A techie’s view

Another excellent Edublogs.org weblog

Hyperlinks opening the wrong application?

11 October 2013 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

My Thanks Go To …

My thanks goes to Gail Poulin (Blog: http://poulingail.edublogs.org/, Twitter: @poulingail) for asking a question about something that seemed to be going wrong on a computer.

Background

Gail, others and I were in a Blackboard Collaborate room when she reported that all the hyperlinks were opening OpenOffice for her, rather than taking her web browser there. I was not able to solve this in the time available in the webinar, so we agreed that I would find an answer, and get back to her, and I am using this post to do just that.

The Cause?

It is not possible to be completely confident that I have found the cause until the proposed solution has been tested and been found to be effective. With that disclaimer out of the way, it seems that there is something wrong with something known as “file associations” in her Windows 8 computer. The “http” protocol (don’t worry if that is meaningless to you) was linked to OpenOffice instead of her default web browser.

A Solution?

Gail is running Windows 8, so the steps below are tailored for that environment.

  1. Start Windows 8.
  2. If required, log on.
  3. Press the Windows+W key. The search panel should appear.
  4. Type in the word “default” (without the double-quotes). A list of items should appear.
  5. Click on the”Default Programs” item. A “Default Programs” window should appear.
  6. Click on “Associate a file type or protocol with a program”. A list of file extensions should appear.
  7. Scroll down to the bottom, and look for “URL:HyperText Transfer Protocol” in the description column.
  8. Verify that the “Name” field looks like “OpenOffice” (or possibly “OpenOffice Writer”, or just “Writer”)
  9. Click on that line. It should become selected (i.e. be displayed in blue).
  10. Click on the “Change program” button. A dialogue box should appear.
  11. Click on “Internet Explorer” (or, if your preferred web browser is different, click on that one instead). Wait a few moments, and check that your change has been effected.
  12. If necessary, repeat the above few steps for “URL:HyperText Transfer Protocol with Privacy”.
  13. Close the “Default Programs” window.
  14. Verify correctness of operations.
  15. This procedure is complete.

Firehosed by Professional Development

5 July 2013 by · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

INTRODUCTION

My thanks goes to Rodney Turner (web site http://techyturner.blogspot.com.au/, twitter @techyturner) for prompting me to write this post. He mentioned the word “firehosing” in connection with professional development sessions, and brought into sharp focus something that had been at the back of my mind for some years. I then tweeted firehosingPDwhich provoked two retweets and some jaundiced exchanges about professional development.

THE INSIGHT

Rodney’s comment made me re-evaluate both the professional development (PD) sessions that have been to, as well as those where I had been an observer. What, I wondered, would people remember of being talked at for eight hours in a PD session? A little bit of Internet research came up with a study which can be summarised as learners remember

  • 10 percent of what they read;
  • 20 percent of what they hear;
  • 30 percent of what they see;
  • 50 percent of what they see and hear;
  • 70 percent of what they say; and
  • 90 percent of what they do and say

(Metcalf, T. (1997) Listening to your clients, Life Association News, 92(7) p16 – 18). Adult learning principles indicate that activities in a PD session should as varied as possible. See, for example this article by the Journal of Extension. There is one sentence in that article which is particularly telling: “Their motivation can be blocked by training and education that ignores adult learning principles (Knowles et al., 2005)”.

There is also the question of the amount of information that is presented in any one day of PD. If the PD is properly planned and executed, this would be the same amount of information that you would expect your own adult learners to learn in the same amount of time. From what I have seen for myself, and what the jaundiced exchanges would also indicate, is that this does not happen!

Why do we, who are educators and who should know better, allow this sort of disjunction between when we know to be good practice and what we allow to be done to ourselves? Why are we wasting our time, our presenters’ time, and our administrators’ budgets on this sort of thing? How many people can remember all the relevant details of the first session in a day’s PD by the end of the day?

My gut feeling is that less than 20% of all the relevant information is retained at the end of such a day. To put it into the perspective of personal finances, would you be happy for your garage to charge you five times as much as normal for an ordinary service for your car? No, I though not.

A WAY FORWARD

Enough of this bellyaching on my part.

