RIP Michael Gerrard Stout, RideGC in his Honour

It was only today, 6 months after the event, that I learned of the sad passing of Mike Stout (of Mikes Bikes) on 11 December 2011. More than 10 years ago he sold me the first of a couple of bikes that restarted my cycling activity after 45 years, and has added to my enjoyment and general wellbeing ever since.

I owe a lot to Mike and will be happy to join the RideGC event in his honour on 24 June 2012 starting at Pizzey Park with proceeds going to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. The 25 km Community Challenge will be enough for me.

As it happens I also taught Mike’s son Mark in a couple of information technology subjects. Mark is a Bond alumnus, and pictured to Mike’s right in the photo which is taken from the FIXIEGC blog.


Time to Reinvent the Old Common Room

My top priority in a new library would be an inter-disciplinary staff common room configured with technology to support collaborative workspaces for individual and small groups to exploit information sharing for teaching and research with librarians ever present.

Returning from battling the wind and the rain walking round Dove Lake in the Cradle Mountain National Park I did my usual Foursquare checkin that also finds its way to my Twitter stream. The unexpected tweeted reply from colleague Carolyn, @camcd, turned my thoughts to answering the question ‘If you were to open a new library, what would be your top priority?’. I assume a university library is intended.

As it happened just recently following my retirement I had been thinking of this very problem. I have come to think the functions of the traditional library should be present in every contact hour of teaching in every class. The Internet and web are where information is stored, accessed and curated, and so there is no need for dedicated physical ‘library’ spaces. Where librarians can still be effective is in the promotion and demonstration of innovative information discovery for the synthesis of new information in the learning and research processes.

In principle this ‘new’ library functionality can be exposed and operated online so no opening is involved as such. However the faculty and students in higher education have a strong tradition of being social so want naturally to come together in a physical space to exploit the new library functionality. In my own institution the students are well catered for in such spaces as the multimedia learning centre with its individual and group workstations, shared displays and collaborative technology.

collaborationspaceMy own top priority would be a similar space for faculty, deliberately shared by all disciplines. This is a throwback to the old staff common room or club only with information sharing at its hub in a modern, technological context. I imagine this common room to support many of the functions of innovative collaborative work spaces envisaged by the Harvard Business Review post by Adam Richarson. He mentions some of the features of theStanford — a large, open, collaborative design space. Adam also observes:

Most corporate buildings don’t do a good job of supporting collaboration, brainstorming, and innovative work methods. They tend to be dominated by cubicles or offices which are suited for individual work, or by hard-to-book conference rooms that teams can use but only for short periods of time. What’s needed is a more flexible space that better supports teams and inspires more open thinking.

Adam proposes spaces that are inspired by design thinking practices in creative companies.

Starting from the base of an Internet café with all-day coffee and individual workstations, I would add shared workstation tables set for standing height where up to four people could gather, either bringing there own Internet connected devices or making use of embedded tablets built into the horizontal surfaces of the tables not unlike Microsoft Surface tables. All devices/workstations should be able to connect to a number of large displays for shared viewing.

With individual faculty offices now downsized and limited to seating 3 people there is a great need for a space where groups of 4 to 8 staff can meet either for serendipitous or planned purposes. Bookable small meeting rooms are needed as well as the individual and group open-plan worktables.

So I propose a traditional staff common room but with modern technological accoutrements and with librarians on hand to offer advice and hands-on demos of innovative information discovery and synthesis techniques.

Massive Open Online Courses

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course which becoming increasingly popular. I am currently ‘participating’ in two MOOCs in order to get a flavour of the educational technologies in use as well as to learn something new.

2011-10-23 SNAG-06The first MOOC is Introduction to Artificial Intelligence a course offered by Stanford University that is in its 5th week. At the cut-off for enrolments over 160,000 students had enrolled. After a general introduction the groundwork is being laid for algorithm design, probability and Bayesian networks. What I find interesting is the simple and effective use of videos both for presenting information in a whiteboard-style and for conducting and the giving the answers to quizzes.

