I attended an interesting discussion about open learning led by Jon Dron from Athabasca University in Canada. We discussed open access, open learning in various forms, open educational resources and open source software. We also discussed why we do, or do not give away our knowledge, time and resources for free. (I’ll leave the ‘why’ for another post).
I am a big user of free software and, of the most part, a recipient of rather than a contributor to the various websites, blogs and forums providing knowledge about its use. However I provide a lot of my stuff for free. This is not to make any comments about its quality.
This blog: Not that one would expect blogs to be anything but free to access, but I like to think some for my posts cause others to reflect on their practice or solve a particular problem.
A database on open access articles about the teaching and learning of languages (YazikOpen). This directory is kind of “out there”. Most people see to be led to it through Google as far as I can see. I’ve had thoughts at various times about whether it is worth the effort to maintain it, but a handful of people have said nice things about it.
An online introduction to statistics book aimed at students in humanities. A project with which I’m still fiddling. Wondered whether or not to have a forum.
Teaching and Learning resources out together over the years mostly linked to my account in the humbox.
Various open access publications, plus short articles on other websites.
As an experiment I attempted to covert the statistics for humanities website into an ebook. I was very impressed with the plugins rendering of text and tables. The images have not come out that well, but its main drawback from my point of view is that is doesn’t seem to cope with the more complex math code very well, which limits its use ‘out of the box’ for my purposes. However for purely text conversion it is excellent.
It is possible to edit the hard code whilst putting the e-book together. I haven’t tried this out yet.
Conversion to text and tables works well
Varying success with images, but these have undergone numerous conversions and reformatting over the past few months.
The conversion from the LaTex plugin in Mediawiki has not worked out.
Do you make innovative use of technology in language teaching and learning? Have you been experimenting with MOOCs and wish to share your experiences? Do you use social networking sites, virtual worlds or mobile technology with your language students? Are you engaging students in the creation or use of open educational resources? If so, then the LLAS community would like to hear from you!
LLAS, Centre for Languages, Linguistics, and Area Studies welcomes proposals for presentations, workshops and posters at the 9th annual e-learning symposium, on 23/24 January, 2014. Abstracts for proposed presentations or workshops should be no more than 400 words.
Topics may include but are not limited to, the use in language teaching or research of:
social networking sites
MOOCs and open learning
blogs or wikis
open educational resources
virtual worlds, such as Second Life
virtual learning environments
online tools or courses
innovative online learning designs or environments
I will be presenting about my open access language teaching research directory YazikOpen.
The LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies will hold its 8th annual e-learning symposium on 24/25th January 2013. The aim of the symposium is to seek to bridge the gap between the ‘techie’ and the teacher, giving educators ideas to help them integrate e-learning into their practice but also to inspire them to see where the online future could lead. The symposium is always well-attended by practitioners from a wide range of disciplines and institutions.
My abstract for the LLAS 8thannual elearning symposium next January has been accepted, so all begin well I will be speaking about YazikOpen and broader issues surrounding open access there. The symposium will take place in Southampton on 24-25 January 2013.
The effectiveness of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can be seriously undermined by lack of open access to original academic research. Copyright restrictions and subscription fees mean that most research is completely unavailable to those who are not staff or students at a university, or who work in institutions or countries where financial resources are very limited. At best, those with limited access to original research are forced to rely on the summaries and interpretations of others.
This presentation showcases YazikOpen.org.uk a portal for open access research into the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages. The portal catalogues language teaching research published in open access journals or on open websites. This research is available to anybody, anywhere in the world with access to the internet without viewing or subscription fees.
Those teaching on courses relating to language teaching (e.g. TEFL, Applied Linguistics, Teaching Training etc.), whether face-to-face or online, can search YazikOpen to identify course readings which will be available to all students, irrespective of institution, geographical location or access to financial resources. Open access also means that original research is accessible to practitioners such as schoolteachers, Teachers of English as a Second/ Foreign Language, teachers at language clubs and teachers of languages in the community. Bringing down access barriers also means that practitioners and other interested parties can engage in debates and publish their own research with fewer disadvantages.
The presentation will also explore the wider discussions currently taking place about open access from the ethical as well as the financial and organisational perspectives. Open access to research is also crucial in ensuring that MOOCs are genuinely open and inclusive and do not perpetrate the current privileges of students and staff in well-resourced institutions.
The expanding ‘middle space’ between technological innovation and innovation in using technology.