Rodney described a situation where PD is built into the method of work. There is no “once a year formal PD session”. There is, however, a culture of continuous learning. (As I write, it occurs to me that this mirrors a culture of continuous [self-]improvement.) Just-in-time learning comes to mind here. As an aside, when I have seen Information Technology (IT) specialist come across a novel problem (and given the nature of information technology today, there are plenty of those), the first thing they do is use the Internet to see if somebody has already found a solution. Rodney’s comments made it plain that this just-in-time IT solution can be morphed effectively to suit educators.

A FINAL THOUGHT

What would it take to sell this idea to the relevant decision makers?

Don’t Be Scared, It’s Only Maths!

28 April 2013 by · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

INTRODUCTION

I was co-moderating a webinar a few days ago when the subject of numeracy came up, and I had my usual rant about the teaching thereof. Now, I would like to share my thoughts on some of the challenges that teachers might face when it comes to maths.

THE TEACHER’S OWN UNDERSTANDING.

One of my teachers in kindergarten had a very good understanding of how to teach place value. She made it simple for this six year-old child to see the pattern. She praised correct answers to questions, and fostered my own fascination with patterns. Later teachers also taught the patterns of numeracy, and I was hooked for life. This is evident in both my work and my leisure activities.

Other teachers in my primary schooling demonstrated a poor grasp of not just numeracy, but also of reasoning (the next step up in the field of mathematics). It was this that caused me to rant.

A STUDENT PERSPECTIVE

I have heard two main reasons for why people find maths less than appealing. The first is that “it is all too complicated”. This may be due to the intellectual bias of the learner, but most of the time it seems to come down to the teacher lacking either or both of two key skills: a thorough grasp of the material being taught, and an ability to put it across in such a way that the student can learn. The other reason is that students don’t engage with the subject: they do not see it as being relevant to their lives. Again, this comes down to the teacher: the relevance of numbers in our lives is not communicated.

A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION

I cannot remember a time when I was unable to do simple multiplications in my head, so working out the total cost of three bananas at $2.00 each is trivially easy for me. At the other extreme, I have seen people being totally confused when I have tendered $12.30 for an item costing $7.30 . Having said that, I can share an experience where the real-life relevance of what I was learning was not to become apparent for 20 years.

There is something called “constrained optimisation”, where the basic idea is to make as much money as possible from any given situation, usually some sort of manufacturing. The favourite scenario used by maths teachers seems to be breweries. I can also remember this being used in my own schooling, but I soon forgot about it in the flood of mathematical techniques that I was learning. In terms using of those techniques in the abstract setting of a high school maths class, I was entirely comfortable

It was not until 20 years later that the importance of those mathematical techniques in the human context was to become apparent to me. I was told by my employer that the results of my mathematical labours were saving them around $10 million each year. Had it not been for my own fascination with patterns, I would not have remembered what I had learned 20 years previously.

CONCLUSION

The human cost of innumeracy should not be underestimated. I see it every time I care to look (which is not very often, as I find it distressing). I see innumeracy as being as disabling as illiteracy. If this post is about anything, it is a plea to decision makers to drag the teaching of mathematics up to the level that applies to literacy.

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An Essay on Technical Writing

10 March 2013 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

MOTIVE

I have often wondered what technical writing was all about, and my curiosity finally reached the level where I decided to find out.

IN ESSENCE

Technical writing is about the transfer of knowledge and understanding from one person to another.

DISCUSSION

The foregoing definition hides a multitude of details. This post outlines my own understanding of technical writing.

RESEARCH

My first move was to see how other people were describing technical writing. This included a Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_writer (accessed 10 March 2013), as well as course summaries from four training organisations. While the levels of detail differed in every case, they all had a number of common themes.

Drawing on my own experiences in both education and information technology, I was able to recast those themes in my own terms.

TECHNICAL WRITING IS …

A useful starting point is to identify who is involved in the technical writing process. There are three main groups:

  1. The subject matter expert,
  2. The technical writer,
  3. The people who need to acquire the subject matter expert’s knowledge and understanding (the target audience).

When viewed like this, the technical writer is acting as a conduit between the subject matter expert and the people with the need to know.

This has a number of implications for the technical writer:

  • A good interview technique
  • The ability to record the subject matter expert’s knowledge and understanding accurately
  • A good understanding of aspects of the target audience:
    • existing knowledge and understanding,
    • vocabulary,
    • culture,
    • expectations.
  • A thorough grasp of language
  • A facility to present the knowledge and understanding using words that are readily understood by the target audience (“plain English” if you like)
  • An ability to organise all the material in a logical and coherent fashion
  • The ability to use authoring tools efficiently and effectively, including word processors, web page builders, and image editors
  • A good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different communications technologies, and how this impacts on the target audience’s learning experience
  • An ability to work well within the client’s documentation styles and conventions
  • A strong desire to produce a first-class document, this requiring persistence and patience.

