Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dev8ed (day 2)

Dev8ed (day 2)

After the presenter pitches at the beginning of day two of the first session left me in a bit of a quandary - there were two presentations that I really wanted to see at the same time. One was from Adam Hyde, the project lead for BookType, which is a piece of software which is used by the free/libre/open source software (FLOSS) community to collaboratively create software manuals. BookType could be thought of as a mash up between Google Docs and Wikipedia - basically it is a tool for distributed groups of people to collaborate online to create conventional books. Books created using BookType can be published in all the standard electronic publishing formats or exported directly to Lulu for publication as a print on demand book. The world publishing is rapidly changing as more and more information is made available under free to reuse licences such as Creative Commons, and the future of university textbooks may well be with tools such as BookType that allow a group of authors to collaborate on rapidly producing books. Although Adams talk title of "How to write a textbook collaboratively in five days" was intriguing I decided that I would learn more by attending Diana Laurillard's session on learning design.

Diana, along with Patricia Charlton, was presenting a tool called Pedagogical Pattern Collector which is used to collect and abstract learning designs which can then be adapted and reused. This is nothing to do with the IMS learning design specification, but a much more teacher orientated concept of a learning design. Software developers will mostly be very familiar with the concept of design patterns, established solutions to frequent types of problem which may appear different due to their context but have structurally similar solutions which are best achieved by following the established patterns. Diana is attempting to achieve something similar with teaching practice, and provide a way of scaffolding teachers planning of lessons and courses, and helping teachers make creative and effective use of technology enhanced learning. The software runs online, and has two modes: a browser of which lets you search for and look through existing learning designs, and a designer that let you adapt designs or put in new ones from scratch. I felt that the software could be excellent as a way of helping training of University teachers and GTAs, and also for student teachers, and Patricia told me that they have already used the software for this purpose. Unfortunately the URL of the online demo we used looks very temporary, so I will not link to it here. There is a different (older?) version available here. I'm sure that Diana and Patricia would be delighted to show the current version off to any academics in the UK who wish to play with it.

The next session I attempted to attend was "Learning Technologies and Historical Perspective", but the presenter didn't show up so it ended up with me, Simon Booth and Guy Pursley sitting discussing mathematics education, and the way that by practising solving mathematical problems the brain seems to develop an ability to recognise patterns, and therefore apply the correct solution. There is a lot of similarity between mathematics and software development, and maybe also with teaching.

The final session I attended was on XCRI-CAP, a specification for sharing course catalogue information online in a machine readable format. XCRI-CAP is a bit like Atom or RSS in that it allows a college or university to publish their course information in a form which can be used by an aggregator to make larger course directories, very much like the way that Atom and RSS allow aggregators to pull together blog feeds. XCRI-CAP is backed by JISC and is likely to become a British standard very soon, so it seems likely that if the not very distant future it will become essential for Universities to provide XCRI-CAP descriptions of courses to help with recruitment of students. Adult and continuing education departments are likely to need to make use of XCRI-CAP aggregators to get access to students who are using the public interfaces of these tools to search for courses by location rather than by institution.

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