Thursday, 28 July 2005

Response to "Playing to Learn"

Stephen Downes added a good point and linked to another post,how not to use blogs in learning by James Farmer on the issue of adopting a technology into teaching and learning. I am not going to repeat that. Please follow the links...

Stephen also raised another interesting point: making the fun activity as part of homework. That's a sure fun-killer. As soon as games or blog or anything, which a teenager enjoys, have become part of "work", the fun has gone! It has BECOME WORK! The approach will be totally different. There is a reverse psychology here.

Adult is probably different. I was re-introduced into computing due to a "homework" during my Dip. Ed. course. As part of the course, we are asked to numerically solve a second order differential equation using a programmable calculator with only 36 programmable steps. I found that fascinating and spent a whole month's salary on my first programmable device (a programmable calculator). My journey into computing went past the point of no return from then.

Looking back, in that class, we have about 10 other people doing in the same subject. As far as I know, none of them has taken up computing or programming.

I think my experience taught me two things.

  1. Do not kill joy by assigning some fun activities as homework. [That's based on my 20 years of teaching. Still applicable???]

  2. Introduce fun activity via homework seldom works. [I am the odd man in the group.]

Another comment?

Wednesday, 27 July 2005

Playing to Learn

Here is another article predicting students are asked to play game as part of their homework assignment.

Whether homework is a necessary part of the formal education is another issue. There is an illusion that we can leverage the engaging power of games, and hope magically there will be transfer of skills learnt from games to real life. Not that it is not possible, but we must be realistic to remind ourselves that games are not designed with learning in mind. Games are designed to engage and kill time. Learning, if any, is only secondary. While educators can select games which have attributes positive towards learning, I would still like to ask if "playing game" is the best use of time of the students. For those who are motivated to learn, playing game may be considered a waste of their time. They can engage in much more direct learning activities which are designed to develop the skills they set out to learn.

The question, to me, is not to use game as a substitute of good design of learning activities. We have a lot to learn from the game designer, how games, some very difficult, engage the players. We should learn from game design. We should not use game as a substitute of good engaging learning activities.

Monday, 25 July 2005

Virtual Apparatus Framework

In one of the early papers I wrote on this topic (back in 1997):

Why can't an academic producing courseware (online or otherwise) work like a science teacher producing a laboratory demonstration?

By that I meant:
when I design an experiment for my students, I don't need to worry about the design of an apparatus. I go to the laboratory preparation room, look at what kind of apparatus are there that I could use to illustrate the idea I would like to teach, hook the apparatus together, play with them a bit, get some sample data,...

I saw a need to create a technology solution so that teachers, those without sophisticated skill in software technology, to assemble an interactive web page from functional components similar to Physics teacher preparing an experiment set-up. I called that "virtual apparatus framework".

Since I left the University, the original project web-site has disappeared. I recovered an old backup, bought the domain name and put the copy online.

Virtual apparatus framework is based on a component-based software development blueprint. There are three major components in the model:
  • virtual apparatus - software components

  • virtual apparatus work bench - the hosting webpage of the components

  • virtual apparatus connection - mechanism to ensure the software components work in harmony

  • At that time, the main technologies to create animation/interaction are Java-applet, early flash movie and some active-X objects. The main "glue" for these components to work (or communicate) is via "Live Connect". The technology was in a flux, almost changing monthly.

    The main reason I want to revisit this topic is that I see a more stable environment today. IE6 has been around for years. Firefox is gaining a lot of momentum. The DOM is now well defined. Javascript is the de facto lingua of the web. CSS is widely accepted. Techniques such as unobtrusive javascript is becoming common accepted practice. There is now much better chance to create re-usable component in a sub-page level for us to build better web pages. Any thoughts?

    Sunday, 24 July 2005

    Ten Tips for New Trainers/Teachers

    "Ten Tips for New Trainers/Teachers" is a post which we should print out, pin up and make sure that we can read it from our seat. These eleven things to know and ten tips (in fact, there are twelve things to know and eleven tips) summarize the latest thinking and practice in teaching and learning and they are all good advice.

    I went into teaching about 30 years ago immediately after I graduated from my Science Bachelor degree. At that time, teaching was viewed as a transmission of knowledge, at least to me at that time. Kathy Sierra correctly pointed out that "because you've been a student, you can teach well" is devaluing the art of teaching and is a completely ridiculous idea. Unfortunately, the e-learning industry is still very much driven by this concept of learning today. Content is still king.

    Just-in-time has nothing to do with learning. Just-in-time delivery of content is about job-support, providing information for someone to accomplish a task or a problem. Repeat after me: Just-in-time has nothing to do with learning.

    I never learnt anything just-in-time. When I have a problem at hand, I need to solve the problem and I find a solution for it. How many times you found yourself in the same situation? How many times you go back and consult the same information which you used to solve the same problem not too long ago? Many, right?

    When a piece of information is delivered to me to meet a task at hand, my focus is on solving the problem or completing the task. There is NO TIME to learn. Once the task is completed, I felt relieved and I forgot whatever that solved the problem AND move on to the next time.

    After solving a task at hand, I can learn only if I have time to reflect, organise my "learning", and convert the experience into my repertoire for the next use.