With the exception of the first two items, educators who prepare their own delivery materials can be expected to have all of the above. Even so, the ability to read and fully understand a curriculum document is similar to the first item, and consulting colleagues on any of points of concern bears a resemblance to the second item.

HOIST WITH MY OWN PETARD?

I must leave it to others to decide for themselves how well this post meets the requirements listed above. If you are interested in also evaluating my work with images, you might want to critically review this article on managing images.

Zombie code: the ghost that bites you.

3 February 2013 by · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Acknowledgment

My thanks goes to Julian Sims (web site http://www.bbk.ac.uk/management/our-staff/academics/sims-julian, twitter @juliansims) for prompting me to write this post.

Background

Julian and I had a long and wide-ranging discussion on Twitter about some of the causes of the recent disasters experienced by banks when it came to delivering services to their customers. Examples include the Lloyds Banking Group and Bank of America. This was underpinned by Leo Kelion’s article entitled “Why banks are likely to face more software glitches in 2013” which examined the causes of such events. One of the key phrases in that piece is “dead code was brought back to life”. This is often known as “zombie code”, hence the title of this post. The problem with such zombie code is that it was created for another age – it is much the same as asking a stagecoach driver from 1750 to drive a modern day Ferrari: the result is guaranteed to be a disaster.

Discussion

Julian and I were were tweeting each other about possible causes of zombie code, and one of his tweets “@philhart in the UK Aspergers is labelled ‘learning difficulty’ rather than ‘learning specialty’ – could that be part of the problem?” jolted my thinking out of its usual ruts. My short answer to that question is “No”, but that answer needs justification.

Before I go too far, I should mention that Asperger syndrome covers a range of symptoms, one of which includes “Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject” (Wikipedia, accessed 3 February 2013). It is entirely conceivable that this would manifest itself in the way such an individual would write software. I have seen examples where software writing was done in such a way that it was obvious that the software writer had an intense preoccupation with over-applying a particular design style. It is not obvious to me how the software writer’s style would have been influenced by his educators’ use of the labels “learning difficulty” or “learning specialty”.

Once a piece of software has been written and properly tested, it will continue to do the same thing forever, regardless of whether or not its author had Asperger syndrome. We now need to look at the business context in which this happens. Business rules change over time, and financial products come and go. In particular, a new financial product with a strong resemblance to a previous financial product can arise. The key point here is “a strong resemblance”, meaning that it is not identical. In particular, there is something different, and the piece of software that worked correctly for the old financial product is not guaranteed to work with the new product: it has been resurrected, and has turned into a zombie.

By way of a thought experiment, imagine that “cash account” has been changed into a “ready cash account”, and with a change to at least one of its rules, such as what happens when an attempt it made to go overdrawn. It is a new product, but the decision maker, usually somebody high up the organisational tree, is unaware of its impact on the piece of software that is about to become a zombie. The individual responsible makes the assumption that the old software will work correctly with the new financial product. The behaviour of the piece of software then becomes undefined. At the lowest level, cash could simply disappear – this would be picked up by an internal audit and rectified, and the general public would be none the wiser. At the other extreme, it can cause the whole system to crash, and everybody knows about it.

To the Future

Re-casting Leo’s words, I think it is something that we may need to learn to live with. :(

Save or Save As …

6 December 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Acknowledgment

My thanks go to Derek McCoy (web site http://mccoyderek.wordpress.com/, twitter @mccoyderek) for bringing my attention to this post entitled “Save or Save As: Should Third Graders Know How Computers Work?”

My reaction to that article can be summed up with with this image:
save or save_as

Background

Working as I do in information technology, I use the tools of the trade. I use files and folders for a variety of purposes, in exactly the same way as a 19th century artisan. I have them organised in such a way that I can find everything that I need easily and efficiently. It is a skill, or perhaps a habit of mind, that is well over 200 years old.

Analysis

Today’s children are growing up in an information age. In terms of learning how to be organised, it is no different to children growing in the technological age that has been with us for well over a century. Today’s teachers have a duty to help their charges learn to function as effectively as possible in their own futures. (Teach not what you were taught yesterday, for their futures belong to them.)

