Saturday, November 28, 2009

I have a hunch...

Okay, so this is a little frivolous, but I've just discovered Hunch... a new 'decision-making tool' by the creators of Flickr. It's quite entertaining too. I tried out their tour, which takes you through the decision of one thing you should really do before you die. I opted for something to do solo that matched my age and had to be done in the next five years (not that I'm planning to hop the twig by then, you understand, I'm just an impatient sort) and the top suggestion was 'write a book'. Not only that, the site linked me to websites that would tell me how to do it! How cool is that?

So then I tried pretending I was my 'significant other' (their words) and searched what to buy me for my 40th. The result: a foot-spa. Hmm... not so sure about that one. Not very original, is it? Not unless it comes wrapped in a fancy hotel. But the decision-making process is interesting. Have a play and see for yourself!

I wonder what the educational implications of this are, if any.

Image from Flickr Creative Commons:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Learning through listening

The School of Nursing at UCOL has been in the process of implementing a new curriculum. Underpinning everything in the curriculum is the precept that the learning must be student-centred. This has led to some interesting discussions about what exactly student-centred learning is. Is it the same as student-directed? Does student-centred mean that they can choose what they need to learn, and if so, what does this mean in a School of Nursing?

In the past, when I was working as an English teacher, I used to allow (carefully selected!) junior secondary classes to create their own curriculum for the term. This was usually an interesting process that involved students debating and discussing what they thought was important to learn, and how they wanted to learn it. I found that classes who took part in this were (usually) more committed and involved in their learning. But that was English. How student-centred can one feasibly be with a course that not only has life-or-death consequences (unlike Shakespeare?) but also needs to meet the standards set by the Nursing Council and the National Qualifications Authority.

The creation of online learning modules goes some way towards shifting the School of Nursing at UCOL towards student-centeredness by allowing students to do 'wherever, whenever' learning. Online discussion forums and chats allow students to take part in discussions around their learning, even though they are not on campus, and lecturers upload their notes, usually as PowerPoints. The feedback from students is generally positive about all of this.

The online modules do have drawbacks. They are time-consuming to create, and require some level of computer expertise. A solution to this that has been widely adopted around the world is podcasting, which allows students to listen to audio of lectures wherever they are. It certainly can't be faulted for convenience... more students have some sort of iPod/Mp3 player than have computers, and they're a lot easier to carry around than laptops.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the School of Nursing is going to be developing a library of podcasts in the coming year to support the new curriculum. We're still in the early planning stages, so there is a lot of work to be done, but my plan is to create podcasts or vodcasts to support all the papers running in the second year of the programme. Some of our lecturers have already been doing this for some time, so I will be relying on their experience and expertise to help get things moving. I'm looking forward to getting things up and running.... If any of you out there have had experience in developing podcasts, I'd be really interested in hearing from you.

While thinking about all of this I came across this presentation on Slideshare. Steve Wheeler, a UK-based lecturer with research interests in e-learning, describes himself as an International Man of Misery - I like him already. It's interesting how people all over the world are considering the same issues... what's amazing though is how easily and freely the ideas are shared.

In the meantime, watch this space for updates on how the School of Nursing podcasting project develops.

Image: cc Beverly Kahuna (

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

eLearning Sucks

I was reading David Hopkins' e-learning blog, always interesting and thought-provoking, and I came across this... although it's really a corporate advert, it still sums up pretty clearly what we're doing wrong with e-learning. I guess the problem is putting the wrong stuff right takes time, and costs money.

What I was actually looking for was this video - an excellent reminder of why we sweat over e-learning at all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Second Life

I was in Wellington last Friday to meet nurse educators and SLENZ movers and shakers, with a view to planning a way forward for nurse education in SecondLife. Not that we're on the cutting edge - overseas nursing schools are way ahead of us and there is some amazing stuff out there. We're lucky to have the SLENZ team as guides and to temper enthusiasm with sensible reality checks.

There is clearly a lot of interest amongst NZ nursing schools in the opportunities offered by Second Life. The shift of nurse education from the hospitals to the polytechs and universities does seem to mean that nurses have less contact time with patients, and spend less time applying their learning in 'real-life' situations. Whilst they have a good grounding in things like nursing theory, there seems to be a limited time in which students can practice key workplace skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and clinical judgement. Role-playing scenarios in the classroom offers a limited solution - one is constantly aware of the 'pretendness' of it all. Second Life offers us an alternative that seems to mimic real life more effectively than anything else. I'm looking forward to seeing where this collaboration takes us.

One idea that came out of the meeting was that we develop a clinical interview /health assessment scenario using bits of the existing builds created by the SLENZ group. This seems to me to be a really sensible option, and it would enable us to assess how our colleagues buy into the whole SL thing before we get too carried away.

Take a look at an example of the SLENZ project here:

On a very micro-level, I found out about the UCLA Davis Hallucination build, which I'm looking forward to exploring with a view to using as part of a mental health paper for second years.

