Newsletter - December 2004Welcome to the final edition of the ascilite newsletter for 2004. It comes to you a little later in the year than usual due to the pressure of other commitments. I suspect most of our readers will be familiar with that scenario! Academic workloads in the age of e-learning may be a good topic for future article. Please consider this an invitation to submit if you have thoughts on this - or any other topic of interest to Ascilite members.
The lead article in this edition from Margaret Turner at University of the Sunshine Coast poses searching questions about the design opportunities and limitations of learning management systems - are they turning our students off?
The ascilite newsletter is produced three times a year and we welcome suggestions for themes and lead articles from our readers. Please send these to any of the editors.
Editor for this edition: Cathy Gunn
Editorial team: Cathy Gunn, Gerry Lefoe, Meg O'Reilly, Linda Pannan.
Web Editor: Allan Christie
A multimedia rhetoric?
What's interesting on the ascilite website?
What's interesting elsewhere?
A multimedia rhetoric?Margaret Turner, Lecturer in Electronic Media
University of the Sunshine Coast
Broadcasting as a model of constructing learning materials and the book as a way of structuring content misrepresent and under-utilize the Internet's broader and more negotiable communication dynamic. As a designer for electronic media, I have concerns that the learning management systems we are given are styled on old ways of doing things and that they are more of a hindrance than an enabler of good teaching. The print-based learning materials that typically form online content offerings foster a surface or instrumental approach to learning. It certainly doesn't have to be so, because the networked computer, linking as it does to a global communicative network, has the capacity to nourish deep, relational learning. A conversational style of learning allows students to build understandings that bridge the gap between their preconceived ideas, higher order descriptions of the world of study and the real world in which they must use their knowledge. Good teaching online is not as simple as automating current practices with the backing of clever and powerful engines. We need to look and think forward towards a new way of presenting text that does not simply transfer the styles of communication that were developed for making meaning in a linear book. We also need to rethink the way we teach.
The typical response I get to my plea for a more thoughtful multimedia rhetoric is that it does not have to look pretty to work, i.e. to make sense; as if all that design is about is decorating things with bows and butterflies. However, I am of the school that considers rhetoric, i.e. the way something is expressed, as indivisible from that which is expressed. After all, if you have a good idea but cannot communicate it, then, to all intents and purposes, it doesn't exist. After the 'eureka' moment, its all about translation into language patterns of some sort; thought, image, voice, text, - a process that is always interpretive and, importantly, without which the idea does not develop. From this position there is no such thing as pure content, the way things look affects their meaning, so the way we present our content online affects the quality of learning. Most academics have no problem with designing written words, although we don't call it that. The formal structures and schemas for design of written text to enable "sense"able communication are called spelling, punctuation, grammar etc. They seem natural, but that is only because of 600 years of formalization of the conventions following the western world 'invention' of the printing press circa 1460. An LMS, like Blackboard, is not just text on a page. It is an entire interpretive structure. The meaning inherent in the presentation and structural style of Blackboard is hierarchic, linear and broadcast, in the style of one to many with-no-returns. It's a one-way relationship and it's about authority and control. These are not the qualities that promote responsive student-centered learning.
It is unfortunate, though understandable given the context, that broadcasting served as the model for traditional methods of teaching. Knowledge was transferred from the one knowledge owner to the many students with the teacher controlling the objectives, the flow and the assessment. This underlying structure encourages a way of thinking about communication and teaching that disempowers the receiver/learner. The Internet on the other hand offers capacities to respond to student-centered learning. Its global nodal structure is inherently reciprocal and interdependent, not hierarchical. From its inception, it was designed to enable conversation between peers not just to be a content repository as Google-apaedia might encourage students to believe, valuable though that is. Using a graphical and audio enabled browser window, this networked medium can be used to map key learning relationships through movement, image, sound and text.
When we get to multimedia writing, most of us think of adding in images (or animation) to illustrate the text. We might spend 100+ hours composing the text of a paper then trawl the Internet one afternoon for images to insert. The problem is that, while an image paints a thousand words as the saying goes, it is always unclear which thousand words are meant, interpretation of an image being highly subjective. To be useful, a visual representation of content needs to be constructed with the same amount of thought as goes into writing from the same idea base. Ask any academic who designs graphs. Actually, it's not images that are of real interest with a web browser and multimedia, it's the moving conversation.