Failure to help today’s children learn such skills amounts to a dereliction of duty.

A Way Forward

It is ludicrous that this situation was allowed to arise in the first place. I suggest that every concerned parent takes this matter up with their relevant educational authority, with the aim of having it fully resolved by the end of 2013.

Recognition of Prior Learning by e-Portfolio

4 October 2012 by · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

Background

When I was working for my (now outdated) Certificate IV Trainer and Assessor (TAA) qualification, I went through the exercise of assessing a portfolio of evidence against a national qualification. Strangely enough, I have never assessed any student’s portfolio of evidence for the same purpose. But I wondered what creating and submitting a portfolio of evidence was like from the student’s point of view. Added to that, I wanted to see if it was possible to submit such a portfolio entirely by electronic means, rather than (as I have seen others doing) submitting three large lever-arch files crammed full of paper.

The short answer is “Yes, e-portfolios can work”. The rest of this post describes a history of my efforts.

A Piece of Educator’s Jargon

There is a process in Australian education known as “Recognition of Prior Learning” (RPL). If somebody submits a portfolio of evidence, often based on their experience in the work place, to a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), and the RTO assesses that the portfolio demonstrates competence for the award claimed, then the RTO must award the submitter an appropriate certificate.

Subject Area

My subject area was information technology. More specifically, it was Certificate IV in Programming.

The Production Process

Following guidance others who work a lot with the RPL process, I wrote a number of web pages describing my work experiences, and set about matching those experiences against the specific “Performance Criteria” contained in the Units of Competency that constitute the award. Just as I was about to find an RTO that would accept my portfolio, the Certificate was changed, which meant a major overhaul of my portfolio. It will come as no surprise that I found doing the overhaul rather irksome, but at least it meant that the qualification would be valid for rather longer than otherwise.

Structure of the Portfolio

The portfolio was designed with the following objectives:

  • Navigability: it had to be easy for assessors to move their way around the portfolio
  • Adequacy of evidence: the evidence presented needed to be absolutely convincing
  • Entirely electronic

The result was a web site stored on a CD. It contained the following items:

  • A front page, containing links to the rest of the portfolio
  • A guide to the portfolio: how it was organised, with suggestions to assessors as to how they might like to use it
  • An “evidence matrix”, containing exactly one link for each Unit of Competency
  • For each Unit of Competency, a listing of all the Performance Criteria, along with links into the rest of the portfolio showing how each Performance Criterion was met
  • A listing of each of the work place experiences

The portfolio contained a mixture of text, pictures, screen shots, movies and links to external web sites.

I regarded both the evidence matrix and listings of the Performance Criteria for each Unit of Competency as being crucial to the organisation of the portfolio. It allowed me to check for completeness of evidence prior to submission, and it also afforded assessors a means to do their work easily and efficiently.

A Side Issue

As an educator, I assess student work against Units of Competency, and I do so quite ruthlessly. If there is a requirement for something to be demonstrated, but it is not demonstrated by the student, then I am required to not sign off on the award. As I was digging through one of the Units of Competency (ICAA5154B), I came across two things that I did not immediately recognise (Oikos, SOCCA). After doing some research on the Internet, I discovered that they were both projects that had ceased by 1997, and so could no longer be considered relevant. I approached Innovation and Business Skills Australia about this, and was told, in effect, that they can be ignored for the purposes of assessment. This was in stark contrast to what I was taught when I undertook my TAA training. This, and other issues with other Units of Competency, has left me wondering about how well Units of Competency relate to the needs of such a rapidly evolving industry.

Finding an RTO

There are a number of RTOs near where I live, any one of which could have assessed my portfolio. The first one that I approached kept on passing me from person to person, and never returned my telephone messages. This carried on for weeks. The second responded on the same day that I approached them, and I was enrolled on an information session for RPL candidates two days later.

Feedback from the Assessors

When I attended the information session, I handed in a CD with a copy of my portfolio as it then was, this with the purposes of establishing whether or not the assessors might be happy with it as a means of proceeding. In my view, the contents of that CD could not in any way be considered as being fit for assessment: almost half the evidence matrix was missing, and there was a major error in one the work place experience files. Nevertheless, the assessors concluded that I “was operating at a level far higher than [the] Certificate IV level” (their words), though they did not tell me this until much later. Being educators, and hence rushed off their feet, it can be argued that going through that version of the portfolio thoroughly would not have been a legitimate use of their time.