    So, next time when there is a group of people who have allocated a slot of time for learning. I will follow these tips AND will also leave some time for them to convert the learning experience into learning.

    Tuesday, 19 July 2005

    Slowdown of Activity in Australia

    Thank you to Stephen Downes for mentioning that I have not been writing a lot lately. Please be reassured that I am not leaving e-learning. Starting a new magazine, keeping up the development work of Fablusi and all the other things I have been doing really is not easy. So Random Walk in E-learning took a random walk.

    I am now at University of Wollongong working on an existing project. During discussion, Christine Brown mentioned about how important rewards are. I recalled one of my teachers when I was in secondary school.

    At that time, Mr. Chow has already retired. He came back to teach only because he loved the job and loved the kids. He taught us Biology. Here is one of the "unique" things that is still very vivid in my memory.

    We used to have tests. Whoever has the highest score was entitled to a special treat. Very special indeed. The highest scorer has the right to take off his cap and stroke his bold head three times and three times only.

    Thinking back, it was nothing special about stroking an old man's bold head. But that was the "currency" at the time. We worked so hard just to have that three seconds of honour.

    Once, a naughty boy took off his hat suddenly and touched his head. Ohhh! That was a terminal crime. He got so angry that nobody would dare to try again. However, if you got the highest score, you still could do that and he was smiling and was enjoying the touch as well.

    I don't and did not know how that currency was started. But it was just such a memorable experience that I was telling Christine all about this yesterday and I felt I was back at my teenage.

    Wednesday, 13 July 2005

    Proposal: Chat and Discussion Interchange Datamodel

    via Stephen Downes' OLDaily, I am pointed to this interesting proposal. This is a very good first step towards a data model for inter-operability between discussion forums and chat applications. Here are a few comments:

    • I don't understand why it is necessary to define the term "entity". As a vendor-neutral data model, we should not be concerned with implementations. The addition of "entity" does not contribute any additional useful concept in the data model.

    • The proposal has identified "role" as an important concept to be captured by the data model. However, this has not been further linked to the concepts of "rights". Typically discussion forums, list servers included, have moderator or administrative roles. [Administrative role needs not be captured in this data model if this role is solely concerned with the assignment of rights of participations.] Moderator typically have rights such as blocking participant's expression (using the term as proposed which is the same as message). Other typical rights include read-only participation for some participants.

    • Two typical features in many implementations which have not been captured by the data model are:

      • channel - e.g. in chat, many implementations allow "whisper" between participants

      • threading in discussion forum.

    Friday, 8 July 2005

    Rich Text Editors

    Prompted by Jon Udell's last two days weblogs on Innovative rich editors and local datastores and Life in a TEXTAREA, I like to point out a wonderful cross browser pure HTML and Javascript implementation of a rich text editor by Kevin Roth.

    Kevin is kind enough to make his implementation open source. It also supports multiple rich text editing area on the same page.

    It does have a bug: If you have a html source with an image loaded into Kevin's rich text editor, the document will not be editable. You can still view the document in its full rich format.

    Wednesday, 6 July 2005

    AusWeb 05 - 1

    It has been a while since my last post. Usual excuses....

    I just came back from AusWeb05 conference, tons of work needed my attention. However, I still want to write this post now. One of keynotes at AusWeb is Brad Kasell (Asia Pacific Engagement Manager, IBM's jStart Program) on "Emerging Technologies and the Web: Finding a Balance Between Possibility and Reality". Among all the great ideas, he talked about Web 1.0 (the publishing web), Web 2.0 (the interactive web) and Web 3.0 (the programmable web).

    Here is my view on programmable web. Using an OO paradigm, any website can be viewed as an software object. For, the static websites (publishing web), the interface is the URL. A call to this interface will return the information (as a web page).

    The technical community has been developing the web service interfaces for quite some time (many major web sites also publish their API too). The "glue" for making a number of web services to work together is, of course, XML-based HTTP communication. The result of any web service call is usually returned as XML-coded information for further processing by the calling object. These have proved to be too heavy for some application, hence the AJAX and other similar technique. (In Fablusi, I used a variation of AJAX, but instead of using XML, I used JSON).

    What about those interactive web sites which do not support web services?

    The answer is YubNub. This is a blending of "social networking" and "command line" for the programmable web.

    To explain what is a command line for web, let use the following command as an example.

    xe -amount 100 -from USD -to EUR

    xe is the command for finding the currency equivalent between two currencies. Those in orange are parameters. So the last command will find you the amount of EUR for 100 USD.

    How can I find the command I want? has list of commands.

    Where do I type the command? Go to website. Or more importantly, you can install it on your browser, desktop, as bookmarklet, an application for window, .... the list go on.

    So, you may ask, this is just another application, why I said it is the glue for programmable web?

    Any command, as you may know, is the short hand for a number of lines of codes conveniently grouped together as a subroutine, a function or a batch file of commands. Someone somewhere must have provided the programming in order to make the command does what it supposes to do. It just happens that web command line passes the command to some website which will "execute" your command and return the result to you. Cool!

    And even more cool, you can create your own command.

    And even more more cool, a spontaneous community has found around this and the community is growing fast. Go to the group if you like and feel for yourself.