Learning as conversation is the focus of Diana Laurillard's book Rethinking University Teaching, 2nd Ed, (a really good read). Her conversational framework asks of any learning technology that it be capable of sustaining a learning relationship within which the student, through repetition of action/statement and feedback, comes successively closer to a desired result. I hasten to assure you text has not had its day. It will not be replaced by something all singing and dancing. Text will always be efficient at conveying meaning. Rather than replace the text we need to redesign how we use it so it can perform in different ways. Be active rather than passive, responsive, and just more conversational. A browser window that shows movement (NOT the animated kind) has possibilities.
Movement is a signal of change. Change is required for learning. I won't be so reductionist as to say movement equals change, but I believe there is something there worth exploring for teaching purposes. All narrative is movement, even if the words on the page remain static; the reader has momentum, impelled forward by the structure of the argument. We can use the actual movement into, out of and between content clusters to enhance the learning process, to unfold content in ways that reveal relationship, multiplicity of connection and allow for genuine discovery within a guided process.
And then there is sound. Sonification, as it's called, takes the relationships between data and expresses these with sound to facilitate communication and its interpretation. The theory is that we can discern and interpret patterns in sound and make meaning of them in ways as diverse and perhaps more subtle than we can with image. Sound is something we already rely on for revealing meaningful patterns for instance the change in sound as a glass fills with wine or the tick of a metal detector. We can add this dimension to the way we unfold content in a browser window.
Together with my students in Electronic Media Design at the University of the Sunshine Coast, I have begun exploring just these possibilities. It has become clear to us that it is neither the software nor the technology that does the work. The design of the content as a learning conversation is the crucial bit. Content so designed can be delivered in high-end multimedia or low-end HTML with the same kinds of outcomes. So toss away the word processors and open instead a concept mapping software programme, the flow chart tool in PowerPoint will do. Use this visualizing tool to plot the clusters of content and the key relationships between them. Then devise projects and activities that will take a student from one to the other in paths both guided and not, that build the higher order reflective conversations required of a university student. Academics don't have to suddenly become audio-visual experts (though mastering the use of a mobile phone with its camera and email capacities would help); we just need to rethink the way we use text.
Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies (2nd ed.). London: Routledge Falmer.
What's interesting on the ascilite website?Have you updated your profile recently?
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Once logged in take the opportunity to update your membership profile and have a look at recent postings on the ascilite General list. Did you know that you can search the ascilite General list for any message posted since mid-1999!
Whilst on the topic of searching, take a moment to search the conference papers from 1995 to 2004 inclusive.
What's interesting elsewhere?E-Learning reviews available on new website.
The Swiss Centre for Innovations in Learning (SCIL Switzerland) in collaboration with the Stanford Centre for Innovations in Learning (SCIL Stanford) has launched a new web site designed to facilitate tracking and review of e-learning research literature across all academic disciplines, something that is difficult to do because the field is so vast. The website, www.elearning-reviews.org provides concise and thoughtful reviews of relevant publications. The goals of the collaborative project are to provide a solid base of current literature from the various disciplinary perspectives and to further the development of e-learning as a scientific, research-oriented discipline. The project continually surveys new publications from a range of journals, conferences, reports, and books. Each review aims to critically reflect the publication in an accessible and concise manner so that readers can decide whether the publication is relevant to their interests. The site offers a variety of access routes. Users can browse an e-learning classification scheme covering the wide range of topics: Strategy, Quality, Pedagogy, Technology, Human-Computer Interaction, Change Management, and more. They can also search for publications by author or scan lists of reviews from particular journals or conferences.
This month the search service Google launched "Google Scholar," which provides searching for scholarly literature located on the Web. The service allows limiting searches specifically to academic materials, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts, and technical reports. Some of the material included is normally part of the "invisible Web" -- items publishers keep in databases that are only accessible to subscribers. Google has made arrangements with some publishers to provide access to these materials. To use Google Scholar, go to http://scholar.google.com.
See also "Google Scholar Offers Access To Academic Information" by Danny Sullivan, SEARCH ENGINE WATCH, November 18, 2004. Sullivan points out some caveats to keep in mind when using this new service.
Article from CIT INFOBITS. INFOBITS is also available online on the World Wide Web at http://www.unc.edu/cit/infobits/
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