2011-10-23 SNAG-02Rather than actual whiteboards the videos are constructed with the two lecturers, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, writing out information on paper with coloured pens as they narrate the content. The otherwise lengthy time taken to write and draw all the content is compressed by editing the video to match the narration – a very effective technique. If only this were possible in a live class in a lecture theatre.

2011-10-23 SNAG-04The quizzes in these classes are also impressive. After the lecturer has written/drawn a case study or problem, the video ends with a quiz form overlaid on the last video frame. This contains radio buttons, check boxes and text boxes for answers as required, and a Done button for the student to check their answers. If correct, the student clicks Next and moves to the next video. If incorrect, there is usually an option for the student to watch a video explaining the correct answer before moving on – again an impressive facility.

Homework is available approximately every two weeks and consists of the actual continuous assessment done by the Stanford-enrolled students. The guest students can attempt the homework but are not graded. Solutions are made available after the appropriate deadlines have passed to enable self-assessment of progress.

2011-10-24 SNAG-00The second MOOC I am following is Change: Education, Learning, and Technology being facilitated by a trio of education technology experts Stephen Downes, George Siemens, and Dave Cormier. This MOOC runs for 36 weeks with a 2-week holiday break from 12 Sept 2011 to 20 May 2012 with a different invited guest facilitator each week, all well-known in the edtech community. We are just starting week 7. The number of participants is varying as you can register at any time, and like me, duck in and out as the topics takes your interest. From last year’s experience the number exceeds 1,000 and this year activity seems to be much higher.

Again the tools used to support this course are interesting. The purpose built course wiki site directly supports tools like discussion threads, email/online daily newsletters and a blog, as well the content pages for each weekly topic. Each week includes a live webinar meeting of which recordings are available, although some technical difficulties are still being ironed out. The wiki is just the base template and all ‘students’ are encouraged to create other shared tool spaces for collaboration which can be linked from the wiki. Short communications use Twitter with the #change11 hashtag. Other tools the participants have so far created include Facebook groups, Diigo groups and a host of other blogs.

As I predicted the highlight for so far has been week 3 with Martin Weller talking about digital scholarship based around his new book, The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice, which is free to read in HTML format.

So the AI MOOC is highly structured and requires a few hours each week to keep up. The Change11 MOOC allows you to duck in an out on the topics that are attractive. Both have immense value and advance the state of the art in MOOC development.

Learning Analytics, Notes from a Talk by George Siemens at EDUCAUSE 2011

Brief notes reflecting my key points from the presentation by George Siemens, @gsiemens, at EDUCAUSE Conference 2011 entitled ‘Transforming Learning Through Analytics‘. At about 15 minutes, this is time very well spent. (These notes are also shared via a public Evernote link.)

Relevant books:


Analytics and visualizations experts = data scientists

Personal productivity

Empower end-users by giving access to and means of interrogating data

Personal data reveals our sentiments, our attitudes, our social connections, our intentions and what we might do next.

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their learning contexts, in order to understand and optimize learning and the environments in which it occurs.

Use learning analytics for: learner success, use of university services, predicting at-risk learners, understand help-seeking behavior, alerts, interventions, learner dashboard, path of concept development, real-time analytics

Not all analytics are learning analytics, these are not:

  • Classroom optimization
  • Staff allocation and performance
  • Web analytics, time on page

Analytics are pervasive in their negative influence

Analytics need to rooted in learning sciences

Analytics produce patterns, not insight – only human have this

Open learning analytics architecture (see diagram below)

  • Integrated 
  • Modular
  • Extensible


Society for Learning Analytics Research, SOLAR,

Learning Analytics Open online course 23 Jan – 17 Mar 2012

LAK2012 Conference, Vancouver, 29 Apr-2 May 2012

Importance of Real-time Education Analytics

Following a tip from Carolyn, @camcd, I watched the talk from Mark Milliron, @markmilliron, at the EDUCAUSE 2011 online conference. Mark spoke on Analytics Today: Getting Smarter About Emerging Technology, Diverse Students, and the Completion Challenge.