The assessors needed to check that the portfolio was indeed my own work. They checked with one of my clients that I performed the work claimed in the portfolio. They had also encountered another RPL candidate whose portfolio was not his own work (in other words, a fraudulent candidate), and they needed to check that I was indeed the author of the portfolio. We arranged to meet. It was at this meeting that I handed over a CD containing a complete and correct portfolio of evidence. They also revealed that the fraudulent candidate did not even understand the questions that he was being asked at the equivalent meeting.

The assessors deliver learning in a Microsoft context. I work an an open source context. This might have presented something of an issue when it came to a practical demonstration of my own competence. I required of my assessors that I perform my demonstration in my own context, to which they were unhesitatingly agreeable. As a result, I needed to use a student computer in a sandpit setting so that I could load on to it everything that I required. Fortunately, such computers were available. (For the uninformed, most student computers are locked down so hard this sort of thing is quite impossible on them.) The practical demonstration went flawlessly.

The meeting continued after the practical where we chatted about both education and information technology. I was asked for my motive in going through this RPL process, and I duly explained. They also invited me to go for a Diploma based on the evidence that they had seen on the initial CD.

And returning to the theme of having an entirely electronic portfolio, the assessors said that it was by far the best that they had seen, and that it was very easy to navigate. I had achieved my objective.

Update

In a similar fashion, I submitted a CD for the Diploma of Software Development a few weeks later. This was assessed as demonstrating competence without any further work needed on my part.

To the Future

There is a Teachers Guide on the Use of ePortfolios in Education by Med Kharbach (twitter: @medkh9). My own portfolios sit at the “Portfolio as Showcase (Product)” end of the spectrum. They were created using a simple text editor and basic image editing software, this coupled with a good grasp of HTML and CSS. For classroom usage, I would suggest the tools pointed at by Med’s post.

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20th Century Expectations in the 21st Century?

15 August 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

My Thanks To …

My thanks go to Jacques Cool (Twitter: @zecool, web site http://about.me/jacques_cool (in French, en fran├žais)) for prompting this post. It was sparked off by an exchange on Twitter about evaluating student learning in a digital age, with the key issue being identified (in Jacques’ words) as “Amount of learning, or quality of learning? ;-) I just want to avoid assessing 21st c learning with 20th c expectations and tools.”.

A View of a Metric of Learning

My own view of the value of learning is that it is something that finally rests on the judgment of the learner: “How useful or important is that piece of learning to me?”. It is a learner-centered viewpoint, and the learner’s answer is critically dependent on the learner’s own aspirations.

A Viewpoint From Assessment

There are really two strands in Jacques’ implied question: that of the human narrative (his “expectations”), and that of technology (his “tools”).

In terms of the human narrative, I feel that I cannot offer a proper answer, as it devolves to questions about the expectations of learners and educators, how those expectations evolve over time, and how that evolution is shaped by society’s wider expectations. Readers might like to consider Sir Ken Robinson in this context.

In terms of technology, I think that we come down to the strengths and weaknesses of educators. My current , and perhaps poorly informed assessment, is that it is very much like the Curate’s Egg: excellent in parts. In terms of my own practice, I will use any tool that is available to both me and my students, even if that tool is 3,000 years old (astrolabe). My preferred tools depends very much of the subject being assessed: numeracy skills very much lend themselves to being assessed using computer technology. Having said that, I am aware of other educators who, despite recognising the power of such 21st century tools, really struggle to harness them to good effect.

Quantity, or Quality

I must draw upon my own experience of learning mathematical skills when it comes to addressing this point, and perhaps the more difficult question of what is meant by the quality of learning, this last being perhaps influenced by the learner’s own capabilities. I know that there are some people who are capable of learning vast amounts of what seem to me to be apparently unrelated facts. From that viewpoint, being able to recite all Shakespeare’s sonnets from memory could be regarded as having depth. In another dimension, the learning that I had about basic numeracy at age 6 really came alive for me when I learned about polynomials 10 years later. Similarly, my learning about vectors and matrices at age 16 became fully internalised when I used it on behalf of my then employer 20 years later. We are now touching upon classification of knowledge: “Recall, Explain, Apply, Analyse, Evaluate and Create”. In this context, I see evaluation tools as being classifiable by relevance, not by age, while expectations again come down to societal values.