Part of my learning journey over the past year has been learning Drupal and WordPress.org. A couple of years ago one of my web developer colleagues showed me a cartoon of the Drupal learning curve. The Drupal learning ‘curve’ is actually a cliff-face which is shown to claim many victims. Images of crosses and a runaway train have the potential to destroy even skilled and experienced developers. I understand that Drupal 7 is somewhat more user-friendly than its predecessor versions, but nevertheless there have been some false starts and issues continue to arise from time to time.
That said I consider myself something of a ‘Route 1′ learner. I learn what I want to know in order to achieve a specific outcome. I am actually proud of the fact I managed to build YazikOpen in my own time using Drupal. It wasn’t that I set out to use Drupal from the beginning but attempts to use Joomla and WordPress (which I use for this blog) were unsuccessful. Most importantly an add-on biblio module is available in Drupal. It is this module which forms the backbone of my site.
I am not a web developer, at least not a professional one. Developing a website is not without its problems, but there is enormous potential for non-specialists to innovate in web development.
This innovation does not relate to the software itself, but the way it is used. Innovation is much about the content itself of course, but Drupal offers a half-way house between developing new software and applications on one hand and making innovative use of new technologies on the other.
Put simply Drupal is made up of two types of modules: core modules, the majority of which need to be activated to build any sort of website and optional modules which are being developed all the time. If there is anything you would like a website to do, the chances are that a module is available. This gives the opportunity for people like me who know little about programming build websites in ways that would have been very difficult for even the most talented web developers a few years ago. You might say that you can use the same pile of bricks in different ways to build a garden wall, a house or a cathedral. Behind the scenes it is unlikely that any two Drupal-built websites are the same.
Of course we will always need web developers, web designers and software developers of course and innovations in these areas will not stop. Just because we amateurs can do something does not always mean we should. Just because I can get something work does not mean I have found the best way to make it work. It is ideal to have a website which looks good and is easy to navigate, though on some occasions this is more important than others. There is also the small matter of online security.
However I see a number of opportunities for see for those interested in this expanding ‘middle space’.
When I started to build YazikOpen I knew more or less what I wanted to achieve. Through learning online and buying a book or two I have more or less got where I what to go.
As an individual I have a high level of control over the technology as well as the content. If things are not working or I find a way to make it work better I can change things at the first point of convenience. I don’t need to wait until another person’s time becomes available and I don’t have to explain to other what I want to do.
I am currently putting together a website introducing humanities students to statistics. One of the technical challenges I have overcome is rendering LaTaX online* for the equations. I am able to make sure both the maths and appearance are working out.
Drupal, and many other packages are open source and free to the use. Premium services are available, but I don’t have to spend any money just to try something out.
Following on from above, if I want to buy a premium professional theme I can.
There is a strong online community of support for those new to Drupal, as well as more experienced developers.
New modules are being developed all the time. Although I don’t have the skills to build my own modules (at least not yet), finding another person asking the same question is only a google search away. And usually there is a module which can achieve it.
* I have written a section on this for the statistics website which I will make available on here as well.
Over my summer break I pondered upon how much learning I have done online. I’m not talking about learning relevant to my job (but I have learnt a lot online which has helped me in my job), but about learning not directly related to my job. The fixed wheel bicycle conversion I posted about a couple of days ago was possible through what I had learnt online. I bought most of the parts online. I read fixed wheel websites and forums to find out what I needed to do. Whenever I had questions or difficulties I found that other people had had these same experiences and had posted about them. I doubt that I could have achieved this in the pre-internet era. Moreover it was Sheldon Brown’s website that first got me interested in the idea of riding fixed in the first place.
I also look online when it comes to home DIY projects. I wanted to know how long I should wait before applying paint to the new plaster in my hallway. My plasterer said a few days. Online the answers varied from a few hours to about six months. And then there was the question of preparing the wall prior to painting. My plasterer said to use a cheap white emulsion with about 10% water. Online some said you could use 50% water. Others said to use PVA. The emulsion people angrily responded that this is the last thing you should do. It’s unsurprising that there are differing opinions out there, but the passion with which opinions of how to prepare a newly plastered wall are held astonishes me. For the record I went to my plaster’s advice and it seems to have turned out ok. This case is different to the fixed wheel conversion in that in the pre-internet era I would have just done as the plasterer said the first place. Online learning offers the access to doubt as much as it offers the possibility of answers.
I know far more about computers than I ever planned to. But thanks to the internet I’ve been able to fix computer problems. I’ve even opened up the case to upgrade the memory. Similarly, when I couldn’t get the iplayer to work on my freesat dish, I spent much time looking online. Sometimes I don’t always find a solution to my problems, but to know that there were people out there with the same problems is some comfort.
Makes me want to do things I didn’t even know about.
Makes me want to check what I have learnt ‘face-to-face’.