An unexpected bonus of the jaunt to Wellington was the guided tour of the bays and surrounds provided by Susie lePage.... Since my experiences of the city have previously been limited to dashes to the airport or trips to Te Papa, it was a pleasure to be chauffeured around the scenic route on a gloriously sunny day. And a stop-off in Otaki on the way home introduced me to a street full of outlet stores (we call them 'factory shops' in SA) to be visited at regular intervals.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Reflecting on e-learning

Since I'm reaching the end of the first year of my two-year contract at UCOL, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my experiences of designing and using e-learning. With any luck, putting it all down will help me to clarify the good, the bad and the ugly, and I can work more efficiently next year.

I suppose I need to be upfront and say that I love e-learning, and I tend to get carried away by the opportunities it offers. As an ex-teacher (is one ever ex-?) I am convinced that using blended learning allows more learners to access more knowledge and skills in ways that best suit them, and at times which suit them. So I'm probably more than a little biased...

For me, time is the biggest barrier to e-learning. Although I believe it speeds up the learning experience, creating effective e-learning is time-consuming. A couple of months ago I created blood-pressure and urinalysis simulations to run via Moodle. The entire activity probably took students about an hour to do, assuming they did every step. Designing and building the simulations, on the other hand, took me days, and I am forced to question whether this is the best use of my time, given that I work for the entire school, across four sites, rather than on one paper.

Another issue is engagement. I often wonder how often students, particularly those form a more traditional education background, actually engage with the 'e' components of their courses. I am trying to measure this at the moment by surveying the use of Moodle by first-years, but this will give me fairly limited data. As we move towards an increasingly blended world, it seems essential that we consider if and how learners use e-learning before we run too far in what may be the wrong direction.

Resources will always be a problem with e-learning. The 'e' world changes so fast that it is almost impossible to stay up-to-date with all the technologies, and the cost of installing new software and training people to use it is a real issue in the current political climate in New Zealand. So e-learning will probably always be under-resourced and under-staffed, and therefore probably under-utilised!

The ability to reach people from diverse learning styles and educational backgrounds must be a primary advantage of e-learning. At UCOL we cater for people from a huge range of backgrounds, and e-learning allows us to meet more of their needs. A number of our students are also in part-time employment, and so the flexible nature of e-learning is important for them.

The nature of our students is changing. More and more students have access to e-learning technologies and use social networking on a regular basis. Failing to shift the way we deliver learning to accommodate these students would be foolish, especially when one considers the additional opportunities that accompany these. So, for example, I want to try using Twitter to deliver science vocabulary to our mid-year 500 level students. I've designed flashcard-type quizzes that can be downloaded to their mobile phones, and I'm going to be working with the clinical skills lecturers to trial using mobile phone cameras to video students practising their various clinical skills. These clips will be uploaded to a site such as, and their peers can comment on (i.e. formatively assess) their performance in real time. With any luck we'll have a smart board in the skills' lab which will make all this even more immediate.

I subscribe to David Hopkins' blog, e-learning blog//dontwasteyourtime, and a while ago he posted this video clip, which brilliantly sums up why we need to move forwards with e-learning, and mobile learning in particular.

So much to do, and so little time!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thoughts after e-fest

So here I am facing a blog from the inside for the first time. It feels really strange - I can't imagine that there is anything that I have to say that could be of interest to anyone else, but having spent the last two days with people who know, I've been sufficiently convinced of the value of blogging to give it a go!

What is it that I want to get out of blogging? I suppose it's a great way to consolidate my thoughts, which tend to meander with the project of the moment. At least I'll be writing them down, and with any luck, the odd good idea will emerge. I've heard other people talk about how blogging changed their lives... so with that in mind, here goes. Any guidance from anyone who still remembers starting out on their blogging journey would be gratefully received.

So...e-fest... The first time I've attended - not quite so shocking, I hope, when you realise I've only been in NZ for two years, and definitely not the last! It was great to be around so many people speaking the same language and so many of them a lot further down the e- road.... What amazes me repeatedly about the e-learning community is the generosity of so many of the people involved, and their willingness to share, collaborate, and simply give away really great ideas.

I was in a session facilitated by Clare Atkin, aka Arewenna Stardust (sp?) in which she took us through the SLENZA midwifery project, which I have been following for a while via Sarah Stewart's Blog. The project itself is impressive, but the people involved are really amazing, and their enthusiasm for what they do is infectious. A number of us in the School of Nursing at UCOL have caught the SL bug, so hopefully we can get something together! With any luck we'll get a push start from people like Clare who are so much further down the road.

It was also the first time I participated in 'open-spaces', and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings. I'm not sure that 'whatever happened is the only thing that could have happened' works for me! I was involved in two sessions that were run this way, and whilst one was interesting, the other was 'hijacked' by some very dominant personalities who ran a three-way discussion that took up most of an hour, and which had nothing to do with the session title (Are LMSs dead. I still don't know. Are they? Please tell me!) And whilst, in theory, I could have voted with my feet, the reality was that the venue was so small that leaving would have required some undignified clambering over some equally trapped souls. So my jury's still out on open spaces. I'd love to know what other people think.

I've also been motivated to sign up on Twitter - we'll see how that goes. I can't see myself doing much 'tweeting. Once I signed up, I could see that the e-people from the conference were wining and dining in town, while I was cooking mac 'n cheese for hungry and grumpy kidlets... not really worth tweeting about. I was too jealous, anyway!