Finally, a Question

Ultimately, I feel that I must answer Jacques’ question with another question: Are we allowing ourselves as a group of educators to become bogged down in questions about technology and educational history when our prime focus should be on the learners who are asking questions of us right now?

Putting my neck on the block

27 July 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Introduction

I have had cause recently to work with something called a Unit of Competency, specifically ICAA5154B (Model data processes). For those of you unfamiliar with the framework from which this comes, this is under the auspices of Innovation & Business Skills Australia (IBSA), a body charged with ensuring that every Unit of Competency is both up to date and reflects the current needs of Australian industry.

Issues of Relevance and of Currency

That Unit of Competency requires that learners be skilled in both Oikos and SOCCA. There are two issues with this. Firstly, both Oikos and SOCCA are areas of knowledge; more specifically, they are research projects, not skills. Secondly, both projects were current in 1995, but both have long since vanished from practical usage.

The Teacher’s Dilemma

Any conscientious teacher follows the requirements of the Unit of Competency in its entirety. We now have teachers with a conundrum: are they honest to the Unit of Competency, or do they do the right thing by their students? Individual teachers are likely to take different views on this point. (In my own case, there was a requirement as late as 2009 for learners to be able to format a floppy disk, a skill that became irrelevant several years earlier. My solution was to get them to do it once, and thereby deem them competent, knowing full well that they will never need to do it again.)

A Way Forward

I took this matter up with IBSA, and received a very positive response, giving both advice to teachers (both “Oikos and SOCCA” should be ignored), and saying that the Unit of Competency was due for review, and inviting me to become part of that review process. This demonstrated IBSA’s commitment to serving industry’s needs.

Next Steps

My own practices in Information Technology only make use of some of the bits and pieces in that Unit of Competency. As such, I can contribute directly to the updating of those bits and pieces. However, this raises the question of how I might contribute to the other areas in the Unit of Competency. How do I find out what other practitioners are doing in my industry area? How do I keep myself up to date? Two answers suggest themselves: read industry news (which I do occasionally anyway), and see what vendors are offering (a new task for me).

Watch this space!

Wow! Just WOW!

22 April 2012 by · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

My Thanks To …

My thanks go to Brad, Caitlin, Erika, Ethan, Jayden, Jordan, Jo and Micky for contributing so much to the Extraordinary Learning For A Digital Age (ELFADA) project.

Some Background

This project is two runs of an intensive course lasting four weeks. It is funded through the National VET E-Learning Strategy (NVELS). The project’s driving force (Jo) has written a detailed post about it.

The project is an adjunct to the Certificate in General Education for Adults (CGEA) course. Student achievements in the project are carried forward to their CGEA work. One of the central aims of the project was to encourage students to develop a habit of studying, and to be able to use this effectively during their CGEA work.

The first run of the project succeeded beyond all expectation.

“How Come?”

The Mechanics

Before explaining why the project so far has been so successful, it is worthwhile looking at the mechanics.

Each day’s work was structured around three sessions:

  • 09:00 to 11:00, where lecturers present material
  • 11:00 to 14:30, where students could work, and there was always a lecturer available to answer questions
  • 14:30 to 15:00, to round off the day, and answer any outstanding questions

All contact with the students was virtual: there was no face-to-face contact.

What Happened

The use of a virtual environment freed students from having to be in a certain place at a certain time. One of the students had to miss parts of some sessions due to prior variable commitments. Another student was traveling as a passenger in a car during one of the sessions. The need to be inside any particular pile of bricks became void.

Students also worked to their own schedules. They performed research, undertook individual creative work, sent the lecturers e-mails, and posted on their blogs at times that suited them. In return, they understood that the lecturers would always be available during the stated hours, and that, provided it suited the lecturers’ own schedules, the lecturers would provide feedback outside those stated hours. It is a complete break from the factory model of learning.

Readers could be forgiven for thinking that the social sense was one of nine isolated individuals with very little in the way of an esprit de corps. In fact, quite the opposite happened. Despite the separation in space, there was a very powerful sense of social bonding between everybody who participated.

A Vision for the Future

What I have seen here is a radical experiment that successfully challenges the notion that “the [physical] classroom” is the only way to achieve educational success. It is a way forward for people who are physically isolated, and for whom the strictures of Monday-to-Friday 09:00-15:30 are unacceptable.

I look forward to seen this model being developed and used to great benefit in the future.