Mark spoke on 7 major topics:

2011-10-20 SNAG-00

and by Getting Ready he means:

2011-10-20 SNAG-02

For me the main takeaways are:

Can you use information about me to help me?
How to make the human moments precious?
Tuned blended learning per student   
OER repositories – the junk draw
Be a rookie every year
Student pathways – from entry to endowment, find haemorrhage points
Courageous learning – the ability to continue to learn new things
Learners inherit the future, the learned are equipped to live in a world that no longer exists
CAVE people, colleagues against virtually everything – if you don’t know one, you may be …

This is highly recommended viewing, follow the talk link above then click on Resources to see the video link.

IT Trends in the Enterprise

Thanks to TechRepublic who bring us a useful summary of the current Garner thinking on trends in technology having a significant impact on the enterprise over the next 3 years. The summary table says it all:


Key terms and takeaways for me are:

Context-aware computing (CAC) uses end user activities connections and preferences to improve the quality of interaction …

App stores … an ecosystem to support apptrepreneurs

Next-generation analytics … enabling use of optimization and simulation everywhere and every time

In-memory application servers … results in improved transactional application performance

Low-energy servers … will remove virtualization and lessen the shared use of systems

Cloud computing …dropped from number one on the list for 2011 to number 10 for 2012

Chromebooks Take Us Closest So Far to a Post-PC Era

2011-05-29 SNAG-00I believe the coming of the Chromebook is the nearest we will come in the next months to the so-called post-PC era. Many scoff at the Chromebook as being already superceded by the tablet, indeed we are seeing the term crapbook becoming popular, but I beg to differ.

Apple luddites keep up the mantra of the iPad leading us into a post-PC world. I love my iPad but it definitely is not a PC replacement but most certainly is a PC-extender and, for that matter, an iPhone-extender. My iPad is integrated into my daily life at times and places where neither a PC or phone are useful devices. But as I have noted before the iPad is not a laptop replacement, and is only a first step towards a post-PC era.

Most definitions of a post-PC era, like Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester, point out strongly that we are not talking about PC replacement. She emphasises the obvious post-PC transitions; stationary to ubiquitous with anytime/anywhere computing; formal to casual with instant-on devices; arms-length to intimate with always-with-us devices; and, abstracted to physical with touch and gestures.

Laptops and/or desktops will continue to be our motherships with sales over the next few years still predicted to continue at present levels although rate of increase will almost certainly decline. But what Google are now sensibly calling Chromebooks are the nearest I’ve seen yet to a viable, genuine PC replacement, provided we are willing to work only with cloud-based apps and data.

My earliest post about working online was over 3 years ago. Since then I have been lobbying for working in the cloud to become the norm as more and more viable cloud services become available to replace native apps on desktops/laptops. Even native smartphone apps that allow us to be creative must use a cloud backend to store the objects of creation in order to be useful.

You can read the persuasive overview of Chromebooks from Google but for working effectively post-PC the key features for me are:

  1. laptop form factor with productive keyboard and mouse editing; on smartphones/tablets swipe scroll and pinch zoom are great for navigation but poor for editing large bodies of text; even tapping for selection needs finger-sized buttons/links
  2. Chromebook independence; access your private app, documents and settings from literally any Chromebook; allows secure sharing of physical laptops
  3. forever fresh; this Google slogan is my favourite; Chrome OS, browser and apps are always the latest version – no tethering to update a myriad apps; no old versions to become a security risk
  4. potentially improved security; browsers bring the advantage of a security sandbox in any case; this now extends to the whole machine
  5. USB and SD device support and limited but recognisable local filestore; starts to match expectations we have for PCs

Chromebooks match tablets with Wi-Fi/3G support for being always connected, with the same battery life, and with an 8-second boot time and instant resume.

One of the first questions people ask is ‘can I turn my existing laptop/netbook into a Chromebook?’ I would answer no since points 2 through 4 above are not supported on existing hardware. Chromebooks are definitely a new class of device although on the surface they look like compact laptops or large netbooks.

Of course I admit I haven’t handled or used a Chromebook, and in Australia it looks like I have still a few months to wait beyond the 15 June release in the US and major European countries. I comment here on the concepts only. Provided Chromebooks perform as expected I suggest they will soon become devices of choice for individuals, businesses and educational institutions.

[As an aside I used Scrible for the first time to collect and assemble material for this post and have been impressed by my increase in productivity.]