!

    After the accident, I brought it back to Minolta for repair. The quote came back as a shock! It would cost me AUD300+ to have it repaired. I reckon I can almost buy a new one with much better features by adding a bit of money. So I did not have it repaired. BTW, the bigger (and newer) brother of the model costs around AUD350 and have more pixels and optical zoom! (I won't buy from Minolta any more and I won't be taking any picture in Finland - what a shame!)

    However this started me thinking. I can buy an expensive camera now - knowing that I am paying a premium price for the top features and knowing that I would be able to buy a similar one much cheaper a year or so later. Alternately, I can choose a "sweet spot" and buy the best value camera. In computing sense, this sweet spot is pretty straight forward - Google allegedly is always buying its hardware at "sweet spot".

    There are three factors inter-playing here:
    1. A "rational" choice between buying the best or buying the best value*
    2. The quest of better is a never ending game**, and my "greediness" of getting the newer and more features.
    3. Can I learn from my last lesson?

    I am motivated to change and I think I am very rational, but I have still been struggling so much in these 3 factors! --> That's why "page-turning" eLearning material does not work when we want to induce change!

    The most important thing I hope I can learn from this experience is:

    People can always buy at an impulse and look for premium features, but it is always the "best value" which offers better value. Features always creep and need to be continuous updated. ELearning technology should not be any exception!

    This would translate to:
    Should Fablusi offer its software/platform on an ongoing basis (i.e. providing continuous improvement to our customers)? or should we sell by versions and charge our customers for each new version upgrade? We know the answer from Microsoft. My own belief system drives me to ask Fablusi to follow a different path from Microsoft.

    *[Disclaimer here: I am not going to buy the most expensive professional grade camera: I am only investigating a camera less than US$1000 - but there are still a lot choice in this range in the sense of the best verse best value!]

    **I remembered the day when 64K RAM was consider a lot, or the initial estimate of the number of "super-computer" needed by the world by IBM!

    League Of Worlds

    In a few hours, I will be heading off to Helsinki to attend the first League Of Worlds symposium. It is the first time I visit Finland and I am looking forward to it.

    The LoW1 symposium will bring together people engaged in the creation of virtual worlds and real-time simulations for educational, artistic and creative purposes.

    The programme will aim at:

    1. sharing information on work undertaken so far;
    2. outlining a set of analytical, theoretical and technical questions to be pursued;
    3. establishing a permanent organisation, the League of Worlds, to publish a journal and organise future events.

    The conference will have aim to take a fresh look at the questions that arise in approaching virtual territory, in meeting people there, and learning to learn and play with them.

    The concept was first initiated by Roni and a group of people he met during a round the world tour earlier this year. The first symposium is organised by Arcada Polytechnic, Finland.

    The trip is about 30+ hour and I don't know how the connection may be at the other end. I suppose this and the next post will be the last before I start writing in Finland and reports on the League of Worlds.

    Fablusi is considering hosting the second symposium in Australia this time next year, but nothing has been decided yet.

    Saturday, 2 October 2004

    eLearning Design Challenge

    Ron Lubensky sent me an email this morning, asking me to help promote the eLearning Design Challenge. I happily comply. ;-)

    However, if I were to design this particular challenge, I would have phrased the challenge slightly differently. Firstly, instead of asking for a "15-minute online Introduction", I would relax the challenge to anything goes as long as it is online. Secondly, this challenge involves a hidden agenda which is an attitude change. To really accomplish this objective, we need to get the audience to own the change. By telling them however good the new system will be, some employees will already set up their defence as they see change is coming - and most people do not like change!

    So, if you feel like taking up the challenge, post to Ron's site. I'll keep you posted on the development here.

    Birthday Business and Elearning Industry

    Stretching an analogy too far is not always a good idea. But, I think there is still a few meters to extend before the analogy breaks.

    Notable players in "Birthday business" includes MacDonald, mainly for the under 10; game parlours, bowling centres, rock climbing centres or novelty fun venues for 10+; night clubs, bars and restaurants for the 20+; and restaurants for the 50+. Not every business which participates realises that it is in an experience industry, MacDonald is an obvious exception! What is valued by the consumers is the "experience" of the event. However, if you are a very good birthday cake bakery, you can still be very successful in capturing some of the value of this value-chain.

    I see many parallels of "birthday business" with the e-learning industry.

    The birthday cake: If you are a good content provider, you can still capture a good part of the value-chain. The open movement is basically a back lash on the over greediness of some of the current publishers. Granted, the difference between digital goods and physical goods, the marginal cost of production of content is near-zero. I suppose this alone does not justify killing the whole learning content publishing industry. After all, there is a significant initial investment in creating interesting and responsible content.

    The board range of consumers: Elearning can apply to K-12, Higher Education, post-education in-job pre-job training, life-long learning. Each group will have different expectation from the industry. I would hate to see an one-size-fit-all approach in this industry.

    Are you in E-learning business? Again, I don't think all the e-learning business participants realise that they are part of the value-chain in this business. A significant driver of today's keen interest of e-learning is the ubiquity of the technology - computing and communication. While the technology vendors have their eyes on other business sector, I think a lot of families install their board-band connection for the sake of the children's education in the family! (Some restaurants do realise that birthday party dinners like to have a birthday cake and like to sing the happy birthday song. I have seen some restaurants actually have all their waiters and waitresses around the table and sing the happy birthday song loud for the atmosphere! That's a clever move.)

    Size of the industry: Now, this is a significant difference between these two industries. Birthday party is once in a year event. Learning and education is an ongoing, monthly, weekly, daily, hourly event. Sure, there are times where we demand more "learning", but "learning" should be a commodity.

    If we can blend commodity and experience, provide mass individualized learning for both just-in-case experience and just-in-time content, skill and knowledge any time anywhere filling the skill gap at high ROI, supported by both instructor-led and instructor-less online, face to face and blended learning activities in a standard-compliant SCORM environment, elearning industry is surely the killer application in this information era.